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Save Barnet Libraries campaign sees first victory after protest as culture ministry registers formal complaint

PUBLISHED: 17:28 01 August 2017 | UPDATED: 17:28 01 August 2017

Young protesters demonstrate outside the culture ministry on Whitehall, calling for a halt to changes to library services in Barnet

Young protesters demonstrate outside the culture ministry on Whitehall, calling for a halt to changes to library services in Barnet

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Save Barnet Libraries campaigners are celebrating a small step towards victory after the culture secretary agreed to recognise their representations as a formal complaint – meaning the ministry will investigate the Council’s changes to library provision and could order them reversed.

This comes just a week after a group of schoolchildren and campaigners took their demands to Whitehall with a demonstration outside the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

In a letter addressed to Barnet Council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius, arts minister John Glen, whose purview covers libraries, says that his department is treating the representations made by Save Barnet Libraries campaigners Emily Burnham and Richard Strang as a formal complaint. This means DCMS will investigate whether the Council is fulfilling its statutory duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service.

“It is important to note that this decision is not an assessment of whether the Council is delivering a comprehensive and efficient library service,” the letter goes on.

Save Barnet Libraries was set up in opposition to changes to library provision in Barnet decided last year and enacted beginning in April this year. These changes have seen reductions in staff that mean libraries are staffed only part of the time, with many functions replaced by automated gates and self-service machines.

“We’re pleased that DCMS has recognised the seriousness of the issues at stake, and we now call on Barnet Council to take this opportunity to reconsider what it is doing,” Ms Burnham said, speaking to the Ham&High. “We are also very pleased that the protest last week clearly worked, eliciting a response from DCMS. It is children and young people who are going to be most hard-hit by these changes, so it’s great that this children’s protest has paid off.”

A local inquiry could follow if DCMS considers the formal complaint to have grounds; a decision is expected later in the month.

“We have received the Minister’s letter and will work closely with officials from the Department for Culture Media and Sport to provide more information on the transformation of the libraries service,” a Council spokesman said.

“Extensive consultation with our residents demonstrated a clear desire to keep all of our libraries open. Whilst delivering savings, the changes to our service will provide a cost- effective, modern service, keeping all 14 libraries in the borough open, as well as our home, mobile and digital library resources. A key part of the new library service offer is self-service opening at ten library sites and to date; over 11,000 residents have registered to use this new service.

“At the remaining four sites, key partner organisations and community groups have been operating a Partnership Library offer since the beginning of April.”

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