The results of the Sutton’s Future consultation with users held between 23 September and 16 December and a detailed report considering the options for savings between 2016 and 2019 under a future model of the library network.
Jan Underhill, Executive Head of Wellbeing, presented a two-part report to outline the results of the Sutton’s Future consultation with service users and consider, in detail, the options for savings in the years 2016 to 2019, for a future model of the library network which takes into account developments elsewhere in the UK. She presented the key messages and the methodology of the consultation which sought to carry out the aims from the Library Strategy, to protect the most vulnerable people, and to maintain as much of the service as possible whilst still delivering the required savings. The most popular option was to move towards a voluntary and community based model.
In the second part of the report, Jan Underhill referred the Committee to the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, which highlighted libraries as a statutory service but with flexibilty for local authorities to determine needs and service design. The recommendations had been drawn from data that showed the usage of the Mobile Library Service and Beddington Library had been declining for several years. However the need to ensure that vulnerable, housebound people could still access a library service was acknowledged and a new Housebound Library Service had been developed to respond to those needs and which commenced in September 2015. The Libraries service intended to use toolkits and guidance available nationally to pilot a more volunteer and community based approach.
Councillors commended the extensive research that had been taken into account. A discussion ensued regarding the sustainability and popularity of the housebound service, and Jan Underhill confirmed that feedback so far had been positive and that a review would be undertaken after one year. The Chair advised that she had received interest from residents who were keen to apply for the service.
Councillors asked questions about the volunteer-base for libraries and the possibility of sharing library premises with other bodies. Jan Underhill advised that the volunteer hours already included people from a variety of age groups and backgrounds, and that training would be important for volunteers in a community based model. The sharing of premises was being considered across the Council. Tolis Vouyioukas, Strategic Director for People Services, informed the Committee that the financial cost of the buildings was not the most significant cost of the Library service.
Further questions were asked about the mitigation for Beddington library users, besides the introduction of the Housebound Service for older users, and the internal central charge for the Mobile Library service. In regard to younger users, Madeline Barratt, Head of Service for Libraries, Heritage and Arts, detailed plans to work more closely with schools and nurseries so they could order boxes of books to borrow, or a member of staff for story-time, as well as other initiatives such as the Bookstart Scheme. Jan Underhill undertook to confirm any central charges that might have been applied to the Mobile savings quoted in the report and inform the Committee at a later date.
This was followed by a discussion about the benefits of joining the London Libraries Consortium that consisted of 17 London Libraries, which coordinated a number of back office functions such as centralised book buying, and the proposals for a change in opening hours, including the reopening of all floors at Sutton Library on a Monday.
A vote was taken on each of the recommendations.
RESOLVED that the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee agreed:
1. That the use of the findings of the Library Consultation which ran from 23 September to 16 December 2015 to inform the options under consideration be approved.
2. To close Beddington Library from 1 April 2016.
3. To withdraw the Mobile Library service from 1 April 2016 with the continuing development of the Housebound service to minimise adverse impact on current vulnerable users of the Mobile Library.
4. To change library opening hours from 1 May 2016, to be achieved by internal efficiencies.
5. To change Sunday service at Westcroft and the Life Centre from staffed to fully self-service libraries.
6. That the model of Council-led services with community support was the one best suited for adoption in LB Sutton.
Councillors Tony Shields and Tim Crowley recorded their dissent to recommendations 2.2 and 2.3.