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Future of West Berkshire library service to be decided tonight

West Berkshire Council looking to save £690,000

THE future of West Berkshire's library service is set to be decided tonight with councillors expected to vote for a savings package which will see seven of the district’s libraries retain at least one member of staff, with volunteers expected to step in to fill the void.

However, a council report suggests further cuts could take place in the future as the cash-strapped local authority struggles to reach its savings target of £690,000.

The decision will be taken at a meeting of the full council tonight.

Following a public consultation last year, council officers have recommended that seven of the district’s nine libraries will remain open, with one employed staff member who will be supported by community volunteers.

The savings package would see Newbury’s library undergo a “restructuring” of its team of employees while Wash Common library would be closed - saving the council £580,000 each year.

The recommendation comes after three options were put to the public.

The first would see seven branch libraries run by staff working alongside community volunteers; the second would see seven branches retain one staff member and five would be volunteer-run only (saving £620,000 per year); while the third option would see seven branch libraries run by volunteers only (saving £645,000 per year).

All proposed the retention of Newbury library and the closure of Wash Common Library.

The report by council officers states that ‘option A’ received the most public support and is thus recommended to be approved.

However, officers ask that the council be given the opportunity to ‘pilot’ community schemes which incorporate the other two options, in order to achieve the full £690,000 worth of savings.

West Berkshire Council’s executive member for culture, Dominic Boeck, said these pilot schemes would help the council to create a bespoke service to fit each community’s needs.

Speaking to the Newbury Weekly News, he said: “What is clear is that one system does not fit all.

“The libraries are different and what might work well in Hungerford or Lambourn might not work well in Thatcham or Theale.

“Certainly there are some libraries that are much more integrated into the community.

“We want to give those communities the option to get involved and so we are empowering the officers with the freedom to find the solution which is right for them.”

The recommended proposal would see almost half of the district’s library staff facing redundancy, with full-time employees set to be cut by 43 per cent.

One mobile library will be retained to continue providing an easily accessible service in more isolated communities, with an extra stop added at Wash Common.

West Berkshire Council has also asked the district’s parish and town councils to provide £150,000 worth of funding to help keep the library services running.

However, when asked if the 'pilot' schemes would mean further redundancies to library staff, Mr Boeck replied: “That’s the sort of detail we will have to work out.”

He added: “We have already started to find savings but this recommendation will give us the authority to go further.

“We need to work as quickly as we can because we need to make these savings.”

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