Agenda item

Agenda item


To consider a report by Councillor Emrys Wynne, Lead Member for Welsh Language, Heritage and Culture (copy enclosed) outlining how savings could be achieved by reducing library/one stop shop services.


RESOLVED that Cabinet –


(a)      note the report and approve the proposal to reduce Library/One Stop Shop opening hours by c.40%, together with associated savings in other parts of the service, to release an expected saving of £360k, and


(b)      confirms that it has read, understood and taken account of the Well-being Impact Assessment (Appendix 1 to the report) as part of its consideration.


Councillor Emrys Wynne presented the report outlining how savings could be achieved by reducing Library/One Stop Shop Services.


The proposal had been put forward due to the unprecedented financial challenge facing the Council and requirement for all services to deliver significant savings.  The report detailed the potential savings from the Library/One Stop Shop Service; the potential impact of making the savings; particular considerations for Cabinet and CET to inform future discussions, and recommended Cabinet approve the proposal to reduce Library/One Stop Shop opening hours by c.40% together with associated savings in other service areas, to release an expected saving of £360k.


Councillor Wynne was clear that the proposal did not sit well with him but given the financial context many difficult decisions needed to be made and he explained the reasoning behind the option to reduce opening hours across all libraries rather than closing individual libraries completely as a fairer way to deliver savings.  Changes had been made to the original proposal in response to consultation feedback.  The current proposal was based on a 40% reduction in opening hours rather than 50% resulting in an extra 30 hours per week of library opening hours overall which delivered around £90k less savings but also enabled third party user groups to access library buildings outside normal library opening hours.  Councillor Wynne believed the current proposal to be more balanced and better for library users and staff than the previous proposal.  The proposal protected libraries to the extent that it was currently possible to do so and would ensure that no library had to close.  It was with great sadness that Councillor Wynne recommended the proposal, but he believed it to be the best deal possible for libraries in the current financial situation.


The Corporate Director: Environment and Economy explained the process leading to the current proposal as part of the wider budget setting process to ensure the Council set a balanced budget, with the proposal changing over time in response to the consultation feedback.  The proposal was considered proportionate and realistic given the financial situation and level of savings required.  The Head of Housing and Communities added that the proposed budget cut was around 21% of the service budget and included reducing library opening hours but also some associated savings in other parts of the service which were equally valued.  She drew attention to Appendix 2 detailing the proposed 40% service model which had been developed in consultation with unions and staff.  If Cabinet approved the proposal, there would be a formal staff consultation which may result in minor operational revisions, but the model was broadly what would be implemented.


Cabinet thanked the Lead Member for his work in putting forward such a difficult but balanced proposal taking all considerations into account.  Councillor Julie Matthews also voiced her frustration over the cuts made by the UK Government over the past thirteen years and cumulative effect of austerity on local government finances which had led to the current dire financial situation.  Whilst no one was in favour of library cuts it was accepted that given the dire financial situation, all services would need to make savings to deliver a balanced budget, and in that context, Cabinet considered the proposal to be fair and proportionate.  However, Cabinet was keen to avoid any further cuts to the library service going forward and to mitigate the impacts.  Assurances were sought both in that regard and requests for a review of the proposed model to ensure parity of reductions in the opening hours of libraries across the county (taking into account City/Town Council contributions); further work involving all stakeholders working together to look at alternative models of delivering library services and future growth, and ensuring that going forward there would be provision of warm hubs/safe places in each town/community for people to access.  The positive engagement and valuable feedback from the consultation process was highlighted together with how that feedback had changed the original proposal and further questions in that regard.


The Lead Member and officers responded to the issues raised as follows –


·       agreed to review the library opening hours to ensure the reductions were balanced and equitable across all libraries and that fair consideration was given to the financial contributions of City/Town Councils

·       further work would be carried out with interested stakeholders, including staff, community groups and City/Town/Community Councils to consider alternative models of delivering library services with a view to future proofing and growing that provision, mitigate cuts and seek other sources of income

·       the option of reducing opening hours over library closures meant it would be easier to reintroduce the previous opening hours or expand provision in future if the financial situation improved or alternative funding could be secured, and all libraries were potentially viable for community use outside library opening times

·       much work would be carried out to protect the library service from future budget cuts which would absolutely be a last resort and not envisaged at this point

·       elaborated on plans for library buildings to be utilised outside of library opening hours for community use with a more commercial model being developed to facilitate that provision and amendments to opening hours following consultation feedback with fewer ‘part day’ openings and amended opening days

·       highlighted the use of libraries as warm hubs/safe places and aim to protect and expand that provision in the community when considering the new model; the Community Resilience Team had been signposting funding to the third sector for access to food/warm hubs across the county and it was agreed to undertake a mapping exercise across the county with a view to maximising that provision.


