PALMER Park Library will remain open to the public on Saturdays following an amendment made to library proposals discussed at a meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee last night (July 16).
The East Reading library will continue to be open to the public on Saturday mornings between 10am and 1pm.
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 will remain open. However, it has been agreed that library opening hours be reduced in six of the seven branches to contribute to an estimated saving of £211,000.
The next phase of proposals for a future library service in Reading followed feedback from a four week library consultation, which ran from 21 February 2018. A total of 1,332 responses were received.
All the revised opening hours were agreed at Policy Committee on Monday (July 16), except in relation to Palmer Park Library. The East Reading library will remain open on a Saturday from 10am to 1pm after an amendment by Councillor Tony Jones, which was agreed.
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 changes 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 19 hours per week
• Whitley: 21 to 18 hours per week.
Late nights are retained at six of the seven library sites, including two late nights at Central Library, with Saturday provision across all library sites. 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 opening hours at Battle and Whitley and Palmer Park 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 changes, as far as possible in the light of our difficult budget decisions, take 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 have also listened to the users of Palmer Library and included a revised timetable that allows for Saturday openings.
“We know that people who use libraries continue to value them. We will continue to offer a wide range of events – including our much loved rhymetimes and storytimes, across our libraries, which we know are very much appreciated by residents.
“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 the lowest ranked branch catchment area for demographic need, will continue to be operated in partnership with Reading College. The library hours are based on when the college is present in term times, but the library will continue to open year round during both college term times and holidays. However, following the amendment, Saturday provision will now be included at the library.
To lessen the impact of the reduced opening hours on users, a book drop facility will be installed outside Caversham, Tilehurst, Battle and Palmer Park libraries so that books can be returned outside of opening hours. Central Library already has this facility. 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, to reflect that there will be no evening opening in this location.
As well as reduced opening hours, the changes will 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.
Other changes being implemented this year to achieve savings include further reduction in the library service’s stock fund and other staff reductions.
The report to Policy on 16th July can be viewed here: 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.