Council paying £155,000 a year to private developer for Central Library – until 2034

JesmondLocal has discovered that large amounts of money are still being paid by Newcastle City Council each year for the City Library, despite plans to cut 10 community libraries in the area – including Jesmond’s.

We submitted a Freedom of Information request to the City Council, asking it to detail the funding of the City Library, which opened via a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) in 2009. PFIs were introduced in 1992 as a way of securing private funding for public services.

Photograph of Central Library by Peter McDermott and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

Photograph of Central Library by Peter McDermott and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons

The FoI request submitted by JesmondLocal reveals that Newcastle City Council paid £3,355,728.25 to the City Library’s developer in 2011-12, of which £3,200,149 was paid for by a grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. This made the net cost of the City Library building for the Council that year £155,579.25.

This agreement with the developers of the building will last until March 2034.

Whilst the PFI payments are part of a contract and therefore cannot stop, the annual amount revealed in the FoI request is more than the stated amount of £130,000 per year it would cost to keep Jesmond Library open.

When asked why the Council is pursuing cuts in local libraries whilst paying large annual amounts to a private developer, a Newcastle City Council spokesman said:

“The City Library is the hub of our new core library service and it’s vital that we have a building that is modern and well equipped.”

JesmondLocal was told the figures “represent good value for money for such an excellent and well-used venue”.

The Council spokesman said “the reductions to the [library] service across the city are the result of the council needing to save £100m from its revenue budget by 2016. Jesmond Library is one of the buildings that has been identified for closure but we are having positive discussions with local people about creating a community library and continuing to run a service from the site.”

Asked to comment on the figures involved, South Jesmond Councillor David Hardman said, “The whole [library] service has to be considered as an integrated service”, adding that the PFI contract must continue and that therefore the money involved “could never be realised as a saving”.

The fate of Jesmond Library therefore remains unclear, despite more than 80 Jesmond residents voicing their anger and opposition to the City Council proposal to close the library at a public meeting in December. Convened by members of the community and chaired by North Jesmond Councillor Peter Breakey, the meeting was an opportunity both for resident’s opinions to be heard and for the Council, through its Director of Culture, Tony Durcan, to answer questions around the proposed closure.

You can read the JesmondLocal live blog of the meeting here.