THE NEXT phase of proposals for a future library service in Reading will be considered at the meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee on Monday 16th July 2018.
The latest proposals have been revised following feedback from a four week library consultation, which ran from 21 February 2018. A total of 1,332 responses were received.
Library services are delivered from seven branches in Reading. Unlike many local authority areas where libraries have been permanently shut due to budget pressures, all seven libraries in Reading would remain open under the latest proposals.
However, it is proposed that library opening hours be reduced in six of the seven branches to contribute to an estimated saving of £217,000.
Reading Borough Council is one of many local authorities with little option but to continue to make difficult budget decisions in order to balance the budget, which it has to by law.
The cost of caring for and protecting the most vulnerable adults and children in Reading is expected to rise by more than £10 million this year, but very little new funding has been provided by Government in 2018/19 to cope with the rising demand. This means that the Council has to seek further savings across services.
Government funding for Reading will have been cut from nearly £58 million between 2010 and 2020, leaving the Council with a Government grant of under £2 million. This may be removed entirely by 2020 and there still remains little clarity on how Government will fund local authorities beyond that point.
The latest revised proposals include the following reductions in opening hours:
Central: 46 hours to 37 hours per week
Caversham: 35 hours to 27 hours per week
Battle and Tilehurst: 27 hours to 22 hours per week
Palmer Park: 21 to 16 hours per week
Whitley: 21 to 18 hours per week.
In the current options proposed, late nights and some Saturday provision are retained at six of the seven library sites, including two late nights at Central Library. Mondays and Thursdays see no change and Central Library opens for 37 rather than the 36 hours proposed during the consultation, for the same saving. The proposed opening hours at Battle and Whitley library have been revised following consultation feedback to ensure some key times people were most worried about losing are now open.
Cllr Sarah Hacker, Reading’s Lead Member for Culture, Heritage and Recreation, said: “These are the second set of major savings to library services in Reading in two years, but unlike many local authorities’ areas, we are not proposing to shut any of the seven branches.
“Over 1,300 responses were received from the latest the consultation, which shows how much libraries continue to be valued. The revised proposal, as far as possible in the light of our difficult budget decisions, takes on board the concerns expressed on the impact of reduced opening hours and presents an option we feel meets the varied needs our library users.
“We know that people who use libraries continue to value them. Our approach is to keep all branches open by making the best possible use of limited resources. As well as the obvious reduction in opening hours, the proposals include making better use of space by allowing external organisations or community groups to use Battle or Tilehurst.
“None of these decisions are easy but the reality is that for as long as the Government does not properly fund services like adults’ and children’s social care, it is services like libraries which will face the brunt of the cuts. That is the picture across the whole country.”
Palmer Park library, which is rated the least for demographic need, will continue to be operated in partnership with Reading College. The library hours are based on when the college is present, so the revised hours would provide this new pattern of library opening during both college term times and holidays.
Around 60% of this library’s users also use Central and other libraries. To lessen the impact of the reduced opening hours on users, a book drop facility will be installed outside the library so that books can be returned outside of opening hours. Additionally, at the nearby Palmer Park Leisure Centre, a small book collection point will be installed together with a self-service kiosk so that customers can collect items (ordered online or over the phone) and return items outside of opening hours.
As well as reduced opening hours, the proposals include allowing external organisations to move in and share space at both Tilehurst Library and Battle Library (once this has been extended this year), with a subsequent reduction in staff numbers.
Changes implemented this year to achieve savings already include further reduction in the library service’s stock fund and contract renegotiations.
The report going to Policy on 16th July can be viewed here: http://www.reading.gov.uk/media/9103/Item-13/pdf/item13.pdf
Consultation feedback primarily centred on the impact of reduced opening hours and the illustrative opening hours shared during the consultation process. Respondents subsequently offered a number of suggestions around opening hours to reduce any negative impacts of changes.
When considering how to find the savings needed, some of the most common suggestions from the public were: asking for donations for participating in library activities, sharing space with other services or partner organisations and using volunteers to a greater extent.
In 2016 the Council consulted on changes to the library service. Many of these changes were introduced from 2017.
A further review of library services is just one of many areas the Council is having to consider to identify savings in the face of severe and unprecedented Government cuts in funding, and increased demands on Council services.
Reading Borough Council continues to face the challenge of the most difficult budget position in its history. Demand for key Council services – like caring for vulnerable adults and children – is rising at a time of unprecedented and sustained cuts in funding for Local Government nationally.
Changes made in 2017 to Reading Library Service
As part of savings totalling £290,000, in 2017 Reading Libraries have:
· reduced opening hours by around 30% across the 7 libraries;
· introduced self-service issue and return kiosks;
· reduced staffing in the service establishment from 37 to around 28 full time equivalent;
· changed the library computer system to a better, cheaper alternative;
· increased the discount on books purchased from supplier;
· made in year savings of £60,000 have also been made through further efficiencies;
· leased part of Central library to an outside organisation for a rental income.