Council bows to pressure over library security concerns but is pressing ahead with controversial review

signFollowing public consultation, South Gloucestershire Council is pressing ahead with its controversial library service review to save £500,000 a year, and will be cutting staffed hours and introducing swipe card access at libraries to give users access seven days a week.

In response to widespread security concerns about unstaffed libraries, live-monitored CCTV is now proposed. But Hanham Library – where campaigners have been fighting plans to cut staffed hours and bring in self-service technology – is not included in the recommended roll-out based on local objections and a risk assessment which said one of the library’s fire exits has steps which would be impossible for people who use wheelchairs and have mobility problems to use without assistance.

From October, staffed hours will be reduced by 30% across the district. There was a reoccurring feeling among many who took part in the consultation – the results of which were published yesterday – that the outcome had already been decided by the Conservative-controlled council and that nothing they said could change the mind of those who make the decision.

The consultation found 74% did not want staffed hours cut. It also found that 97% of all those who took part had some concerns about Open Access. The biggest concern was the safety of the building and contents (92%), followed by equipment breaking (87%) and personal safety (86%).

Save Hanham Library campaigners have held several protests

Save Hanham Library campaigners have held several protests

More than half of respondents from every library said they would be likely to use ‘Open Access’, but it would be most popular in Patchway (93% said they would be likely to use it) and least popular in Hanham (55%).

Initial plans for the libraries included a daily visit by a security company when the libraries were unstaffed all day. It is now proposed that instead live-monitored CCTV cameras will be installed which will be used to periodically scan libraries during unstaffed hours. Next Wednesday the council’s Environment & Community Services Committee will be asked to approve £50,000 for upgraded stock security gates and the installation of the cameras.

Kingswood Library will be relocating to Kingswood Civic Centre in December so won’t get Open Access until it reopens at its new venue. Chipping Sodbury Library, which will be run by volunteers, will not get Open Access either but the others – Cadbury Heath, Staple Hill, Downend, Emersons Green, Yate, Patchway, Filton, Thornbury and Winterbourne – all will.

The cost of installing Open Access in the libraries identified will cost up to £400,000 and will see them open daily from 8.30am to 7.30pm for all library users over 16. Investment in this technology is one-off funding which the council says is not available to spend annually on running costs.

Meanwhile the consultation found that 91% of people who used the mobile library disagreed with the proposal to axe it, with concerns being expressed about access to library services by people with disabilities, the housebound, and people who could not travel to a static site. The council is planning to replace the mobile library, which is expensive to run, with an enhanced housebound service, and with community building-based libraries.

The library review will incur around £200,000 redundancy costs which will be met from the council’s central reserve.

Today Abi Unwin, from the Save Hanham Library campaign, said members were pleased that pressure had resulted in the recommendation that there will be some live CCTV monitoring of libraries but unhappy that staffed hours would be cut massively at their library – down from 41.5 hours to 26 a week.

She also highlighted that Patchway Town Council has agreed to fund the difference between the proposed staffing of 24 hours per week and the current level of 33.5 hours and it was a shame that the two parish councils in Hanham had not felt able to do that for Hanham Library.

Another Save Hanham Library campaigner, Claire Buttery added: “I’m pleased Open Access isn’t being implemented at Hanham and saddened that it is being implemented elsewhere; however, from a Hanham perspective, why can’t the money saved by not implementing Open Access at Hanham be used to provide a few more staffed hours to bring it in line with some of the other libraries?”

Labour councillors have argued that the technology should not be used as a justification for slashing staffed hours and have echoed public concerns about safety and fair access at those times when the libraries are not staffed.