Gloucestershire County Council today released skeleton details of their new library strategy drawn up after a High Court judge ruled their previous plans to be “bad government” and “unlawful” in November 2011.
Under the re-drawn plans seven libraries still face closure (Bream, Berkeley, Brockworth, Lechlade, Mitcheldean, Minchinhapton and Newnham). Public library services will be withdrawn from these areas, and local communities will be ‘offered the chance’ to run and fund their own library facility as volunteers. These facilities will not be part of the statutory public library network.
The main change from the previous plans, is that three libraries originally slated for closure (Hesters Way, Matson and Tuffley) will now remain open as ‘Partnership Libraries’. In recognition of their catchment areas’ high deprivation rankings, these libraries will be staffed by GCC for 21 hours per week. Any additional opening hours must be staffed by volunteers, and these libraries may be expected to co-locate with other services or voluntary organisations. Eight further libraries (Moreton, Bourton, Nailsworth, Wotton, Stonehouse, Prestbury and Churchdown) will also be Partnership Libraries, staffed by GCC for just 12 hours a week.
‘Local Libraries’ will be open for 5 days a week in Lydney, Tetbury, Fairford, Chipping Campden, Winchcombe, Bishop’s Cleeve, Quedgley, Hucclecote, Longlevens, Up Hatherley, Charlton Kings and Cinderford, while 9 ‘Main Libraries open six days a week will be located in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Stroud, Dursley, Tewkesbury, Cirencester, Coleford, Newent and Stow.
A decision on the future of the mobile library service (due to be completely closed under the previous proposals) has been postponed until after the consultation process is completed.
These plans represent a 1.8 million reduction to the service (on top of large reductions absorbed in previous years). There has been no change to the stock fund, which has seen a 50% reduction in recent years and is the lowest spend per head of population in any shire county.
Below is the initial reaction to the new cuts plans from Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries. Further details of the library strategy are here
Gloucestershire County Council remains determined to make deep and damaging cuts to a library service that is well used with 3 million visits each year, and economic to run costing little more than 1% of the overall budget.
Whilst we are delighted that, thanks to the dedication and determination of library users across the county, we have saved the libraries in the 3 poorest areas of Gloucestershire (Hester’s Way, Matson and Tuffley), we are extremely disappointed that Gloucestershire County Council is still pushing for a two tier system and that 7 communities are still having a metaphorical gun held to their heads and will no longer be funded. The County Council will now have to justify very clearly to these communities the reasons why they still intend to take their county library service away from them.
The new proposals are merely a rebranding of the old plans with some retrospective research to back them up. We were promised “significant changes” but have seen little.
We would like to point out that the county council’s cabinet report and press release which both claim that this is a 25.7% cut in the library service’s budget since 2010-11 completely neglects to add that a similar percentage was also cut in 2010-11.
We object strongly to the statement in the council’s press release that the £1 million saving from the service last year was “back office reductions.”In fact it was almost entirely made up of front line qualified librarians being made redundant and now, apparently, being replaced by volunteers.
We will be scrutinizing the plans very closely, as will the legal team who represented library users in the High Court. We have many questions to ask Gloucestershire County Council about their plans and the practicalities of them. We strongly urge all library users to engage with the consultation process and we will be reminding Gloucestershire County Council that they really must listen this time and respond positively.