Fears over Edinburgh council's plan to save £1 million with staffless libraries

Union raises safety concerns

Saturday, 15th February 2020, 7:45 am
All Edinburgh libraries would close on Saturday afternoons under the council's cuts proposals

UNIONS have vowed to fight a council plan to save £1 million by operating city libraries without staff.

They claimed the scheme could lead to thefts and anti-social behaviour and libraries becoming “unsafe” places.

The proposal - which council chiefs say is at an early stage - is part of a £35m package of savings for next year’s budget.

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Other plans include slashing Edinburgh Leisure’s budget by £1.5m, a £9.3m cut to social care, ending the council’s £2.1m contribution to policing, cutting school budgets by £1.8m, removing qualified teachers from nursery schools and saving £500,000 from musical instrument tuition, as well as a 4.79 per cent rise in council tax.

The council also proposes to cut library opening hours by closing all libraries on Saturday afternoons, estimated to save £300,000, mainly through staff reductions.

An Open Libraries scheme was proposed two years ago and a pilot study was planned in four libraries, where library users would swipe a card to enter the building and use existing self-service kiosks to check books in and out.

But the idea was quickly shelved. Unison’s David Harrold told the council’s finance committee yesterday the union had been pleased when it was “kicked into touch” and were sorry to see it back on the agenda.

He said: “The reality is there is no change in the package put forward, no evidence provided that staff or service-users’ safety would be guaranteed, no quick response to emergency situations or improper use of facilities, anti-social behaviour, fire or flood evacuations.

“There are also serious question marks in relation to equality issues particularly women by themselves or unattended children. What services will there be for elderly and disabled or people with learning difficulties where there are no staff in the building?

“Libraries cannot function without a proper, dedicated professional staff and that has been the experience of staff down south.”

He said when the idea had been floated before, Unison had contacted councils, library staff and union branches with experience of it to ask for their opinion of the scheme.

“It came back there were serious problems with anti-social behaviour, theft, vandalism - effectively libraries becoming unsafe premises.

“We said this three years ago and the council agreed with us and the matter was dropped.”

He said there seemed little difference in the current plan.

“Council buildings must be safe places, must be areas where people can take full advantage of the facilities.”

He said libraries were a vital resource for older people. “Many people feel isolated and the only opportunity is to come to a library. Are they going to do that if there are no staff?”

Unison colleague Gerry Stovin said the cuts to libraries were a major concern.

“Closing on Saturday afternoons should be resisted and opening times must be maintained.”

And he continued: “Open Libraries, in our opinion, are an absolute nightmare. We’ve highlighted this for years and we will continue to lobby against this proposal.”

Finance convener Alasdair Rankin said after the meeting that the work on Open Libraries was at an early stage.

He said the idea had not progressed the last time because of a software issue that had been discovered in the system in Peterborough, but this had now been resolved.

But he acknowledged: “There are potential issues and there have been some issues south of the border in the past. It is still very much in development.”

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