Consultation on cuts to East Sussex library opening times starts today

Library opening hours could be cut across East Sussex by an average of 25 per cent
Library opening hours could be cut across East Sussex by an average of 25 per cent

A transformation plan for East Sussex’s library service including cuts to opening hours has been broadly supported by county councillors.

East Sussex County Council’s Cabinet approved the Libraries Transformation Programme, which will see £2m cut from the library budget in the next three years.

Meanwhile, senior councillors also agreed to hold a consultation on a reduction in library opening hours by a total of 25 per cent, which would reduce running costs by an estimated £500,000.

The consultation starts today (Monday, January 11), and will last for 12 weeks.

Chris Dowling, lead member for community services, said, “It’s really important that residents tell us what they think.

“We are having to make some really tough decisions to make an unprecedented level of savings over the next three years and are having to look at the way in which every council service is delivered.”

Under the proposals libraries would generally only open between 10am and 5pm, apart from one retained late night opening for every library that currently opens past 5.30pm.

For example Eastbourne Library would lose 11.5 hours a week, Battle would lose 10, Bexhill 11.5, Hailsham 10.5, Hastings 6.5, Lewes 11, Newhaven 9, Rye 12.5, Seaford 11.5, and Uckfield 11.5.

According to the county council the proposal has been developed using data showing that 85 per cent of visits to libraries, use of library computers and wifi, loans, renewals and returns take place between 10am and 5pm.

The transformation programme includes a review of the library service and the development of a strategic commissioning strategy.

Cllr Dowling (Con, Framfield and Horam) added, “A great deal of consideration has been given to how people are using the libraries across East Sussex.

“Usage of library buildings after 5pm is very low and, therefore, reducing opening hours at quieter times has been the focus of our proposals. However, closing libraries at quieter times alone will not achieve the savings we need to make.

“With the further changes to opening hours we are proposing in this consultation, we believe we can make the required savings and continue to provide a comprehensive library service across the county.

“These are very much draft proposals and, while we have worked hard to get the right proposals for each library, we would like to hear if local communities feel that alternative patterns of opening would better suit local needs. We would also welcome alternative proposals that would help us achieve the savings we need to make.”

The transformation programme and consultation was approved by ESCC’s Cabinet in December.

Phil Scott (Lab, Hastings – Hollington and Wishing Tree) described being ‘disappointed’ at first to see a reduction in the service, but he added, “Better to reduce the service than completely end a service in any given area.”

He said he personally would be speaking to residents’ groups about how they could better use the service in the future.

Godfrey Daniel (Lab, Hastings – Braybrooke and Castle) welcomed the fact that they were keeping all libraries open, but suggested the new late night opening hours, specifically referencing Hastings Library, might be a bit conservative if they shut at 6pm, and thought that 8pm for the major libraries might be a better idea.

Kathryn Field (LDem, Battle and Crowhurst) felt that most people who borrowed books were ‘of a certain age group’ and said the review was a ‘huge opportunity to address some of these issues’. She added, “We need to be more radical on opening hours. Why do we not close for an extra day and close very much later two or three times so young people can use the libraries?”

John Barnes (Con, Rother North West) said changes would revolutionise the service as well as make savings, and added, “I think what people have to realise is how old fashioned the library service across the county is. We need to move into the digital age.”

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