Opposition call-in fails to stop library plans

By Aaron Kendall   |   Assistant Editor   |
Thursday 30th November 2017 3:00 pm
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A call-in by opposition councillors to re-examine B&NES Council’s Modern Libraries Programme has failed to halt plans to merge Bath’s One Stop Shop with the Central Library in the Podium. However, the Panel did uphold the Community Libraries call-in, asking for more consultation to be undertaken, and to find out if there really is an appetite for the community taking on the running of local libraries. Those affected are Paulton, Radstock, Moorland Road, Weston and Saltford.

The Cabinet has responsed to concerns raised by the scrutiny panel, and has added amendments and clarifications to the original decision, adding that the mobile library service will continue to operate and is not subject to closure. However, the

vehicle has recently been off the road due to repairs, and officers now say they will be investigating opportunities to replace it.

The Council will also seemingly press ahead with its plans to consult on setting up a network of community libraries across the area, tailored to local needs, and says it will not adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach. It does concede though, that if no one locally is found to run them, the Cabinet will need to make decisions about the need for closures, alternative provision or equivalent savings.

Sadly, the majority of savings from this model will be achieved by staff reductions, with each of the five B&NES-run branch libraries instead supported by staff from one of its three core libraries – Bath, Keynsham and Midsomer Norton.

Should groups be interested in taking on their community library, B&NES says it will provide an initial investment of £275,000. Cllr Liz Hardman (Paulton, Labour), questions the approach. She said: “I do not understand how local people are expected to find the money to rent premises, pay utility bills, pay for professional staff to support volunteers and fund IT.

“These costs amount to tens of thousands of pounds. This plan is not about fundraising to pay for a one-off item. Instead, if implemented, local communities will be given the relentless task of, day after day, seeking to find enough money to run their libraries on an ongoing basis.

“It’s completely untenable, and most residents will be wondering why they pay their Council Tax.

“Our library in Paulton is called The Hub because it is literally that. It serves as a place to borrow books, use computers, along with printing and photocopying facilities. It has a thriving café, and is so much more than a library.”

Defending the proposals, Cllr Karen Warrington (Conservative, Clutton), Cabinet Member for Transformation and Customer Services, said: “Our clear aim is to avoid any library closures, and create a sustainable future for them. We have listened to concerns raised about these proposals and responded to them.

“The Council is already talking to community groups about innovative solutions to help libraries reach new audiences and meet local needs. As and when viable plans come forward, the Council will consult residents and users about the proposals to make sure they meet local wishes and needs.

“There are some great examples in other parts of the country where community libraries work well, and that’s what we are aiming for.”

The Council’s Modern Libraries Programme is aiming to deliver up to £800,000 a year in savings.

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