Initial thoughts on Library Consultation

A lot of people have begun to respond to the South Gloucestershire Council Consultation on Libraries. As a community group that is external both to the libraries themselves as well as the council, we wanted to write down some of our thoughts on, and interpretation of the consultation document. This will be the first of our articles on the situation, breaking the situation down on point-by-point basis.

The headline cost of cuts to the South Gloucestershire libraries is £650,000 out of a budget of £2,600,000. That’s a reduction of around 20% by October 2017. This may be the complete set of cuts, but it is impossible to say anything about the following years, so it may merely be the first wave in “ongoing savings”.

The document defines a set of “Delivery Models” that a cut-down library service could operate under. We will break these down in the near future.

The Council has taken a look at all of these models, and come up with 3 Options. These were intended as ideas only, and not a case of “pick one of these”.

  1. “Close high-cost services / low use services and those close to existing main libraries and reduce other opening hours with a local opportunity to reduce impact” – Mobile library and Chipping Sodbury close, cut hours in remaining libraries, money spent on materials (books, newspapers, etc.) down 20%, start using volunteers – £500,000
  2. “As per option 1 with the provision of minimum staffing in satellite libraries with an opportunity to reduce the impact through external funding and the use of volunteers.” Satellite libraries staffed and operated by the Council for 18 hours per week, local groups to operate part of libraries – £630,000
  3. “Close all libraries except identified main libraries” – only Kingswood, Yate, Patchway, Thornbury and Bradley Stoke left; self-explanatory – £1,000,000

The Council have already expressed that Option 2 is their preference; i.e. what they want to run with. This is not a surprise, since Option 1 undershoots the budget, and Option 3 overshoots it. So really, there is only one Option on offer. This Option is widely unpopular, as it relegates Hanham to a “2nd Division” library that would not be able to provide many of the events and services it currently offers.

To put this Option in perspective – 18 hours would mean that the library would only be run professionally for 2 days a week, as opposed to 5 days at present. The talk of volunteers glosses over the difficulties of finding people to regularly step in to support employees without some form of compensation.

The cost of staffing Hanham Library for longer periods are later calculated in supporting documentation as £2,835 for each additional hour over the course of a year. Given an Option 2 scenario, the shortfall in annual funding required to keep Hanham Library open for the current 41.5 hours is £66,622.50, and as such Hanham Library cuts only make up 0.3% of the total amount to be saved each year by South Gloucestershire council to meet its current £22,000,000 per annum target.

The current population of the Hanham electoral ward, comprising Hanham Parish and Hanham Abbots Parish was 10,311 at the 2011 census. So the headline cost of keeping the library open for local residents is £6.50 per person per annum.

It is our understanding that Hanham Parish Council and Hanham Abbots Parish Council are voting on which of these Options to endorse at meetings today (1 March 2016) and tomorrow (2 March 2016). We think this is premature, given that the consultation only began last week and runs until 13 May. We are currently working through the remaining documentation to break down the other models proposed, with a view to presenting a viable Option 4. We hope that all 3 councils will work with us towards this in good faith.