AN official complaint is being lodged with the government over cuts which are being described by campaigners as “the most extreme destruction of a local library service in British history”.
The Save Barnet Libraries campaign is demanding an inquiry into the cuts by the council, which has submitted 12 separate planning applications to remove more than half of the current library space in the borough and turn it into private offices.
The group says the savings will be outweighed by the cost of the cuts, which include self-service machinery and CCTV being installed so libraries can remain open without staff.
Staff hours will be cut by two thirds, while children under the age of 15 will be banned during unstaffed hours unless they are accompanied by an adult.
Campaigner Mary Beer said: “The young, the old, the sick and the disabled –as well as everyone who wants to preserve their rights under law–is standing up and saying enough is enough."
An official notice has now been sent to Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, asking her
to act immediately to protect 13 libraries in Barnet.
The campaigners say that, under the Libraries and Museums Act of 1964, every citizen of the UK has a legal right to “a comprehensive and efficient library service” and the council must encourage use of the library service by adults and children. Barnet Council says that the changes will generate an income from renting out space to businesses and community groups.
Reuben Thompstone, chairman of the children, education, libraries and safeguarding committee, said:"The overall cost of delivering the new library service, including repair and maintenance work to all 14 library buildings and installing self-service opening technology is expected to fall within our agreed £7 million estimate. The changes currently underway in our library buildings will also generate an income from renting out space to businesses and community groups.
“This outlay will provide us with a good financial investment by delivering savings of £2.2 million per year by 2019/20 whilst keeping all 14 libraries in the borough open, as well as our home, mobile and digital library resource.
“The £12 million figure included in the council’s corporate forward procurement plan provides potential scope for developing new libraries should opportunities arise such as the current proposal to relocate East Barnet library to Victoria Recreation Ground.
“A brand new library has recently opened in Colindale, with new premises under construction for Church End. We are keen pursue any further similar opportunities that may arise in the future.”