COUNCIL leaders accused of jeopardising the future of community libraries after failing to waive business rates are to hand over £5,000 each to the volunteer groups set up to save them.

There was a barrage of criticism after Hambleton district council said waiving the business rate charges would be “illegal” even though six other district across North Yorkshire have agreed it. Under new rules charities such as the community libraries, get an automatic 80 per cent reduction in business rates, with the final 20 per cent charge discretionary.

From April 1 voluntary groups have taken over the running of 21 libraries across North Yorkshire after the county council axed funding in the face of government budget cuts. Five of them - Stokelsey, Easingwold, Bedale, Thirsk and Great Ayton - are in Hambleton district.

While the county council is providing back up all the volunteer libraries are having to fundraise to ensure the service carries on.

But Hambleton council leader Mark Robson, announced at a meeting of the full council that they now would be contributing £25,000 from a special £125,000 fund.

“This council has received a great deal of unwarranted criticism in respect of the blanket rate relief for libraries, which would be illegal,” he said.

“This council has always had great admiration for community initiatives. It is my intention for 2017 that the council will, from the Making a Difference Grant, award each community library £5,000 towards operating costs. This will be rewarded regardless of discretionary business rates.”

Cllr Gareth Dadd said: “I welcome this on behalf of the army of enthusiastic volunteers that have stepped up to the plate to deliver community libraries throughout the district. Some may say this is a U-turn, I see it as this authority being prepared to support these important ventures, and hope it may continue next year.”

The grant is seen as a major boost for the libraries. Trustee and treasurer of Bedale community library Alan Shinkfield said they had thought they would be paying up to £950 a year in business rates.

“We are delighted. We weren’t expecting to get any money from this council. This could cover the potential rates bill for five years.

“The library is a new initiative in the community and it is always going to be difficult in the first year of transition.

“This will be a significant boost to help us getting established.”