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Barnet libraries: Staff cuts went “too far” and replacement volunteers aren’t checked for criminal records

PUBLISHED: 14:53 11 March 2020 | UPDATED: 14:53 11 March 2020

Protesters outside East Finchley Library. Picture: Polly Hancock

Protesters outside East Finchley Library. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Barnet’s cuts to library staff have gone “too far” according to an independent review into the impact of the council’s austerity measures introduced in 2016.

The demonstration was held before an independent review into its library cuts was discussed by Barnet Council. Picture: Polly HancockThe demonstration was held before an independent review into its library cuts was discussed by Barnet Council. Picture: Polly Hancock

The review was discussed by Barnet's community leadership and libraries committee (CLLC) last Thursday (March 5), during which safety concerns were raised over staff being replaced by volunteers who were not checked for criminal records.

The review found that Barnet's approach of replacing employees with volunteers had been 'successful so far', but that cuts had meant staff hours were 'quite thinly spread'. It recommended increasing the number of library employees in the short-term, during which time more volunteers could be recruited.

Before the review's discussion, Save Barnet Libraries (SBL) staged a protest outside East Finchley Library.

Emily Burnham, of SBL, said: 'This review acknowledges what we have said all along: that the drastic reduction in staffed hours has caused a decline in library use, excluding many people, in particular children and disabled users.'

Local pupils joined in. Picture: Polly HancockLocal pupils joined in. Picture: Polly Hancock

She added: 'The report's recommendations to increase staffed hours and investment and to restore library spaces need to be implemented urgently.'

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Since 2014, Barnet has cut its library budget by £2.85 million, and has reduced staff numbers and costs. It has also introduced self-service facilities and extended opening times.

Concerns were raised at the committee meeting over volunteers being unable to replace professional staff, and specifically volunteers' lack of criminal record checks.

East Finchley Library. Picture: Polly HancockEast Finchley Library. Picture: Polly Hancock

Libraries manager Hannah Richens said the council is not allowed to carry out the checks on the volunteers 'because of the nature of the work they do'.

CLLC chairman Cllr Reuben Thompstone said: 'It is very pleasing to see the independent evaluation recognise what we are doing well, including being extremely impressed by our extensive programme of events for all ages, acknowledging that self-service opening has been popular with many users, and the passionate commitment of our library staff.'

He added: 'It has also been helpful in highlighting other aspects we may need to look at further.'

For 2019/20, Barnet has a £3,536,150 budget covering its 14 libraries. These are open a total of 844.5 hours per week, 576 of which are self-service.

Barnet Council has said it will consider the findings and recommendations of the review.


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