Campaigners question legality of South Glos library consultation

Campaigners out in force outside Hanham Library today

Campaigners out in force outside Hanham Library today

Save Hanham Library campaigners are considering a legal challenge over the way South Gloucestershire Council has run the consultation on proposed changes to the district’s library service.

Following a huge response to the public consultation into proposed cuts to the service, the council this week unveiled a new optionusing swipe card technology so that residents across South Glos can use libraries, borrow and return stock from 9am to 8pm seven days a week.

The initially proposed reductions in staff hours have also been scaled back, although they are still set to be cut by around a third.

Today a large group gathered in the rain outside Hanham Library to protest – supported by beeping horns from passing drivers – and the overwhelming feeling of the people there was that the consultation had been a sham. There was also concern about how safe it would be to enter an unstaffed library.

Leading campaigner Suzanne Johnson said that swipe cards had not been mentioned as an option in the consultation and there was the “possibility of a legal challenge”.

She added that security was a major issue as although there would be CCTV in the libraries, it would not be monitored, and that under-16s would not be eligible for swipe cards and would therefore be excluded.

She also said that some people with disabilities would struggle to use the unmanned libraries, with those who are visually impaired not being able to use the self-checkout system.

She urged people to keep up the pressure against the changes and to lobby MP Chris Skidmore and local councillors. She reminded campaigners that earlier this year the Conservative-controlled council had chosen to use transitional Government money to chop 50p a month off the subscription cost of green bins in the district instead of using the money to protect libraries.

Fellow library campaigner Abi Unwin said that she had ticked on the council survey that she wanted extended opening hours but like many others had presumed that meant staffed hours as there had not been any mention of the so-called Open Plus technology as an option.

Another key member of the campaign team, Sue Lander, said that of the 35 library users the team they had surveyed this morning, 30 had been against swipe cards and the other five said they would use them but only if they had to.

Trade unionist Richard Worth, who was at the protest meeting today, called on the council, which is making savings across the board as part of austerity, to dip into its £20m reserves to keep the library service as it is.

He highlighted the fact that Conservative-controlled Stoke-on-Trent City Council had decided to use £15m from reserve funds to avoid making cuts to public services.

He said the reserves were there for emergencies and the situation facing the library service was an emergency.

South Glos Council said this week that it has reviewed the savings target for the library service and is now proposing that £500,000 will need to be saved instead of £650,000 within the library budget of £2.6m.

The council’s Environment & Community Services Committee meets on Wednesday at 2pm at the Armstrong Hall in Thornbury to discuss the consultation results and the way forward. There will then be a second consultation where proposals for individual libraries will be open for feedback. If accepted by the committee, the proposals will be implemented in October of next year.

Cllr Heather Goddard (Con, Hanham), who chairs the committee, has said that the proposals will protect the maximum possible paid staff time and the swipe cards will enable users will be able to take advantage of many library services all day, every day. Open Plus is currently being installed at Bradley Stoke Library so it can be tested prior to a roll-out to other libraries in South Glos.