Campaigners say they will continue their fight to keep the current number of staffed hours at Hanham Library – especially as a proposed swipe card system giving users seven-day-a-week access may not be introduced.
Following two rounds of public consultation and against a backdrop of financial pressure on local authorities, South Gloucestershire Council is pressing ahead with its controversial library service review to save £500,000 a year, which from October will see staffed hours cut and swipe card access introduced at most libraries in the district.
Of those who took part in the most recent consultation, 74% did not want staffed hours reduced and there was a recurring feeling that the outcome had already been decided and that nothing they said could change the mind of those in charge.
But in response to security concerns about unstaffed libraries, live-monitored CCTV is now being planned. The council’s Environment & Community Services Committee yesterday asked the Policy & Resources Committee to agree to spend £50,000 for upgraded stock security gates and the installation of the cameras.
Hanham Library is not currently included in the roll-out of Open Access, based on local objections that it would eventually lead to more staffing cuts, and security concerns about safety in unstaffed libraries, along with a risk assessment by the council which found one of the library’s fire exits has eight steps which would be impossible for people in wheelchairs and who have mobility problems to use without assistance.
Save Hanham Library campaigner Robin Champion told yesterday’s meeting that had Hanham’s two parish councils known about the rear access problems, they might have agreed to the campaigners’ request last autumn to fund the shortfall in staffed hours. The current 41.5 hours a week are due to drop to 26.
The two councils had declined to fund the shortfall, saying it would not be good value for money, especially as the proposed swipe card access would have seen a 100% increase in library opening hours.
Mr Champion said campaigners would now be “reopening discussions” with both parish councils about funding the shortfall. They will be attending Hanham Abbots Parish Council’s meeting at Hanham Hall next Tuesday and Hanham Parish Council’s meeting and annual parish assembly at the community centre next Wednesday.
While the most recent consultation found that more than half of respondents from every library in South Glos said they would be likely to use Open Access, it was least popular in Hanham (55%) and most popular in Patchway, where 93% would be likely to use it.
Patchway Library will need an estimated £51,000 spent on fire safety and access improvements to make it compliant for Open Access. Meanwhile the town council there has also agreed to fund the difference between the proposed staffing of 24 hours per week and the current level of 33.5 hours.
The cost of installing Open Access across the district will be up to £400,000 and will see libraries open daily from 8.30am to 7.30pm for all library users over 16. Investment is one-off funding which is not available to spend annually on running costs.
At yesterday’s meeting of the Environment & Community Services Committee, Labour councillor Ian Boulton said that when the Hanham Hall housing estate and John Chiddy Close homes were built, the developers, under planning obligations, made contributions to the community, including more than £40,000 for Hanham Library (such money cannot be spent on staffing).
He asked council officials to investigate the sums – £34,789 from Hanham Hall and £7,069 from the other development – and come back with a plan for using some of it to make the library’s rear fire escape access Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant. However, the ruling Conservative group voted against his recommendation.
Cllr Boulton said: “These remedial works cannot be left undone now that council members and officials have been told about the problems with the eight-step exit, so I am dismayed that Conservative councillors have chosen to block it.”
Lib Dem member John Davis said: “The Labour group proposed action, without knowing if it was possible – and the bureaucrats said they couldn’t approve something blind. We then suggested that they spend some of the money on investigating what could be done.”
However, the Lib Dems’ proposal also failed, with the Conservatives voting against it.
Meanwhile Unison steward Alex Lowe told the meeting that library staff had faced uncertainty, anxiety and stress for 14 months and that morale was very low, and some talented and valuable staff had already left after finding other jobs. The library review will incur around £200,000 redundancy costs which will be met from the council’s central reserve.
Today the Conservatives said in a statement: “There have been challenges encountered and it will not be possible at this time to implement open access technology in Hanham, Kingswood, or Chipping Sodbury libraries.
“At Hanham there is an issue with fire safety, for disabled users cannot use the secondary exit which backs onto the car park, and therefore might not be safe to use the library outside of staffed hours. To address this there will need to be a ramp installed, but because of the steep drop and narrow space it is not yet known whether this is possible. Councillors and officers have committed to investigating this and if a solution can be found, Hanham will have Open Access technology fitted.”
The statement added that Kingswood Library would be relocating into the Civic Centre in December and it is proposed that Open Access technology is installed there after the move is completed. Chipping Sodbury Library meanwhile, which will be manned by volunteers from October, has a number of issues with lease negotiations as the council does not own the building and it is within a conservation area where there are strict rules governing making physical changes to buildings. As such it is not proposed to install at this moment.
Today Heather Goddard, chair of the Environment & Community Services Committee, and who is a councillor for Hanham, said: “The Labour group didn’t do their homework and made a recommendation to blindly spend taxpayers’ money on something that isn’t necessarily even possible. I want to see Open Access technology in Hanham Library and have committed, along with officers, to investigating whether there is a sensible solution that will allow Hanham to benefit.
“The majority of the public back our policy of Open Access technology and I look forward to opening libraries up to people who work, for whom libraries would be closed by the time they returned home.”