Papers just published confirm that Conservative-run South Gloucestershire Council intends to press ahead with large-scale cuts to the number of staffed hours at the district’s libraries.
After a backlash last year against initial proposals to reduce the opening hours completely, the council ran a public consultation last autumn on introducing a modified ‘Open Plus’ system which would see access controlled by swipe card technology for much of the week.
74% of the consultation’s respondents said that the council should not cut staffed hours and, significantly, “there was a reoccurring feeling amongst many that the outcome of this consultation had already been decided and was inevitable; that nothing consultees said could change the mind of those who make the decision”.
Labour councillors have argued that the Open Plus technology should not be used as a justification for slashing staffed hours, and have echoed the public’s concerns about safety and fair access at those times when the libraries are not staffed.
The proposals being put to the vote next Wednesday (29th) to proceed with Open Plus still cut staffed hours by 30% district-wide. However, they now exempt Hanham Library from the new system on the grounds of “fire risk”.
Councillor Ian Boulton, Labour’s Lead on community services, says:
“The Tory chair of the Environment & Communities Committee is presumably very disappointed that the library in her ward is not being put forward for ‘Open Plus’ technology given that she has consistently argued that this is a great system. Of course she has failed to convince her constituents of its merits, as Hanham probably has the most vocal campaign group in the district opposing the plans.”
Councillor Roger Hutchinson, Labour’s Deputy Lead on community services, adds:
“New technologies that deliver an addition to the current service are welcome, but they should not be used as a cover to cut the existing and much-valued library staff. We have received briefings on how this swipe-card system works in other countries and it is clear that it has been used to enhance rather than replace the existing services.”
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NOTE – The future library proposals are online at https://council.southglos.gov.uk/documents/s81565/libraries.a1.pdf