Labour councillors in South Gloucestershire say they back investing in new technology that could see libraries open for extended unstaffed hours, but they continue to oppose the ruling Tories’ proposal to massively reduce staffed opening hours.
Following a public consultation exercise on reducing library hours across the district to meet a £650,000 budget savings target, councillors will today be asked to vote on an eleventh-hour proposal to bring in an ‘Open Plus’ system.
The proposal would still implement a 33% cut in staffed hours across the district and an unquantified large cut to library staff.
Labour says that the level of staffed hours is an entirely separate, local, decision and does not impinge on the technology or principle of Open Plus which extends unstaffed hours. They therefore plan to move an amendment at the decision-making Environment and Communities Committee this afternoon uncoupling the two issues.
Councillor Ian Boulton, Labour’s Lead Member on libraries issues, says
“Labour voted against the budget cut target and we will not support recommendations that implement a policy that we fundamentally oppose. We identified an alternative source of funding when we set the budget – not using the Council’s scarce resources on shaving 50p a month off of the cost of the green bin subscription, and that remains our position. The Tories chose the bins instead, so the level of library cuts is entirely their responsibility.
The Tories are seeking to use Open Plus as a fig leaf for their large-scale cuts to South Gloucestershire’s library service. Their proposal will impose a 33% cut in staffed hours across the district and an unquantified large cut to our library staffing levels is inevitable.
The proposal also takes no account Priority Neighbourhoods, with Kingswood’s staffed hours cut by 37% - more than the district average.”
Councillor Boulton is also expressing his concern that the Open Plus proposal has only emerged after the public consultation run by the Council. He says:
"We are very unhappy about the way that the Tories have unveiled this option at the eleventh hour. It should surely have been the basis for the public consultation and previous discussions with library campaigners.
Open Plus has not been dreamt up since the consultation began. Other areas, such as Peterborough, have run Open Plus since 2014. The library service already has a close working relationship with a supplier of Open Plus technology so it cannot be a recent revelation.
The Tory committee chair told ‘Made in Bristol TV’ last Friday that:
'It is a relatively new technology but we have gone into it in great depth and there doesn’t seem to be any issue with it at all.'
If the council has gone into it in great depth why wasn’t it the basis for its consultation?
There may not “be any issue at all” with the technology, but the Tory proposal for implementing it raises many issues around staffing, personal security and access for young people.
Open Plus should not be used as a cover for a 33% cut in staffed hours at our libraries, but we should invest in technology that genuinely extends library access.”