If you accept that the libraries budget needs to take its share of the pain, which I do, you do not have to accept that libraries should be closed. First off a fair share of the pain is more like 10% and not the 30% as stated in the preamble to the libraries consultation:
Due to cuts to our government funding, Ealing Council needs to save Â£65million over the next three years. This is approximately 30% of the money that the council has available to spend on its services.
The first part of this statement is only partially true and the second part is nonsense. The council and its officers should be ashamed of itself for making this stuff up. I will be debunking this 30% figure in a future posting.
The councilâ€™s approach to saving money in the libraries budget has been put forward by libraries officers and it betrays their agenda which is to have fewer libraries with lots senior of â€œprofessionalâ€ staff. This agenda is about making career paths for professional librarians rather than providing the libraries that users want in hard times.
The library service is probably the least reformed and most old-fashioned service that the council runs. It has a massive workforce of 125 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff. They all work to the councilâ€™s standard terms and conditions, see here. This means that they only do 35 hour weeks and senior staff have 33 days of holidays every year. It is very hard to run what is essentially a retail business on this basis. When I suggested during the debate on libraries at full council last week that we should consider single-handed working in the smaller libraries, for at least part of the week, some idiot on the Labour benches shouted â€œhealth and safetyâ€. There is no record of safety issues in libraries. Do people run laundrettes and small shops double handed? No. There is no sense in it. In communities such as Perivale, Northolt, Northfield and Hanwell we are asking small shopkeepers to run their businesses single handed so that they can pay their taxes whilst the council robs their areas of footfall because it wonâ€™t run the library single handed.
It is typical of this service that they have lined up Northolt Leisure Centre Library for the chop. This is the cheapest library in the borough in terms of cost per book actually borrowed and yet has some of the longest opening hours at 48 hours per week. The library service dislike it because it so efficiently run by staff from Active Ealing (the council team who run many of our sports facilities). Active Ealing has a much more can do attitude than the hidebound library staff. This is certainly the model that will be used in Acton when the swimming pool and library are re-provided yet the library service wants to kill off the model they will be copying.
The Northolt Leisure Centre Library demonstrates convincingly that there is another way of running libraries and that money can be saved whilst services are preserved.