Plans to close 11 out of 15 libraries in Swindon have been condemned as “not thought through” and as “not feeling finished”. The chair of the Save Swindon’s Libraries campaign Sarah Church has spoken openly of her concerns following Swindon Borough Council’s proposals which were revealed yesterday (Tuesday 5 July).
Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet will be asked to approve a library strategy for consultation next Wednesday (13 July) which would create a core network of libraries including Central, North Swindon, West Swindon and Highworth. The strategy is in direct response to the financial pressures facing the Council and the need to save £1.5m from the library’s budget by 2020.
The council will no longer fund the 11 libraries not within this core network from June 2017, according to the proposals.
Sarah Church said: “We’ve made a baby step forward with these proposals and they are proof that the Save Swindon’s Libraries campaign is working. The hard work of the Save Swindon’s Libraries campaign team, campaign supporters and library users and staff has resulted in the recognition of the importance of paid library staff, and in the need for more than one library in the core service, however, this new proposal raises a lot of questions and concerns.
“The most pressing concern is the lack of a core library in the southern and eastern areas of Swindon. Furthermore the reliance on supplementing the core service with community-funded projects will be a postcode lottery, with the areas of highest social need most likely to lose out.
“Dressing up budget cuts as an opportunity is disingenuous and insulting to residents.
“Save Swindon’s Libraries will be putting these points to Councillor Mary Martin in a meeting tomorrow, as well as at Full Council next week. In the meantime, residents affected by the proposal should write to their ward councillor to make sure the impact on communities will be felt in the Council.”
“We need to focus now on the core service and continue to remind the Council regarding it’s legal obligations to the people of Swindon. Parks Library appears as the fifth candidate for the core service but has narrowly missed out for some reason. Covingham will now no longer be covered by this core service due to factors such as their bus routes being cut down. The concerns about coverage alone are growing.
“The Council need to realise that the ability to access an actual library is not the same as targeted interventions for educational needs. This strategy will pit area against area and people need to communicate their concerns to their ward councillors wherever possible.”
Swindon Area Green Party members have also reacted with dismay to Swindon Borough Council’s plan.
“Parish Councils and community groups had been waiting to hear what options they would be offered, and now it’s clear they have none,” said Swindon Greens spokesperson and Wroughton resident Talis Kimberly-Fairbourn. “Volunteers and community groups are already stretched to capacity, but if they don’t find a way to keep a service going, thousands of families will no longer have a library within walking distance.”
“It’s short-sighted and will be hugely damaging to communities and to the social and educational environment of our children,” said Talis. “Besides encouraging literacy and a love of the arts, and being a hub for community information and identity, libraries offer essential internet facilities to jobseekers and benefit applicants. It’s ludicrous to suppose that four libraries will be able to meet the needs of the whole of Swindon.
“People here are angry and saddened by this news. It’s not as if there is an infinite bucket of volunteer time to call on.”
The Labour Group’s Shadow Lead for Libraries, Councillor Jim Robbins, said: “This decision from the Conservative administration will have massive implications for library users across Swindon. Despite instigating a public consultation where almost all the 2688 people who responded said they wanted to keep Swindon’s library services, the Tory Cabinet ignored their message and are pulling funding from most libraries anyway. What was the point in the consultation?
“What’s also concerning is the areas that are likely to lose community libraries. Some of the town’s most deprived communities like Penhill and Parks are set to lose their libraries. How is the Council providing equal opportunities for people of all backgrounds and incomes when they are cutting back on services from our most deprived communities?
“Despite their disregard of the results of the last consultation, I would still urge library users to respond to the upcoming consultation to show, if nothing else, that the Tory Cabinet is out of touch with how much residents value their library services.”
Cllr Mary Martin, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities, said: “We are extremely fortunate in Swindon to have such a large number of libraries, but with an increasing amount of our budget being spent on vulnerable people in our community we cannot go on as we are.
“The core network proposed in the library strategy will ensure 85 per cent of households will live less than two miles from a library and that figure will increase further as we are intent on working with the community to develop ways of enhancing the library provision.
“The public engagement exercise showed what people value most about their local library and this strategy, if supported by the Council’s Cabinet, will allow us to provide an innovative service in locations that best meet the needs of local people.”