Ealing Council to hand over seven libraries to volunteers

Ealing Council to hand over seven libraries to volunteers

Ealing Council has approved plans to hand seven of its 13 libraries over to community groups in a bid to save £1.1m, sparking anger from library campaigners.

There had been huge opposition to Ealing’s plans with more than 5,200 people signing a petition against the changes. Around 40% of the service’s 78 full-time roles are at risk, the council has said, though unions put the figure at around 50%.

But on 16th July, the council’s cabinet agreed to go-ahead with a large chunk of the proposals. After receiving expressions of interest, the council is now inviting groups to make detailed bids for five facilities in West Ealing, Hanwell, Pitshanger, Perivale and Northfields.

The Labour-controlled local authority will continue to manage the other two under threat libraries, Wood End and Greenford, until volunteer-run schemes can be found for them.

National library campaigner Alan Wylie said the decision represented cuts to the borough’s library service in all but name that would be detrimental to residents while the savings would be “peanuts”.

He told The Bookseller: “It’s a regressive move and the same old thing where they say ‘we’re keeping our libraries open, we’re saving them’ but actually they’ve giving them to volunteers with a minimum of support. They’ll help them for maybe a year or three but then they’re on their own. Really it’s cuts by stealth.”

He added: “Once you strip a library of its statutory basis and take away the staff, it's a room full of books. It’s not a public library anymore.”

Despite the opposition, councillor Jasbir Anand, cabinet member for business and community services, insisted the decision was necessary because the council’s government funding had been slashed by 64% in the past decade.

She said: “This means for every £1 we used to receive, we now get just 36p. At the same time, demand is increasing, especially among vulnerable adults and children and in our homelessness service.

“That is why we are having to look with fresh eyes at how we provide a whole range of services, including libraries. Our plans to transfer some of them to community-management will save £1.14million and give local groups the opportunity to develop and improve a valuable community asset.”

Ealing Council only took its library services back in-house last February after the collapse of contractor Carillion.

The news comes in the same week Essex revealed details of plans to hand over a swathe of its libraries to community groups.