Labour Group values our well-trained and dedicated library staff and would not want to see the Council pursue policies that would lessen the quality of service that residents receive. We have concerns about the appropriate use of volunteers and the level of responsibility that it is reasonable to expect them to assume.
Labour Group is also concerned about creating a ‘postcode lottery’ with wide variations in access ensuing if local communities are asked to deliver services outside core hours, as wealthier areas may be better placed to fund additional hours.
Labour Group supports the co-location of library services with other Council services where possible. Unfortunately, in the case of Kingswood, the Conservative Administration is now forcing the removal of these other Council services.
The scale of savings required to be found from library services is wholly avoidable. Labour councillors formally proposed an additional £460,000 of resources for the service and this was rejected by the Conservative majority on the Council. Although this proposal was rejected this year, there remains scope for councillors to reprioritise their spending and loosen the squeeze on library budgets.
The Conservative Administration should abandon its policy of prioritising spending on reducing the green bin annual subscription and put that money towards mitigating cuts to 12 libraries and the materials fund at the earliest possible opportunity.
Questions 8 & 9
Labour Group reluctantly accepts the savings identified from the high-cost/low-use services on value-for-money grounds.
Labour Group is opposed to the creation of a two-tier system of main and satellite libraries, as this may make satellites more vulnerable in the future. We also question the willingness or even ability of users to access libraries other than their nearest: clearly those without access to private transport will find it more difficult to reach and use services at an alternative location and this should be avoided.
South Gloucestershire is a very diverse area and different communities doubtless use their libraries differently. They certainly provide a lot more than a book borrowing service including:
• information technology and free wifi, which particularly benefits those without computer access at home
• computer training, which skills up local people and helps them to access employment
• summer and other school holiday activities for local children
• activities for groups with special needs such as people living with dementia and mental health issues
• a safe place for residents to visit, thus helping to combat social isolation
We want to see clearly-understood equitable opening hours that maximise public access from the available budget. Clearly increasing that budget – our starting point – would enable an increase in opening hours.
We do not believe that simple usage figures should be used to determine library opening hours. We want the Council to have a more sophisticated understanding of the quality of visits rather than mere quantity, for example visits to access support and/or technology to access employment opportunities or welfare benefits must be considered a higher priority than some other uses or leisure activities. For this reason libraries supporting the council’s Priority Neighbourhoods need to be safeguarded.
The diminution of our library services – when additional money is available but being put to a less worthy purpose – should and does cause reputational damage to South Gloucestershire Council and widens the gap between the Council and its communities.