Tories refuse to delay unstaffed library plan despite IT failure

At last night's Children, Education, Libraries & Safeguarding Committee (CELS) Barnet's Tories refused to abandon or delay their plan to cut staffed library opening hours by up to 72 per cent and run all 14 libraries on 'Technology enabled opening' (TEO) most of the time. This is despite the recent failure of the IT system that runs the TEO software - a failure that has still not been resolved over two weeks after the computer server collapsed, and that Capita say will not be fully resolved for another week at least.
 
A council update on the IT failure shows that data back-ups failed when the server collapsed, corrupting data from the end of December until the fault was discovered towards the end of March, and the only non-corrupted back-up tape dates back to March 2014 sparking concerns about mass data loss. The council estimate it will take 3-6 months to re-build the lost data, meanwhile it is not known how many books are out on loan and to whom, and library fines have had to be waived with lost revenue of around £200 a day.
 
Prior to the award of the Capita contract the Library Service had their own dedicated IT support.

Labour's CELS spokesperson, Cllr Anne Hutton forced a vote calling for the plan to be delayed until the IT issues were completely resolved, but the five Tory councillors on the committee defeated the motion and referred the report up to the Full Council meeting on 4 April in order to push the decision through.

The Tories plan to cut £2.7m from the Library Service budget would mean staffed opening hours at Barnet's 14 libraries would be slashed by up to 72% and replaced with extended unstaffed or 'Technology enabled opening' hours. The proposed reductions in staffed opening hours at each library are:
 
  • Chipping Barnet - 56.5 hours per week to 23.5 (-58.4%)
  • Edgware - 53.5 hours per week to 23.5 (-56%)
  • Church End - 50.5 hours per week to 23.5 (-53.4%)
  • Grahame Park - 35 hours per week to 23.5 (-33%)
  • Hendon - 56.5 hours per week to 16 (-72%)
  • Burnt Oak - 51 hours per week to 15.5 (-69.6%)
  • Golders Green - 46 hours per week to 15.5 (-66.3%)
  • North Finchley - 43 hours per week to 15.5 (-64%)
  • Osidge - 39 hours per week to 15.5 (-60.2%)
  • East Finchley - 40 hours per week to 16 (-60%)
  • East Barnet - 50.5 hours per week to 15 (-70.2%)
  • Mill Hill - 43 hours per week to 15 (-65%)
  • South Friern - 35 hours per week to 15 (-57%)
  • Childs Hill - 35 hours per week to 15 (-57%)
 
The £2.7m library cuts plan will also mean huge reductions in floor space - Barnet's flagship Hendon library will see its floor space reduced from 19,375 sq feet to only 2,100 sq feet, a reduction of 89 per cent; and four libraries - East Barnet, Mill Hill, South Friern and Childs Hill -  will be handed over to the community to run where guaranteed opening hours will be just 15 hours per week and will be staffed by  volunteers only. 

The Library Service scored a 97 per cent satisfaction rate in the council's Residents' Perception Survey.

Labour's CELS Spokesperson, Cllr Anne Hutton said: "Last night's decision brings us one meeting away from the point of no return for our libraries as the Tories prepare to dismantle the service piece by piece.

 "There are so many unresolved issues: how will unstaffed libraries affect disabled library users and under 16's, is the IT system robust enough, where will the required 100 volunteers come from, how will the reduced space meet the need for more study space set out in the council's own Children and Young People Plan? 
 
"None of these questions were adequately answered at the meeting but the Tories refused to listen or delay and are pushing this decision ahead anyway.
 
"The proposals bring into question the future sustainability of our smaller neighbourhood libraries, and make future library closures more likely."

Ends

Notes:
1. Details of the library proposals can be found here: http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=697&MId=8261&Ver=4
 
2. For more information about the IT failure see:
For more information contact:
Cllr Anne Hutton: cllr.a.hutton@barnet.gov.uk
To contact the Barnet Labour Group: 020 8359 2568
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