Comet country library services cut

LIBRARY hours will be slashed and some mobile libraries withdrawn after a council approved the changes this week in a bid to save money.

Despite the majority of people opposing the proposals or citing them “too drastic” in a public consultation, Hertfordshire County Council will be cutting opening hours at Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth and Baldock libraries.

Overall across the county, hours will be cut by 30 per cent, saving an estimated �1.4 million.

Mobile library services will also be cut, with the Stevenage vehicle expected to go in May.

“I think it’s a great shame about losing the mobile library services,” said Cllr Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council.

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“For some older people, less mobile and younger children, it’s incredibly important.

“It’s too drastic. It’s the only way for some people to borrow books in Stevenage. Now they will have nothing.

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“They form such an important part in people’s lives. I think we need to encourage young people to read. The mobile libraries are one way to do that.”

Just 10 per cent of the 7,000 who responded to the consultation said that they understood why reduced opening hours were being proposed.

Stevenage will lose 14 hours a week and Stevenage Old Town will lose 20.

Libraries in North Herts are due even bigger cuts, with Hitchin closing on a Wednesday and Letchworth on a Thursday, days which they would usually be open.

Baldock will drop 19 hours a week, and shut on a Friday – a day which it is currently open.

The revised opening times will be brought into effect at the earliest possible date.

Liberal Democratic opposition leader on the county council Chris White slammed the cuts, and claimed there were other ways that could save money.

“We have made it clear, repeatedly, to the administration that there are other ways of delivering savings in the current library structure; modernisation, greater use of technology and deeper cuts in the numbers of administrators and managers,” he said.

“Hertfordshire has not attempted to learn from the example of other authorities and we cannot be certain that more significant cuts are not on their way.”

But Keith Emsall, executive member for Community Safety and Culture at Herts County Council, defended the cuts.

“While many councils are planning to close branches completely, we consider that it is very important for our residents to be able to access a library,” he said.

“That’s why no Hertfordshire branch library will shut down, and we have staggered the new timetable so that when your local library isn’t open, a nearby branch will be.

“It hasn’t been possible to maintain our fleet of mobile libraries at current levels, but they will continue to offer a service to isolated and vulnerable users.”

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