Merton Council seriously considered closing two libraries this year, in a bid to save money, and was unable to guarantee their survival in future years, it was revealed on Tuesday.
Councillor Martin Whelton, Merton Council’s cabinet member for communities, said West Barnes library and Donald Hope library in Colliers Wood were in line for the chop, but councillors instead opted to scale back opening times by four hours a week.
From April, West Barnes library will be closed on Mondays and Donald Hope will close on Wednesdays, although both will be open for an extra hour on the days they remain open.
Addressing a packed community meeting at West Barnes library on Tuesday evening, Coun Whelton defended the decision but refused to rule out closing the libraries in the long term, saying he would not the make the same mistake other politicians had made recently.
He said: “I’ll be honest. I did consider the closure of this library – and Colliers Wood library – but I believe libraries are important and I was able to make savings elsewhere to ensure this library remains open next year.
“However, we have had to make other savings and that has included a whole restructuring of the library service, which will mean this library will be closed on Mondays, and Colliers Wood will be closed on Fridays.”
Flanked by the head of Merton’s library service, Ingrid Lackajis, Coun Whelton was met with a deluge of angry comments from residents, many of whom voiced concerns about proposals to use volunteers to keep West Barnes open on Mondays.
One said: “It is an insult to assume volunteers will be doing the work of trained librarians. Where will it end? Will we be volunteering to work in surgeries? To take our rubbish to the tip?”
Ms Lackajis said: “I would not expect volunteers to be doing the work of trained library staff. There is a clear distinction between staff roles and volunteer roles in this whole programme.
“You asked me how I feel about the loss of staff… I am sorry to lose staff, I can only say that. However, I am mandated to find savings but I cannot find savings anymore.
“We have been pared year on year and are the most cost-effective service in London.”
Coun Whelton said cuts to West Barnes library’s opening times would save the council £21,000 a year, while the overall cuts to libraries (including the one day closure of Donald Hope library and other staff reductions) would save £118,000 a year.
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