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West Berkshire libraries to be saved; but at what cost?

Staff to be cut and reliance to be made on volunteers and parish councils

John Herring

John Herring


01635 886633

"Save our library" say Theale children

West Berkshire Council is considering cutting all library staff outside of Newbury and relying on volunteers in order to slash up to £645,000 from its budget. 

It is one of the options being considered by the district council following a report into the running of its libraries.

Three options are being put forward to the council's influential executive committee next week and all involve cutting staffing and relying on volunteers.

The most drastic option would see £645,000 cut along with all staff in seven branch libraries replaced by volunteers. 

Another option would create a 'hub and spoke' library network, replacing half of the staff at two branches and the remaining five run entirely by volunteers.   

This would save an estimated £620,000 but the council does not say which libraries would be affected.  

However, a consultant report indicates that hubs in the east and west of the district could be established. 

The final option would see staffing levels at seven branches cut in half with volunteers taking up the slack; saving an estimated £580,000.

All options include closing Wash Common Library and cutting one mobile library.

Newbury Library would remain fully staffed although the service would be streamlined.

The council said that it needed to make £690,000 of savings to the library service but now admits that this is unlikely to be achieved.

A reliance on funding from town and parish councils is also included in the recommendations, based on an annual contribution of £150,000.

Consultants RedQuadrant also tabled the option of closing a majority of libraries but did not say which ones. 

However, it did carry a strong warning that this option would leave the council exposed to a legal challenge. 

The recommendations follow the council hiring RedQuadrant to conduct a detailed needs assessment of its library service.

Thousands of people rallied against the council's proposal to close eight of the district's nine libraries as part of its far-reaching £17.5m cuts last year. 

Now the council is calling on these campaigners to take on the running of their libraries or risk seeing them close.  

RedQuadrant was hired following government advice over the councii's statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.

Executive members will discuss the report and its findings at a meeting on Thursday, October 20.

If accepted a public consultation will be held later this year. 

The council's executive for culture Dominic Boeck (Con, Aldermaston) said: "The review we conducted this summer has found a way forward which allows us to keep eight of our libraries open and retain a mobile service too.

"We will do this by becoming more efficient but also by harnessing the goodwill, energy and passion of our local residents.

"The contribution they could make is acknowledged in the report and we have already begun speaking to local groups and organisations who asked to be more involved.

"We are optimistic about our library service and I am pleased that the transitional funding we allocated to libraries has brought us the time to reconsider our proposals and ensure the plans we were making for the future were the right ones."

The RedQuadrant needs assessment can be read here

If a recommendation for a six-week consultation is approved it would mean a final decision on the library service will be made in early 2017.

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