A CONSULTATION over cutting library hours areas across Hampshire, including Fordingbridge and Ringwood, has been launched.

This comes after Hampshire County Council agreed to close eight of its 48 libraries and reduce the opening hours of the remaining ones.

County councillor Edward Heron, speaking at a meeting of Fordingbridge Town Council last week, said: "There will now be a consultation on changes to opening hours and we will be reducing opening hours across the library service by 20 per cent.

“They are looking to make library hours more uniform across the county.”

He said data from the original consultation showed Fordingbridge Library was “very well used compared to libraries of a similar size” and praised staff for the “tremendous amount they do”.

Cllr Heron said the initial consultation came about out of the need to find £80 million worth of savings over the following two years but stated “the world has changed with Covid” and the county council has been “battered on all sides”.

He added: “Hampshire County Council because of its size and capacity, unlike many other county councils has the cash flow and resilience to deal with these issues in the short term. But dealing with them in the short term isn’t the same as having yourself on a sound financial basis going forward.”

He said as previously discussed there are issues with an ageing population and the impact on adult social care and through lockdown and other factors the council has seen “considerable pressures” on children’s services. He said over the years it has tried to “diversify” its income.

A report setting out a plan looking forward to 2022/23 showed a deficit in its funding of just over £210m, the meeting heard. Cllr Heron said “various models” had been looked at and in three of the four scenarios the chief financial officer came to the view that HCC “was not financially sustainable in the medium term”.

He said the council was continuing to have talks with government, adding: “It is only fair to be clear that even a county council of the type of Hampshire, which is nationally recognised as being one of those in the most sustainable position, cannot absorb that sort of hit without additional support from government. Because of our cash flow and reserves we are not in a position as some are where they are having to do emergency budgets or make in year cuts to services. I just want to be clear something will have to change for the council to be sustainable going forward.”

The consultation over reducing library hours closes at 11.59pm on August 17. For the consultation and more information click here.