Hampshire County Council accused of holding ‘phony’ consultation into cuts to library service

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  • Consultation runs until January 16
  • Changes will bring savings of around £1.7m by 2020
  • Anti-cuts group say people don’t know what’s going on
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AN ANTI-cuts campaign group has accused Hampshire County Council of holding a ‘phony’ public consultation into slashing library services.

The comment has been made by Steve Cannon of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity group.

This is supposed to be a consultation, but I think it’s a phony one.

Steve Cannon

He said: ‘Libraries put into what is tier three, smaller in effect, could close altogether, they could be turned into self-service facilities where there’s no staff present, or they could be handed over to volunteers to run and the county withdraws all its funding.

‘I don’t think people realise what’s going on.

‘This is supposed to be a consultation, but I think it’s a phony one.

‘One of the problems with the consultation document is it uses fancy words like “transformation” and “vibrant”, but you have got to get to page 15 of the document before you get buried in the small print the word “closures”.

‘Very few parish councils around the county seem to know about it at all, and I don’t think it has been widely publicised.’

Hampshire County Council however has said so far thousands of people have given their views on its library strategy, which has placed facilities into four tiers with the most-used in the first.

It said in the first three weeks of an 11-week consultation that started this month, more than 5,700 online and paper responses have been submitted.

Councillor Andrew Gibson, in charge of culture, recreation and countryside, said: ‘We’re very pleased the consultation on our draft library strategy has sparked such strong interest, and we’re encouraging more people to have their say.

‘All feedback is valuable and will be used to inform the final outcome, as no decisions have been made yet.

‘One of the proposals in the draft strategy is to place our libraries into four tiers based on how busy they are, to provide a standardised approach to services.

‘However, there have been some inaccurate reports in the media that all tier three libraries – smaller libraries in smaller communities – will close or be transferred to community groups.

‘This is not true. Some tier three libraries may close or be transferred, but it’s important to stress at this early stage, no decisions have been made.

‘At the moment, we are simply asking residents how libraries should be categorised, and what the criteria should be to help inform any future reviews. We would consult about specific proposals before any changes were made.’

Changes are hoping to bring around £1.7m of savings to the authority by 2020.

However despite this the council said it is still looking to invest £500,000 every year, for four years, to make libraries modern and vibrant, and using new digital technology such as self-service book borrowing.

The council said it has widely publicised the consultation on the draft library strategy in three press releases to media across the county, repeatedly across its social media channels to more than 40,000 followers and internally to the council’s 37,000 staff.

A telephone survey of randomly-selected Hampshire residents will also be undertaken before Christmas to seek feedback on the proposals.

Cllr Gibson added: ‘We are also looking to make libraries more sustainable to meet residents’ demands in future, reduce costs to the taxpayer and generate more income by introducing cafés where appropriate, or by sharing buildings and their costs with other partner organisations.’

The consultation runs until January 16, 2016, hard copies are available at all libraries and mobile library stops.

Or people can visit www3.hants.gov.uk/library

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