LIBRARIES in Bristol are regularly having to close temporarily because of staff shortages.
All 26 local branches have shut their doors to residents at least once since the city council banned the use of casual employees in November.
In just a few weeks following the recruitment freeze, Redland Library had to shut on 12 of the days it should have been open and had one partial closure while Clifton was fully closed once and partly closed on seven occasions.
Councillors have called for the ban on casual staff to be lifted, but Labour said this would cost £300,000 and mean cuts elsewhere to council services
A report to the full council meeting on January 9 said there had been 287 full or part-day closures in total.
Liberal Democrats put forward a motion to recruit staff to vacant posts, restore the use of casual staff and allow staff to do overtime. The motion was unanimously approved, although that doesn’t bind the council to take any action.
Lib Dem Councillor Tim Kent said: “Every day we see several libraries closed. We cannot just slash services without thought to its consequence. The small savings do not match the unbelievable impact this has. Since November, nearly 300 library closures have occurred here in Bristol.”
Green Party Councillkor Martin Fodor, who recently chaired a scrutiny commission debate about libraries, said short term and disruptive closures were happening daily for several branch libraries at a time
“We all know people love our libraries. They are vital community resources in so many ways: for literacy, private study, research, community meetings, warm spaces, seeking advice, events and voluntary ways of involving local residents, and so much more. The frequent, multiple branch closures announced on days most weeks need to end.”
Conservative Councillor Steve Smith added: “There’s always staff absences, that’s just a normal part of running a service. Normally the library service covers that absence, either with overtime or a selection of bank staff. But they’re no longer allowed to do that, as that’s been frozen. They can’t use overtime, they can’t use bank staff.
“This is exactly the same kneejerk panic response that had happened this time last year that drove our planning service off the edge of a cliff, which it still hasn’t recovered from. I would have hoped that we might have learned from that.”
Libraries should have been open for a total of 2,945 hours in December but were forced to close for 599 of these hours — just over a fifth of the planned opening time. This rose from 6.3 per cent of hours closed in November, and only 3.2 per cent of hours closed in October.
Council leaders said the closures were due to austerity and the government reducing its funding since 2010. Extra funding could be found this spring, when the council passes a new budget for the next financial year, beginning this April.
Labour Councillor Ellie King, cabinet member for public health and communities, said: “We of course want our libraries to be fully staffed, and this is not an ideal situation. But it’s a temporary measure until the end of the financial year. Closures are often down to staff illness, and where possible staff are moved around from library to library where possible, to minimise closures. The reality is employing more library staff means cuts elsewhere.”
Details of planned library closures each day are posted on X (formerly Twitter).
By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service