Surrey approves volunteer libraries plan

Library protesters A demonstration was held to protest about the plan before the cabinet meeting

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Controversial plans to remove paid staff from 10 libraries and rely on volunteer workers instead have been approved by councillors in Surrey.

The Conservative-run county council set out the plan more than a year ago but it was ruled unlawful by the High Court in April because of training issues.

The council said more than 300 volunteers had already undergone training and more would now receive it.

The Lib Dem opposition said alternative proposals should be properly debated.

Lib Dem leader, Hazel Watson, joined protesters against the plans before the cabinet meeting at County Hall on Tuesday.

The libraries affected are Bagshot, Bramley, Byfleet, Ewell Court, Lingfield, New Haw, Stoneleigh, Tattenhams, Virginia Water and Warlingham.

Volunteers recruited

All 10 are now expected to be run by the volunteers by April 2013.

Analysis

The idea to have volunteer groups run libraries instead of full-time staff is part of Surrey County Council's attempts to make efficiencies.

But it has been a very confused picture.

In May the council announced it would not actually save any money under the changes.

Now it says it will, although it is not sure how much.

Councillors insist the plan will make the libraries more viable in the long term and will encourage local people to get more involved.

But opponents are concerned about the impact, including some groups that help run libraries in places like Bramley and Ewell Court.

The Liberal Democrats say they will attempt to have the decision called in.

And the campaign group, Surrey Library Action Movement, says it is not sure yet whether it will take further court action.

The council initially said the plan would save up to £381,000 a year, but cabinet member for community services, Helyn Clack, later admitted there would be no savings in the short term.

It decided to press ahead following the High Court ruling after carrying out a further consultation on the training plan.

The council said the volunteers already recruited included a teacher, a GP and a psychologist.

'Commuter rush'

"We could watch lesser used libraries continue to decline in the coming years, or we could let volunteers help them thrive," said Ms Clack.

"Volunteers can now take a library that is closed three days a week and open its doors daily.

"They can cater for the commuter rush, hold evening classes, community events or online author talks to help fulfil a library's potential."

Lib Dem communities spokesman, Councillor John Orrick, said alternative proposals had been put forward to retain one full-time member of staff in each library, supported by volunteers.

"These proposals would make the libraries truly community-partnered, while maintaining professional staff and important computer links," he said.

"I will be calling for a proper scrutiny of the decision and the alternatives that have been put forward."

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