COUNCIL chiefs have been alerted to risks that library footfall might not recover to pre-coronavirus levels.

During its meeting on April 12, Monday, the cabinet will be provided with an update on the outcomes achieved following the decision to approve a modernisation and refurbishment programme of libraries in December 2017.

Members will be asked to note the ‘substantial progress’ made with the programme and to thank residents who have volunteered their time to support, lobby for and deliver activities within libraries, as well as to provide ideas.

In December 2017, the council’s then executive board received a report from the libraries modernisation working group, chaired by council chief executive Steven Broomhead.

The group was established as a short-term review group made up of independent members including representatives from the Save Warrington Libraries campaign group, the third sector, the council and LiveWire.

The group was tasked with revisiting proposals set out in 2016 to restructure the library service, including the closure of some sites.

In summary, the working group recommended that all locations should remain open for the foreseeable future, with a forward plan to be implemented that focuses on better community use of the buildings to increase income and inward investment opportunities, along with a more efficient use of existing resources.

It also recommended for each library to become a community hub with a range of community-based learning, health and wellbeing activities and, in some cases, some specific private/public activities.

Following recommendations in the report, Warrington Borough Council committed to spending £1 million on repairs, maintenance and other work at existing library buildings – while £150,000 was designated to enhance the book fund budget.

In his report to the cabinet, Cllr Tony Higgins, cabinet member for leisure and community, said: “In respect of the library service, it is difficult to predict the longer-term impact of Covid on user levels and engagement, but there is a risk footfall numbers will not recover to the level they were pre-Covid.

“Library footfall had been continuing to fall pre-Covid, even with the measures put in place and additional opening hours – although we had been successful in slowing the decline.

“Since March 2020, LiveWire has increased its online library presence and has undertaken a range of online activities or activities from home.

“LiveWire has been offering an order and collect service, and continued to offer its home library service with volunteers.

“When allowed, LiveWire has opened libraries on a phased, reduced hours basis – prioritising safety of staff and customers. LiveWire is linked in with national library networks and is working on recovery plans including a range of activities and promotions.

“All of this prior learning will help LiveWire with reopening libraries in April (subject to Government guidance) and building up the offer as restrictions continue to ease.”

The report says the libraries modernisation and refurbishment programme is now close to completing the recommendations set out in December 2017, with all capital works committed and due to be completed in financial year 2021-22.