In the spring, the council invited views on a range of options as part of its savings programme and also asked for alternative ideas.
There were 3,644 survey responses, 94 letters and emails, 123 letters from children, 13 petitions and two posters, plus feedback from public roadshows and through social media, along with representations from political parties and parish councils.
The latest plans (See Item 10) were published last night and include using swipe card technology so that residents 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, see below. This means that while still reduced, paid staff will be present for more time and at times of peak usage across libraries. For example, at Hanham Library, the proposal is to reduce the current number of staffed hours by 37%.
Community centre libraries are also being proposed in place of the mobile library. Chipping Sodbury Library – which was threatened with closure – will stay open with local support under the latest plans.
The savings target for the library service has also been reviewed and it is proposed that the service will need to save £500,000 instead of £650,000 within the budget of £2.6m.
The most important aspect of the library service to consultation respondents was ‘Having a library local to you’, with 1,369 people (61%) ranking it as the most important aspect and only 20 (1%) ranking it as the least important.
The next most important aspect was ‘Having a good range of books and other stock available’. There were 429 responses, 19% rating it as most important.
The least important aspect to consultation respondents was ‘Having access to computers and Wi-Fi’, with 910 people (41%) ranking it as the least important aspect and 70 (3%) ranking it as the most important aspect.
The next least important aspect was ‘Providing a good range of events and activities’ (548 responses, 24%) rating it as least important).
Respondents felt that changes to opening hours should reflect usage patterns in individual libraries and that the council should explore income generation. They also felt that volunteers should only be used to support paid staff and should not be used to run library services in isolation.
The council’s Environment & Community Services Committee meets next Wednesday to discuss the consultation results and the way forward. The meeting is at 2pm at the Armstrong Hall, Thornbury, to accommodate what is anticipated to be a larger than usual attendance by the public.
Cllr Heather Goddard (Con, Hanham), who chairs the committee, said: “I want to thank the community for their enthusiastic response to this consultation, as well as the staff working in libraries and behind the scenes for their work to build on the original proposals and to come up with these new options. I think these new plans offer a positive vision for sustainable, accessible and affordable library services, protected for the future.
“The consultation responses echoed the value we place on the work done by our library staff and the range of services delivered through our libraries. These new proposals will protect the maximum possible paid staff time and through the new Open Plus technology, actually allow users to take advantage of many library services all day, every day.
“While the Open Plus approach is an exciting opportunity to extend basic library services far beyond their current offering in terms of opening hours, it would only be as an extra to the full-service provision that our library staff deliver. Our staff are crucial to our libraries and the options for consideration by the ECS Committee are about ensuring that we can continue to have those staff as part of our libraries for the long term.”
Once the committee agrees to a potential way forward, there will 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 2017.
Open Plus is currently being installed at Bradley Stoke Library, and will go live this autumn so can be tested prior to a roll-out to all libraries in South Glos.
Save Hanham Library campaigners say they will be meeting on Saturday morning to discuss and respond to the latest proposals.
Meanwhile Cllr Ian Boulton, Labour’s spokesperson on library issues, said today: “The previous plan would have seen most of South Gloucestershire’s libraries reduced to a shadow of themselves so I obviously welcome it being dropped. We still have a lot of questions about this new ‘Open Plus’ proposal, especially in relation to staffing and security, and we will be pursuing those.
“Over the last few months we have been working with campaigners in South Gloucestershire to highlight the disastrous Conservative proposals to cut our local library services. I suspect that the first question that most of the campaigners will be asking is: why did the council put us through all this anxiety when there was an alternative option available? ‘Open Plus’ has not been dreamt up in the past few weeks and it should have been the basis of the consultation.
“I think it fair to question whether the Tories are in fact playing games by proposing something unpopular and then toning it down in an attempt to claim they have listened to the public. We have seen the same pattern with Kingswood Civic Centre, where an unpopular original proposal was subsequently modified.
“Of course, South Gloucestershire would not have to pursue library cuts of this magnitude if Conservative councillors had backed Labour’s proposal to invest £460k into libraries rather than shave 50p a month off of the green bin subscription when we set the council’s budget in February.”