A CONTROVERSIAL move by a council to save £1.4m by handing over 33 libraries to varying levels of community responsibility has been hailed a success.

A review of the North Yorkshire County Council cost-cutting measure has found there had been “no significant fall in business” following the changes introduced in April last year.

A report to the authority’s corporate and partnerships overview and scrutiny committee found while there had been an drop in active library users at 22 of the libraries, the reduction was less than the previous year and the national average of 14 per cent.

The document states the changes, which saw 91 library staff made redundant, have also seen eight community libraries cut their opening hours, but as this month, overall opening hours were at 2012 levels.

The officers’ report also stated there had been an overall nine per cent drop in the use of public access computers and a 17 per cent fall for supported computer sessions. The report states: “This drop has been contributed to by the varying skill levels and abilities of the volunteers to support the IT activities.” It added the changes had seen 95,000 extra volunteer hours.

Sally Burton, chair of the trustee board at Thirsk Community Library, which has a team of 40 volunteers and a council-paid librarian for 15 hours a week, said with the wide range of activities the volunteers performed, such as fundraising, the council’s volunteer hours figure would be an underestimate.

She said: “We have had good support on operational issues, such as photocopiers and sorting out the lease - from various parts of the council, but the question is what next?

“As the community library has grown and is starting to flourish our feeling is the next step needs to be greater devolution.” Mrs Burton said the library wanted to be less “corporate” and attract more library users. She said: “Each community is very different. We want a definition of what needs to be done across the county.”

Councillor Greg White, the council’s customer engagement executive member, said while the changes had drawn criticism when they were proposed, the review had shown the changes to have been successful. He said: “We introduced these changes because we wanted to keep the libraries. It has gone better than we imagined. It almost feels like we should have done it before now. We want people to fly and do their own thing - a lot of libraries are not called libraries now.”