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'Where is back-up plan for library volunteers?'

Council could fail its statutory duty if helpers do not come forward, Theale councillors claim

WEST Berkshire Council has no back-up plan if volunteers don’t come forward to save libraries, it was claimed this week.

Campaigners protested in force when Theale Library was earmarked for closure and now West Berkshire Council is asking residents to step in and save the service.

The council is consulting on three options for the district’s libraries, with the most severe cut resulting in all library staff outside of Newbury axed and seven branch libraries run by volunteers.

Option B would see would create a ‘hub and spoke’ library network, replacing half the staff at two branches and the remaining five run entirely by volunteers.

The final option would see staffing levels at seven branches halved, with volunteers taking up the slack.

Discussing the consultation at a meeting on Monday, parish councillors asked what would happen if volunteers did not come forward.

Parish clerk Jo Friend said: “The library service is a statutory service… if they are relying too much on volunteers, which could be a bit unpredictable, are they actually going to be able to fulfil their statutory duty?

“Do you want to see a library service with some staff or to have a substantial number of branches with no staff?”

To which Zoe Fenwick said: “They don’t seem to have a back-up plan if they don’t get the volunteers.”

Mrs Fenwick also asked who would train volunteers and that they would need to be CRB checked and first-aid trained.

Describing the decision to close all libraries as ludicrous, Iain Hopcroft said: “I can’t imagine going to a library with no librarian.”

He added that Theale would be a sensible place for a hub library.

But chairwoman Becky Williams said: “I agree that B is the most sensible for Theale, but I certainly don’t think it’s the ideal one.”

Parish councillors decided that keeping libraries half-staffed and half-volunteer run was the best option.

However, David Wood said: “Option A isn’t the best option but the others are worse.”

All options are also based on a £150,000 annual contribution from parish councils, which Mrs Friend said represented double taxation for residents.

When the asked the district council what would happen if volunteers did not come forward, a spokesman said: “The number of volunteers needed will depend on the outcome of the consultation so we don’t yet know how much support we will look to the community for.

“However, [the needs assessment] acknowledges the goodwill evident in our communities and a desire from them to support their libraries, so we remain optimistic as we begin our discussions with these communities.”

The council announced earlier this year that it would be closing all libraries in the district except Newbury as part of its far-reaching budget cuts.

However, after the Government raised concerns about the proposals, and the council received £1.4m of ‘transitional’ funding, the council announced it would only close Theale and Wash Common libraries.

The council then said that no library would close until a detailed needs assessment had been carried out.

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