Barnsley libraries face cuts as council grapples with austerity

Unfinished business: Barnsley's Lightbox library building is still under construction
Unfinished business: Barnsley's Lightbox library building is still under construction
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Barnsley’s new flagship ‘Lightbox’ library building could have its opening hours cut even before the builders have moved offsite as part of a cost saving package which could end up with compulsory staff redundancies.

The libraries service needs to save more than £160,000 because of austerity and proposals have been drawn up which could see most of the district’s network of public libraries getting their opening hours cut – with job numbetrs reduced as a consequence.

Only district libraries which are used as a home for other activities and get funding from elsewhere as a result, would escape the cutbacks.

Barnsley Council says numbers of people borrowing library books has been decreasing in recent years and they have been involved in public consultations about the future of its branches since 2016 to find a way forwards.

Now councillors on the ruling Cabinet are being asked to approve a further round of consultations over plans which would see hours reduced and jobs lost.

For the town centre Central library that would mean a cut in opening hours to 47 per week, losing two and a half hours.

That is housed in a temporary building on Wellington Street at present and is to be replaced by the ‘Lightbox’, a futuristic £4m building on May Day Green, in the Autumn.

Reduced opening hours at other branches would be more significant, with only those at Cudworth, Penistone and Grimethorpe escaping reduced opening hours. Many which open for around 45 hours a week currently would see their hours drop to 37 if the changes were implemented, with many of those opening currently or around 31 hours a week reduced to 24.

Overall, the council calculates the savings in excess of £207,000, more than the target for savings highlighted elsewhere in the report.

According to the council, the number of active book borrowers has dropped by 38 per cent in the space of four years and many library services can now be found online, meaning users do not need to physically visit a branch to make use of what is on offer.

A report to the Cabinet states: “The impact on our customers is further mitigated by broader accessibility to our existing online services, such as e-books, e-audio books, online requests and renewals and reference resources.”

The plan for the future is to offer a hybrid use for the building, allowing community groups with ‘trusted keyholder’ to use the buildings for their activities.

The report adds: “Implications for local people, both individuals and groups using the library, revolve around rationalised access to their local library due to less opening hours.

“However, the intention is to create a hybrid offer where library and community groups can access the building on closed days on a trusted key holder basis to use the building for meetings and activities – this may well enhance access to libraries noting that this offer already operates successfully in some libraries.”

There will be no immediate impact on jobs if the Cabinet agrees to go ahead with the next round of consultation, which would last for three months.

If that resulted in the proposals going ahead, councillors will be told: “It is acknowledged that the future organisational structure which will be subject to a further report following consultation will result in a reduction in posts alongside changes to job profiles to reflect a revised operating model.

“All employees affected would be dealt with in accordance with HR policies and procedures and in consultation with Trade Unions.”

The aim would be to minimise compulsory redundancies through moving staff to fill vacancies and through voluntary early retirement.

Before coming up with the current proposals, the idea of closing branches was examined and ruled out, as was the installation of 'self service' equipment.

It also emerged there was 'no appetite' for community groups to take over running local branches.