40% reduction in spending on new books planned
Hounslow Council plans to cut its book budget for libraries by 40% to save money over the next 12 months. The Council’s draft strategy for the borough’s eleven libraries, including Chiswick, would see the fund to purchase books reduced from £570,000 to £ 333,000, a saving of £ 240,000.
The plan, which has been criticised by local councillors, could also lead to reducing opening hours, lower staffing levels, and does not rule out closures.
A statement from the Council said the savings target for 2011-2012 and beyond was set at just over half a million pounds - £ 540,000. The plan includes "realigning " opening hours to save £171,000, and reducing the operating costs of Beavers Library by £52,000 by entering into a partnership with the voluntary sector to staff the library.
Other measures being considered include tiering the libraries to save £77,000. This in effect means reducing some of the skills at smaller libraries and giving central support.
In its statement, the Council said that John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS),who hold the contract for staffing, building maintenance and other services, were working over and above the hours contractually required and there was a savings opportunity to review opening hours and reduce them accordingly. A total of £ 1.25 million had been saved using the company over the past three years.
The Council said the target of £ 540,000 savings could be made with " limited impact" on the library service.
"To make this level of saving in 2011-12 and allow a sensible consultation on the draft strategy, we are recommending that we utilise the book fund to make this year’s saving. We have already invested over £1.2 million in new books over the last two years and have a balance of over £56,000 that can still be invested this year- £26,000 carried over from last year and the balance of the fund from this year. This balance will allow special orders, journals, periodicals etc to be purchased."
The Borough of Hounslow has eleven static libraries, a school library service, prison library service and a library-at-home service. The service is "strongly valued" by the community with almost half the population of the Borough visiting a library in the past 12 months. There were almost 1.75 million visits to libraries during 2009-2010.
The draft strategy is based on consultations over the past year and feedback from residents and users. The Council also pointed out that some libraries had undergone refurbishment in Osterley and Heston, and leisure’ hubs’introduced in Isleworth and Hanworth with the integration of a library, swimming pool and cafe. However, in the current economic climate they needed to be " realistic and balance our aspirations against the resources we have available to manage them" .
Recent consultations have shown that residents wanted libraries to be a place for education, a place for information and digital media, community cohesion, leisure and well-being , and an efficient service that met the needs of its users and attracted potential users.
The report was compiled by a team led by Councillor Pritam Grewal, lead member for Leisure and Well-Being.
But a former spokesman for libraries on that committee, Cllr. Paul Lynch said the size of the book budget was the crucial factor to the success of libraries. He commented "Cutting the books budget is the best way to chase people out of our libraries and when they are not there, they can then close them. It’s very disappointing".
September 22, 2011