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Barnet Libraries: Campaigners wary as minister clears council over controversial library cuts complaint

PUBLISHED: 12:59 07 May 2019 | UPDATED: 12:59 07 May 2019

Save Barnet Libraries campaigners protest at a council meeting of the Community Leadership and Libraries committee at Hendon Town Hall, Picture: Jonathan Goldberg

Save Barnet Libraries campaigners protest at a council meeting of the Community Leadership and Libraries committee at Hendon Town Hall, Picture: Jonathan Goldberg

Jonathan Goldberg

Campaigners have reacted with dismay after a government minister rejected their complaint that changes to Barnet's library services were unlawful.

Barnet Council welcomed the news, though, saying they were “proud” of the borough's libraries.

They are due to commence an internal review of the changes – which saw controversial “staffless libraries” introduced in 2017.

This had been delayed to allow the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to determine the complaint.

Arts minister Michael Ellis MP relayed the decision, made by his boss Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright, in writing to Barnet Council leader Cllr Richard Cornelius.

Mr Ellis wrote: “The Secretary of State does not consider there to be any serious doubt or uncertainty as to whether Barnet Council is complying with its legal obligations to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.”

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He added that Mr Wright was however “critical” of the town hall's communication.

Emily Burnham of the Save Barnet Libaries campaign group said: “Let us put the minister's statement to the test: we and library supporters throughout the borough will be watching the council's review process carefully.

“We will renew our complaint if the review does not engage properly with the public and lead to a serious and thorough response to the concerns that residents continue to raise about their entitlement to a properly resourced and truly accessible library service.”

The group has complained that cuts to the staffed hours at libraries in the borough – where staff have been replaced with door-code access and security guards in some cases – adversely impacted children and those with accessibilty needs.

Barnet have always disputed this. Cllr Cornelius welcomed the report from DCMS and said: “It is important that the DCMS has examined the Barnet library service and that the Secretary of State is satisfied that we are providing a comprehensive and efficient service.

“While our financial challenges have meant we've made changes to the way the service is run, we are proud that we have kept all of our 14 libraries open, that they are available for longer hours and that we continue to offer our residents a whole range of services and events.”

A DCMS spokesperson said: “Following a thorough investigation we are content that Barnet Council is complying with its legal obligations.”

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