CONCERNS have been raised about the willingness of volunteers to replace paid employees at four planned ‘community managed’ libraries across the Vale– with the warning that modernising proposals could lead to “death by a thousand cuts” to the library service.
Councillors have also raised concerns about the consultation process not making clear that volunteers could replace paid employees, the increase in budget savings from £165,000 to £500,000 in under a year, and called for a second consultation into the review of library services across the Vale.
During a heated scrutiny committee meeting on Monday (May 19), which came after a Unison-organised march from King Square in Barry town centre to the Civic Offices, the Vale Council also apologised for the way in which the proposals were revealed and how library staff were led to believe they were being made redundant before the proposals had been agreed.
Before the meeting protesters, waving banners and placards reading Save our Libraries, We Love Libraries and Hands off our Libraries, marched loudly and chanted “library cuts no way, make the greedy bankers pay”.
Despite the concerns raised by Plaid Cymru councillors Chris Franks and Dr Ian Johnson, Unison-representative Jamie Davis and a retired teacher, all of the recommendations put forward by the Plaid Cymru chair of the committee, Councillor Nic Hodges, were outvoted by the Labour-led Vale Council lifelong learning scrutiny committee.
Leader of the Vale Council, Councillor Neil Moore said during the meeting: “We want to keep all libraries open, but in a different operating model than we see today.”
He added that the proposals would allow them to provide a required service without closing libraries: “The easier option would be to close libraries but we don’t want to do that.”
During a speech to the committee meeting Unison-representative Jamie Davis said that the proposals would lead to “death by a thousand cuts” to the library service and questioned why library staff weren't allowed to have their say.
He added that if the community managed libraries proposals were implemented “the damage would be irreversible”.
"I have got nothing against using library volunteers in conjunction with paid staff, but how can the replacement of trained and experienced library staff with unpaid volunteers be an improvement?” he said.
Cllr Nic Hodges, who represents the Baruc ward in Barry, said that as it was “standard practice in councils” for staff not to be able to make representations.
Jennifer Hill, chief of learning and skills officer, apologised for how the Vale Council informed employees about the proposals.
"We got it wrong with some of our own staff. Staff had the impression that decisions had been made when they had not been made and caused unnecessary worry,” she said.
"I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to our staff for the lack of communication and say sorry we didn't get it right."
She added that in future the Vale Council would look forward to “further and better communication” with library staff.
During the meeting a number of councillors gave their views about the proposals that include forming four community managed libraries in Sully, Dinas Powys, St Athan and Wenvoe, reducing opening hours and increasing charges in a bid for the Vale Council to make £500,000 of savings this year, as part of targets for £20,909,000 of savings over the next three years.
Dinas Powys councillor Chris Franks warned that the local community would be unwilling to replace paid staff as volunteers, and that the strength of feeling would mean a supporting ‘Friends of Dinas Powys Library’ group would more likely be an ‘Enemies of Dinas Powys Library’ group.
“There is a great deal of anger at the thought that as a community Dinas Library would be downgraded. Death by a thousand cuts has been said today and that reflects what has been said in the local community.”
He added that it was not made clear in the initial consultation that volunteers could replace paid staff and questioned the level of public support for the proposals.
Fellow Plaid Cymru councillor Dr Ian Johnson, who represents the Buttrills ward in Barry, added that 96 per cent of people thought the Vale library service was very good or good, above the Welsh average of 83 per cent, and said: “It’s very clear that people are impressed by our library service as it currently stands.”
He also questioned the numbers of volunteers needed to staff libraries, cuts to opening hours, and steps taken for income maximisation.
The report will now go back to cabinet, after the scrutiny committee noted the report with the only amendment that charges should be increased as soon as possible.