AMID warnings that it could become an issue at next May’s local government elections, Scottish Borders Council has unanimously agreed to merge library and contact centre services in six towns.
The move, which will cut library opening hours in Selkirk, Jedburgh, Coldstream and Duns and maintain the status quo in Innerleithen and Kelso, will save the council about £190,000 a year and bring in capital receipts from the potential sale of surplus buildings worth a further £259,000.
But Councillor Grahame Garvie, executive member for culture and community learning, claimed it was “not primarily a cost-cutting exercise”.
As we predicted last week the council backed a report from senior officials which highlighted the opportunities for staff from contact centres, which have lost much of their business since cash transactions were proscribed earlier this year, to be retrained to cover library duties.
“We can secure savings and retain the full range of services delivered in the six towns to ensure library and contact centres stay locally available,” said Mr Garvie. “We are also looking to restructure the remaining library and information service so the quality and range of services offered to the public are developed and improved.”
What councillors were not told, however, was that the total number of active members of the 12 static and six mobile libraries in the region has risen markedly over the last five years.
A Freedom of Information response reveals that the number of active members, which stood at 16,741 in 2007-08, had increased to 21,709 in 2010-11.
The response also confirms that 5,477 new library members enrolled in 2010/11, compared with 3,874 the previous year.
Gordon Edgar, former chairman of Selkirk Community Council and prospective independent candidate for SBC’s Selkirkshire ward, branded last week’s decision “a disgrace”.
“Councillors have created a blatantly two-tier system for library use,” he told us. “If money has to be saved, let the library hours in Galashiels, Hawick and Peebles also be cut.”