This report presents options for the achievement of budget savings, whilst continuing to maintain and in some areas of the library service, potentially enhance provision.
The report was introduced by the Executive Head of Wellbeing, the Head of Libraries, Heritage and Arts and the Temporary Executive Head of Communities and Neighbourhoods.
The Committee considered the options for the library service to achieve a savings target of circa £1million by 2018/19 from an annual budget of £4.4m, whilst remaining within the remits of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, delivering an excellent service and developing a financially sustainable network which is compliant with the Council’s public sector equality duty.
In response to a question, the former temporary Executive Head of Communities and Neighbourhoods advised that the 151 Public Library Authorities across the country had taken a variety of approaches but it was challenging for them to make the appropriate savings. Whilst some had trialled using volunteers or handed over libraries to voluntary groups, some were being operated via social enterprises. The Circle Library was mentioned as an example of a Council run library that involved the local community. The Council would be looking at volunteer supported community models, shared services, and commissioned or outsourced library services as part of its research.
A discussion ensued on some of the issues surrounding future models for libraries. In regard to volunteers in libraries, the former temporary Executive Head of Communities and Neighbourhoods explained that any volunteers must be of high quality and rigorously trained to ensure the quality of service remains consistent.
Members encouraged officers to ensure that young people are consulted as part of the process, and the importance of the consultation being representative of all people in the borough. In addition to the recommendations contained within the report, it was moved by Councillor Adrian Davey and seconded by Councillor Steve Penneck that: “The Equality and Diversity Forum be included in the programme of consultation detailed within Appendix A to the report”.
Opposition members expressed concern about the possible loss of the mobile library, particularly for residents in Clockhouse where public transport links were less regular than in other part of the borough, and for elderly and vulnerable residents in Sutton South ward. They also expressed concerns about the possible closure of Beddington Library, given the potential closure of the children’s centre in Beddington as well.
In response, officers explained that the consultation will take into account all libraries across the borough and will look at what each service delivers to the user. With regard to Beddington Library, the Executive Head of Wellbeing pointed out that use had declined by 78% over the last seven years, and the detailed Library Profile statistics drawn up showed that Beddington library did not score highly compared to other libraries. Councils were required to provide detailed evidence of usage and catchment area demographics in support of their proposals. Users of Beddington Library were more likely to use other libraries also (48% of Beddington Library members used other libraries).
The mobile library service was expensive and its use had declined by 32% over the last five years. Also 37% of its users visited other libraries. Only three councils in London still maintained such provision. In recognition of vulnerable customers, the existing housebound service will be improved and expanded, and will be offered in partnership with the Meals on wheels service and Sutton’s Old People’s Welfare Committee via volunteers.
A vote was taken on all three recommendations. Eight members voted in favour and two members voted against (Councillors Tim Crowley and Tony Shields). It was therefore:
1. That a programme for consultation with staff, customers, stakeholders and partners on the future provision of the library service in Sutton, in line with the Council’s statutory responsibility under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 be undertaken.
2. That the consultation methodology and programme, as attached at Appendix A of the report, be agreed.
3. The Equality and Diversity Forum be included in the programme of consultation detailed within Appendix A to the report.