Labour warns that libraries could be closed and frontline staff made redundant

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A major report on Kent’s libraries has been made public, and it contains thousands of statistics about the service.

But some Labour members fear this could be a route to eventual closures or cuts in frontline jobs.

Kent County Council said it has produced the comprehensive report so the public can make an informed choice in how their local library is run.

The authority said over the coming months, discussions will begin with councillors and community representatives in each district to talk about their libraries and explore new ways of doing things.

The aim of the report is to help these discussions by providing as much background information as possible so the groups can make informed recommendations on how their libraries could be run in the future.

Some library services have increased in popularity.

Between October and December last year, some 18,424 books were borrowed daily, and 556 reading groups were supported by KCC Libraries and Archives, a 17 per cent increase on the same period in 2010.

Support volunteers contributed 40,425 hours of their time.

KCC said it has produced an individual profile for each library showing the services it offers, the number of people borrowing books and annual running costs as well as information about the communities they serve.

The dedicated webpage also has maps showing the library locations plus statistics and factsheets about how the service works.

The authority said there are also examples of changing the way they run, like moving premises and sharing costs with ‘partners’.

In small communities, such an approach might make a community facility like a village hall more sustainable as it would bring income and increase footfall.

In a similar way, a partner might move into KCC premises, to share costs and customer services.

Some communities might want to take over library service delivery through a volunteering model, supported by KCC.

The council’s cabinet member for customer and communities Cllr Mike Hill said: “We now have the most detailed information about today’s library service available online for everyone. Initial conversations with community representatives have been encouraging and enthusiastic about getting involved.

“We will wait for the recommendations from each district and look forward to hearing their ideas and the views, before we make any decisions.”

But Labour member of the Cabinet Scrutiny Committee, Cllr Gordon Cowan said: “We always feel they are looking to closing libraries down and we seriously oppose any of that.

“They tell us they want to make libraries work more effectively. That suggests they want to reduce staff numbers.

“If they are streamlining the way things are done in libraries, they may have the opportunity to reduce jobs.

“From my point of view it is always a bad thing to lose frontline staff, especially when they have been trained to do a job and are efficient in doing that.

“They might argue they have to save money at the same time as providing a service without closures or job losses.

“We have asked a number of questions at meetings and the answer keeps coming back that they are not closing libraries or losing jobs, but do I believe them? The answer is ‘no’.”

To offer an opinion, email fls@kent.gov.uk, call 01622 696504 or write to The FLS Team KCC Libraries, Registration and Archives, James Whatman Way, Maidstone ME14 1LQ.

To see the report, go to kent.gov.uk/libraries.

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