Protesters set for Barnet Town Hall protest over library cuts

Children's March for Barnet Libraries. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Children's March for Barnet Libraries. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Campaigners have expressed their dismay as a new wave of cuts proposed by Barnet Council could see libraries left unmanned and forced to run largely by volunteers.

The potential future of libraries in Barnet was laid bare as the council looks to plug a £98million gap in its total budget by 2020.

The latest proposals would see none of the borough’s 14 libraries closed down, with opening hours set to increase.

But they would also see almost half of library staff axed, from 114 to 62, and libraries left unstaffed for the majority of the time.

Four libraries – in Childs Hill, East Barnet, Mill Hill and South Friern – will be left to rely entirely on volunteers.

East Finchley library, which was under threat of closure, would see its staffed hours reduced from 40 hours per week to just 16, but will be open six-days a week using automated services.

Community groups concerned at the plans have vowed to protest outside Hendon Town Hall this evening when the council will discuss the proposals.

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Campaigner Mary Beer-Cleasby, of East Finchley, said: “Barnet intends to sack its highly valued and qualified library workforce – despite unanimous opposition in the recent £200,000 consultation report – and calls for un-vetted, untrained volunteers to run the libraries with fewer resources.”

Cllr Anne Hutton, Barnet Labour’s libraries’ spokeswoman, added: “No other London borough that I know of is cutting its library budget by such a drastic amount.

“Staffing hours have been drastically cut with the shortfall being made up of ‘technology enabled’ access on many sites, which means students under the age of 16 will be excluded for much of the time. Are these not the very residents we should be encouraging?”

The library service budget in Barnet has already seen 23 per cent reduction between 2010 and 2015.

Cllr Reuben Thompstone, chairman of the children, education, libraries and safeguarding committee, said: “As a number of councils across the country are closing libraries as part of the need to save money I am pleased that Barnet’s proposals will maintain the same number of sites.

“But in order to do that we need to harness local community spirit by providing volunteering opportunities in libraries, which will see residents helping to run our valued local assets.”