Plans to close 10 out of Swindon's 15 libraries have been approved by the council’s cabinet.
The proposals were approved by the cabinet at a meeting on Wednesday evening (7th December), but need to be examined by a scrutiny committee before they can be finalised. The scrutiny committee will meet on Monday (12th December) to examine the plans.
The proposals will see a core network of five libraries - Central, North, West, Highworth and Park - operate throughout the town which the council says will meet the needs of 80% of current library visits. Under the new model, staffed hours in Central Library will be 47.5 hours a week, while 15 hours a week of staffed hours would be available at North, West, Highworth and Park libraries.
The town's remaining 10 libraries will see opening hours reduced to 15 hours per week from 5th April 2017, with the council anticipating that these libraries will remain funded until 31th August 2017 to allow for a longer lead-in time for the development of community proposals. The council insists that the library service provided by the cabinet will be delivered by qualified librarians and trained library staff.
The council has said that £500,000 in transitional funding will be available to pay for the one-off costs of "viable community-led solutions". An initial tranche of this funding will secure community-led library services in Wroughton, Covingham and Upper Stratton. The council will invite expressions of interest for community-led library services by 31st January 2017.
The mobile library service will stop running from 31st March 2017.
The strategy approved by cabinet would be supported by investment in technology to allow access to library buildings outside of staffed hours, according to the council.
Cllr Mary Martin, Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for communities, said that the new strategy "sustains many of the great things about Swindon's library service" and added that the council has engaged with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) throughout the development of the strategy and incorporated "significant changes" to the model as a result of the public consultation that ran over the past year.
Initial proposals before the consultation process planned for only four libraries to remain council-run. The plans were slammed as “very detrimental to Swindon children” by the region’s headteachers and Nick Poole, c.e.o. of librarians' body CILIP argued that the plans would cause "long-term damage" to the futures of constituents.
“We note with concern that the model being proposed for Swindon is more severe in its reduction of the statutory service than almost any other we have seen”, Poole said.
Martin added that the council is exploring the possibility of a mutual model and will be applying for a share of the £4m in innovation funding announced by the Libraries Taskforce last week.
Earlier this week, Poole and Kevin Brennan, the shadow culture minister, appealed to the Secretary of State to intervene in the closures.
A DCMS spokesperson told The Bookseller: "Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service and we have powers to ensure they comply. The department is monitoring Swindon Borough Council’s changes to its library service, and the minister for civil society Rob Wilson met with the local MP and council's library portfolio holder to discuss the council's proposals."
"DCMS officials have also been in contact with Swindon Borough Council officers since it published its original proposals in February. DCMS has made clear that all local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service, the importance of a consultation with local people and an assessment of local needs, and that councils should take in consideration of the impact of any proposals.
"If DCMS receives a complaint about Swindon’s library we will investigate and could, if necessary, take further action."