Customers are being encouraged to have their say about savings proposals to reduce the opening hours of branch libraries in Wolverhampton.

The city council is considering reducing opening hours at its district libraries - though not closing any branches - as it seeks to save £123 million over the next 5 years.

Councillor Elias Mattu, Wolverhampton City Council's Cabinet Member for Leisure and Communities, said: "We do not want to see the closure of any of our libraries, but we must face up to the fact that, due to Government cutbacks, we are having to deal with an unprecedented financial challenge.

"The council needs to save a further £123 million over the next 5 years - on top of the £100 million it has saved over the last few years.

"As a result we must further reduce the cost of the services the council provides, and that includes Wolverhampton's libraries.

"We have therefore put forward proposals to reduce the number of hours that our branches are staffed and therefore open to the public, which would enable us to make vital savings while keeping all of our libraries open at the times when most people want to use them."

The library service has been given a target to make savings of £1.7 million, over half its current operating budget. The proposals would reduce the total number of hours libraries are staffed from 656 hours per week to 421.

Under the proposals, Bilston, Warstones and Wednesfield libraries would be staffed for 39 hours per week, Finchfield and Tettenhall libraries for 30 hours per week and Ashmore Park, Pendeford and Penn libraries for 24 hours per week. East Park, Low Hill, Spring Vale and Whitmore Reans libraries would be staffed for 15 hours per week, while Blakenhall and Long Knowle libraries would become self serve, similar to Collingwood Library.

The main Central Library, which accounts for around half of all library visits in Wolverhampton, would continue to be open 56 hours per week, though staffing would be reduced as elsewhere.

Councillor Mattu said: "Clearly some of our libraries are better used than others and each have their busy and quiet periods, so we've looked closely at when customers currently use each library to develop tailored proposals which would enable individual branches to open at times of greatest demand."

A consultation is already underway into the proposals, and customers will also shortly be invited to choose from one of two suggested weekly opening schedules for their local library - more details of this will be available in the next few days.

With the council looking to reduce its workforce by around 1,400 by 2015, the proposals would mean a reduction of posts within the library service, while there is also a proposal to introduce a charge for internet access after the first hour.

Councillor Mattu added: "The scale of the financial challenge we are facing is staggering - by 2019 we will have had to make savings of over £220 million compared to a decade or so earlier - and so it is simply not possible to maintain the status quo and continue doing things the same way.

"Other councils have taken the tough decision to close libraries, but as we've demonstrated over the last few years, we're determined to do all we can to protect our branch network as much as possible. For instance, the development of community hubs is enabling us to make substantial savings by reducing the number of buildings the council offers services like our libraries from.

"Let me be clear; we are striving to keep all our libraries open. These proposals have not been put forward lightly, but I would hope that customers agree that it would be much more preferable to have a branch library with reduced opening hours than to not have one at all."

The plans are 1 of 165 separate savings proposals which have been put forward by Wolverhampton City Council and which are subject to a 3 month period of public consultation which ends on Thursday 23 January, 2014. If approved, the changes would be introduced later this year. For more information, and to make comments on the savings proposals, please visit Type=articles;Articleid=1848;Title=Current consultations;.

  • released: Tuesday 7 January, 2014