On Tuesday (5 July) the long-awaited Library Strategy was released by Swindon Borough Council. It details significant changes to the current library service to reduce the budget from £2.6m to £1.1m.
The released strategy left library staff “stunned” and campaigners “dismayed” to find only four of the town’s 15 static libraries would remain funded beyond June 2017. Users of Swindon Central Library, North Swindon, West Swindon and Highworth libraries will keep some staff and benefit from funded book stock and library services from the Borough Council; the remaining 11, plus the mobile library, will need to find sponsors or close in June next year.
Keith Smith of Save Highworth Library notes that, “we will receive a cut of nearly 75% of our staff hours if we go down to 15 hours per week. The proposal talks of savings of £32,000: these figures do not add up. What’s more, no one seems able to explain how the allegedly ‘saved’ libraries will operate after April 2018 when the building costs are no longer covered by the Borough Council.”
The proposed library service offers no coverage of the eastern and southern parts of Swindon Borough, leaving areas such as Wroughton, Covingham, Liden and Parks with no access even to a nearby alternative. The Council expects local community groups or parish councils to take on the funding, maintenance and running of the libraries if they are to carry on operating; some of the areas losing a library do not have a parish council and are at capacity in the voluntary sector.
Residents of Parks, along with campaigners and local councillors gathered at Park Library today to meet with a national news crew and to discuss the future of that library. The library was busy with its usual community knitting group, computer users and browsers. Many users stopped to comment on how vital Park Library is to the residents of the area, and to some from beyond Parks. One resident commented, “this is a large library, it’s always full of kids doing their homework, community groups and people borrowing books… do the Councillors making these decisions understand how much it costs to get on the bus from here to get up to Central Library? It’s more than a lot of people can afford”.
Save Swindon’s Libraries campaigners attended a meeting with Councillor Mary Martin, the Swindon Borough Council Cabinet member for Communities, and were shocked at how much of the proposal is already underway. Although the consultation is scheduled for August and September, Councillor Martin confirmed that measures are already being put into place to investigate community commitment to the unfunded libraries.
Sarah Church, of Save Swindon’s Libraries, warned, “the Council must not predetermine the outcome of the consultation. No alternatives have been properly investigated, even though we furnished the Council with many other options. We cannot see how this plan complies with the statutory obligation and we will continue to push for a plan that ensures access to libraries for all residents across the Borough.”
The subject of a rise of 14% to councillor allowances came up in discussions as an example of where cuts do not seem to be felt. It was heartening as the campaigners left the Civic Offices to bump into one Liberal Democrat councillor who has turned down this rise on moral grounds!
Campaigners are also urging all residents affected by this proposal to write to their ward councillors ahead of next week’s Cabinet and Full Council meetings. They say, “If residents are not to lose out in this postcode lottery, elected representatives need to speak up for their constituents, whether or not that is in line with their party policy.”