The Leader opened up the debate to non-Cabinet members who took the opportunity to express their views and raise questions on the proposals.


Main points of debate focused on the following –


·       Councillor Peter Scott set out St. Asaph City Council’s position given that they contributed financially to the library service in St. Asaph and yet would still be subject to a reduction in opening hours.  Rhuddlan Town Council was in a similar position.  Officers appreciated the partnership approach with both Councils.  The proposed model detailed the opening hours for individual libraries and had taken into account the financial contributions for St. Asaph and Rhuddlan libraries.  If the contribution was removed the hours would need to be reduced further.  Councillor Arwel Roberts expressed the views of Rhuddlan Town Council and their disappointment over the proposed reductions but hoped financial contributions would continue given the importance of the service.  Officers welcomed further discussions with both Councils on the way forward  

·       Councillor Bobby Feeley was against the proposal, highlighting the importance of the service as outlined in the report together with its valued and loyal staff, the overwhelming opposition to the cuts evidenced by the consultation, and she felt a 21% reduction in such a small service to be unfair and disproportionate.  Officers responded to those and further points raised as follows –

-       the value of the service was undisputed, and the proposal had not been put forward willingly or lightly but in response to the dire financial situation

-       the library service had not been targeted; all services were being asked to find significant savings with further difficult decisions to be made in future

-       the report detailed the maximum redundancy costs but until a decision was made formal discussions could not be started with staff and costs could be zero depending on whether all staff at risk could be redeployed

-       the impact on other services had been discussed with the Senior Leadership Team and more creative ways of accessing services outside of library hours may be needed and would be further discussed once a decision was made

-       the library service would still have a central role to play in community cohesion and providing safe spaces and community hubs but some of those may need to be done in a different way going forward

-       the decision-making process was clarified with the library service being an executive function which fell to Cabinet; officers had requested that the item be considered at a Scrutiny Committee but that request had been declined

·       Councillor Huw Hilditch-Roberts referred to the Wellbeing Impact Assessment with no positive impacts on Wellbeing goals and impact on town centre usage, associated income, and likely redundancies.  No examples could be provided as to the reinstatement of services once they had been cut.  The consultation had demonstrated overwhelming opposition to the proposal which would have a real impact on residents across the county.  With that in mind, and given the largest saving was from staffing costs, he asked Cabinet to consider the outcome of the staff voluntary redundancy scheme in January, before taking a decision on the proposal.  The Leader acknowledged the value of the service which had been recognised by Cabinet, but savings were required to set a balanced budget.  The Head of Finance and Audit reminded Cabinet of the massive budget pressures facing the authority and need for timely decisions to be made to set the budget in January.  Councillor Gwyneth Ellis added that the savings made from the voluntary redundancy scheme would not make a sufficient difference and a decision on the proposals for the library service would need to be made as part of the wider process of ensuring a balanced budget was set

·       Councillor Pauline Edwards explained why she could not support the proposal, highlighting the tragic loss of valued staff and impact on residents, particularly with regard to warm hubs/safe spaces which should be addressed beforehand.  Officers responded to questions raised by Councillor Edwards on the timescale for the proposal; paid tribute to the highly trained and experienced staff with further discussions around delivery models to minimise the impact on staff with a redeployment option elsewhere in the council; and provided assurances that discussions would continue throughout the process going forward regarding alternative models for warm hubs/safe spaces

·       Councillor Ann Davies felt that the impact of the cuts to library services would cause pressures in other service areas and questioned the council’s legal duty.  The Corporate Director: Governance and Business referred to the relevant legislation advising that whilst there was a duty to provide an efficient library service it was for local authorities to consider how to provide that service in light of the resources that were available to them

·       Councillor Hugh Irving supported the views of Councillors Bobby Feeley and Huw Hilditch-Roberts and felt further work should be carried out on the proposal before a final decision was made; he also highlighted the impact on town centre footfall.  The Leader reiterated the need to take decisions in a timely manner to ensure a balanced budget.  Officers confirmed that libraries made a positive economic impact on town centres which was why alternative models were being explored to make use of library buildings outside library opening hours.


Councillor Emrys Wynne thanked everyone who had contributed to the debate and had taken note of the issues raised with a view to working with officers and including them within the proposals to mitigate impacts.  He reiterated the difficult decision to be made but gave assurances that he would work with officers to rebuild library services and increase opening hours when the financial situation improved.


RESOLVED that Cabinet –


(a)      note the report and approve the proposal to reduce Library/One Stop Shop opening hours by c.40%, together with associated savings in other parts of the service, to release an expected saving of £360k, and


(b)      confirms that it has read, understood and taken account of the Well-being Impact Assessment (Appendix 1 to the report) as part of its consideration.


Supporting documents: