THE district’s library staff will be cut by almost half, with volunteers expected to step in to fill the vacancies, in a move set to save the council around £580,000 per year.
The decision was taken at a West Berkshire Council meeting on Tuesday night as the local authority struggles to keep the service running amidst tightening budget restraints.
The cuts will see seven of the district’s nine libraries manned by a single staff member, who will be supported by volunteers.
Newbury’s library will undergo a “restructuring” of its team of employees, while Wash Common library will be closed.
The move will also see one of the mobile libraries retained.
Speaking at the meeting, West Berkshire Council’s executive member for culture and environment, Dominic Boeck, said the proposal would provide significant savings by reducing staffing levels, while also asking parish and town councils to contribute a total of £150,000 toward the service.
“Our library service is highly valued by the residents and community,” he said.
“We have seen usage fall over the years, however, libraries still remain an important service.”
Councillors voted on the proposal following a public consultation which put forward three options detailing varying levels of cuts to the service.
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).
All of the proposals were seen as an improvement on the initial proposal last year to close down all but one of the district’s libraries.
The council backtracked, however, after the possibility of a legal challenge was raised.
Leader of the opposition on West Berkshire Council, Lee Dillon (Lib Dem, Thatcham North) said the option put before the council (‘option A’) was the “least unacceptable”, but raised questions over the future of the service.
He said: “Even if we support ‘option A’ this evening we don’t know what our final library service will look like with parish council contributions still to be tallied and opening and operational models not pinned down.”
In a report put to the council, officers admitted the move may not be the end of the shake-up to services, with the cash-strapped council still expected to be short of its £690,000 savings target.
Mr Dillon said: “The report says 'option A' can be successfully implemented much faster than other options while retaining the option to move to B or C later.
“So if we support 'option A' this evening we may not be securing the long term of our library service, despite the council having nearly a year to create a long-term solution that reassures our communities that they will continue to have a professional library service across the district.”
The possibility of legal action if the other two options were incorporated in the future was also raised.
However, Gordon Lundie (Con, Lambourn Valley) defended the proposal, saying: “It gives us some of the savings we need, but at the same time allows us to protect some of the services.”
Conservative councillors voted in favour of the proposal, while the three Liberal Democrat councillors present abstained.