Ealing Council is proposing to close seven of its 13 libraries unless volunteers come forward to run them as it seeks to make savings in the wake of government cuts, with one library campaigner branding the plan “crazy” and a “false economy” as 4,700 people sign a petition to save the service.
The changes are part of a cuts package aimed at saving £57m from the council’s budget by 2021. Under the plans, which critics have branded “unsustainable”, Ealing Council hopes to save £1.2m, on top of £499,000 savings previously agreed, totalling £1.6m - 37% of the current libraries budget, with 40 jobs at risk according to campaigners.
National library campaigner Alan Wylie, who has been a public library worker for 25 years, said volunteer-run libraries will result in the decline and closure of branches and stressed it is “unfair” to force residents to provide a service they are already paying for. The campaign to save the service is gathering momentum with more than 4,700 people signing a petition to keep the libraries open with the consultation due to close on 17th May.
Wylie said: “Libraries are a statutory service, they are not a hobby or a luxury and they have to provide them by law. They are a crucial public service and they complement other services with people going in to ask about social services or housing. Handing them over to volunteers is just a crazy idea and it’s a false economy. It’s blackmail really saying ‘if you don’t take over your library we are going to close it’. The equivalent of 40 full-time library positions are at risk.
“Volunteer-run libraries will not have trained and qualified staff providing the service, which is far more complex than some would have people believe. There are questions as to the accountability of volunteers and whether or not they would be required to abide by council rules, legislation or the code of ethics that librarians are required to.”
Ealing Council, which took its library services back in-house in February 2018 after the collapse of contractor Carillion, would not comment on potential job losses while the consultation remains open.
Under the proposals Greenford, Hanwell, Perivale, Northfields, Pitshanger, West Ealing and Wood End libraries will all close unless a “viable partner is identified” to run the branches as “community managed libraries”. The council says it would still provide some investment to cover basic costs, provide book stock and access to IT, the Ealing library card and expertise from the library service.
Four main town centre libraries will continue to be run by the council in Action, Ealing, Northolt and Southall with two branch libraries in Jubilee Gardens and Northolt Leisure Centre to remain open with a reduction in some opening hours.
An Ealing Council spokesperson said: “There are as many as 400 community managed libraries across the country and many local authorities are considering this model in the face of the cuts to their government grant. We value libraries, and we know that our communities do too, and our proposals reflect this. During the consultation, there will be opportunities for community groups to meet with us, as well as operators of community managed libraries from other parts of the country, to find out more. We hope as many people as possible get involved.”
Campaigners will hold a public meeting at Ealing Town Hall, The Elizabeth Cantell Room on Wednesday 8th May at 7pm.