BRADFORD Council has been criticised for the “staggering” £109,000 it is owed in outstanding library fines.

The debt, which has soared by 30 per cent in the last ten months, should be collected and used to keep library services running at full capacity, say opposition councillors.

The amount outstanding has increased from £83,842 last September to £109,810 up to July 31 this year – a hike of £25,968.

The surge comes after two years of driving down how much the Council is owed, thanks in part to readers being sent text messages reminding them of their debt to speed up repayments.

Between November 2011 and September last year, the amount owed was cut by half – but now it has risen above £100,000 again, leading to calls for an inquiry into why.

Councillor Jeanette Sunderland, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Bradford, said the numbers involved were astonishing.

“It is a lot of money that should be paid,” she said.

“What staggers me is the amount of money involved. How many books is that?

“I am staggered by the amount of money involved. There must be an awful lot of books that haven’t been returned.

“If that money was paid in, those fines could actually keep the library services running in other places that have been proposed as being cut.”

Cllr Sunderland added: “What is sad is that people do not take library books back and are denying others the chance to use that book.

“Libraries only work when people borrow books and take them back.”

However, Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, the Council’s executive member for employment, skills and culture, countered, stating that the amount of fines issued each month was going down.

In the 31 months, since November 2011, the monthly average for unpaid fines was £3,542.

In the ten months since last September it has averaged at £2,596 per month.

Cllr Hinchcliffe said: “I’m pleased to see that the amount of fines we are issuing each month is actually going down.

“That’s because we’ve now got more ways of communicating with library users to remind them about renewing their book before they get a fine.

“We use e-mails and text messaging to remind people as well as more traditional letters.

“It’s not about catching people out, it’s about getting the books back so other people can use them.”

Deputy leader of the Conservative group in Bradford, Simon Cooke, said the Council needed to do more to collect the cash.

He said: “It’s concerning. We do need to get to the bottom of why this is happening.

“This is a false economy really. The Council needs to spend more time collecting the money for outstanding fines, rather than telling us how many they are issuing per month.”

The local authority said that between November 1, 2011 and July 31 this year, a total of £403,565 had been built up in fines – though some are written off for reasons including bereavement, library closure, family emergency or staff error.

The worst offenders are book-borrowers in Keighley, where the town’s main library has £18,882 outstanding in unpaid fines.

The next five worst are: Manningham at £11,596; Shipley at £11,549; Eccleshill at £9,204; Bingley at £5,615 and Laisterdyke at £5,046.

On the opposite end of the scale, Haworth Library has no outstanding fines owed.

Apart from travelling libraries, only three libraries have outstanding fines under £100 – Addingham with £80.80; Wilsden at £43.80 and Keighley Local Studies at £12.65.

The highest library fine owed by an individual in Bradford district is £293.25. There are at least nine people with fines each totalling £250 or more.

Cllr Hinchcliffe said the fine for a book returned late was 10p per day.