Barnet library campaigners slam security costs

Campaigners have slammed Barnet Council's changes to its library service claiming guarding unstaffed

Campaigners have slammed Barnet Council's changes to its library service claiming guarding unstaffed libraries will cost �1 million a year after current costs emerged during a public meeting. Picture: SAVE BARNET LIBRARIES - Credit: Archant

Campaigners battling changes to Barnet Council’s libraries have claimed the authority will spend more than a million pounds on security guards, money they say would be better spent on librarians.

In February protests were sparked after Barnet announced drastic changes to the borough’s libraries including closures, the introduction of self-service libraries with no staff that exclude unaccompanied under-15s and smaller libraries featuring more commercial space for rent.

Barnet expected the scheme to save £2.2million of £61.5m the council needs to cut by 2020 but meant it could keep its 14 libraries open, boosting hours and maintaining access for children.

The council now pays security guards to police unstaffed libraries, a move Save Barnet Libraries campaigners say will end up costing more than £1m a year.

The claim emerged after a public meeting between councillors responsible for libraries on November 15 during which it was revealed at the end of September security costs amounted to £70,000 with the amount set to go up by £25k per month.

Barnet has since disputed the claim costs could approach £1m over a twelve month period.

Library user Erini Rodis said: “I can’t believe they are paying so much on security staff when they could just pay for librarians again. These out of touch councillors obviously don’t realise the importance of community space or the level of anger this scheme has generated. We cannot let these short-sighted decision makers waste any more of our money.”

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Campaigner Theresa Musgrove said: “The entire library cuts programme has been a complete fiasco: a service wrecked for no significant gain, and a grossly irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money.”

Fellow campaigner Emily Burnham called on the council to put an immediate halt to the ‘disastrous plans’ and restore a ‘properly staffed and resourced service’.

On the security guards, Zara Lobley, 12, a pupil at Archer Academy in East Finchley said: “It has really changed the atmosphere.”

However, Cllr Reuben Thompstone defended the changes. He said: “In the initial months of the changes to our library services, security staff have been used during a transitional period to help provide additional reassurance while residents become familiar with self-service opening.

“We consulted residents and redesigned a library service allowing us to keep open all the borough’s libraries - two of which are in brand new buildings. We have also been able to maintain our home, mobile and digital library resources.

“Though we have changed the number of staffed hours our libraries are open, we will be increasing the number of hours our residents can access our libraries each week. There has been a very positive uptake for self-service opening hours, with more than 17,000 people already signed up,” he added.