Our local libraries are under threat


The council is proposing to cut funding for seven out of 13 libraries in the borough. It has  put forward the idea of Community Managed Libraries (CML).  In the CML model the community charity organisation is responsible for the financing, operation and staffing of the library.  If no charity groups come forward with an appropriate proposal the relevant libraries will close.

This funding cut comes despite Ealing Council’s recognition of the importance of local libraries for local school children on its own website: 

“The encouragement of reading and its effect on literacy skills is well established and the borough has maintained its approach of having a local library service for all to use.  Schools, for their part, encourage pupils to use the local library service.”

Other boroughs are seeking different ways to implement savings rather than lose a valuable resource used by so many in our communities, especially as libraries:

  • are one of the few places people can go without having to spend money
  • provide a social environment that brings communities together, enhancing understanding and helping combat isolation
  • equip people for self-improvement 
  • provide accessible online facilities essential to those applying for benefits and jobs, searching for employment or even doing their homework.

West Ealing Neighbours’ response to these proposals

David Highton, Chair of West Ealing Neighbours says: “The library in West Ealing is not only an essential resource, it also provides a community hub right in the centre of our neighbourhood.  As a neighbourhood group we have considered the Council’s proposals and the impact they will have on our local community.  We fully accept the Council faces difficult decisions as a result of central government cuts to its funding. Nevertheless, the exact way in which the Council implements these cuts requires it to make choices. We feel it is important to note that other London councils have made different choices and have decided not to risk possible library closures. Therefore, after detailed examination of the Council’s plan we do not feel we can support the Council’s CML proposal and strongly oppose the closure of local libraries.  We would encourage all residents in the borough to stand together against cuts to our library services and to make their opinions known to our councillors.”

Members of the West Ealing Neighbours committee have attended and contributed to various consultations on library services within the borough.  At the public meeting on 29th March 2019 – attended by Carole Stewart, Asst Director of Arts, Heritage and Libraries and Cllr Jasbir Anand   cabinet member for Business and community services- many questions about the sustainability of the proposed CML model were left unanswered, especially regarding the financial burden that would be placed on any charity group taking over a library.  More details were promised in the “Invitation for Expression of Interest” paperwork which was made available to the public on 17th April 2019.

The committee met again after the release of these documents and still had concerns over the financial commitment required – any charity would be responsible for the business running costs  – utilities, insurances, maintenance, equipment contracts, lease, rent and rates (albeit at the reduced 25% charity rate).  The full financial picture was not made clear in the documents with many elements “to be determined”.  Exact costs for the West Ealing site were still unknown but these could be in the region of the £98,000 figure for ‘indicative costs’ stated in the Council’s library strategy document.

In addition to the financial considerations, further independent research revealed serious challenges faced by libraries staffed solely by volunteers.  Studies showed that other community models have fared poorly because of inadequate time and training to bring volunteers up to speed.  In all community models, sourcing and keeping the numbers of volunteers required is a constant challenge.

The volume of volunteers required to ‘replace’ the equivalent of staff jobs is much greater, as are the numbers requiring ongoing training, criminal record (DBS) checks etc.  Successful community libraries tended to be those which had full time library staff working alongside volunteers, not the model suggested by Ealing Council which has one council staff librarian visiting a community library once every 2 to 3 weeks.  The committee doubted the sustainability of the model and was concerned about the impact on the local community if it lost this valuable resource. 

Members of the committee attended the public meeting on Wednesday 8th May 2019 at Ealing Town Hall jointly organised by Ealing UNISON in collaboration with the Save Ealing Libraries Campaign.  As well as considering the potential job losses these proposals would bring, the meeting heard from individuals regarding the benefits a local library offers its community.  Further information about challenges facing community libraries around the country was also given, including:

  • 85% drop in visits at East Barnet Library since becoming a volunteer ‘partnership’ library *
  • CML in Essex only opens for 6 hours per week **
  • volunteer libraries based in poorer parts of Sheffield are showed a big dip in usage across all loans ***
  • catastrophic decrease in book loans in Doncaster (one library which used to have over 17,000 book loans per year when run by staff was down to just over 1,200 in 2018 when run by volunteers) ****
  • In Enfield over a 5 year period the number of full-time staff has fallen from 17.7% from 19,688 in 2012-2013 to 16,194 in 2016-17, while the number of volunteers has increased 42.6% from 33,685 in 2012-13 to 48, 025 in 2016-17.*****

At the public meeting there was a majority vote to oppose the Council’s proposal.  There was also a sense that a campaign to save all libraries would have more impact than to champion them individually.

You can help save the libraries but urgent action is needed:

1. Spread the word – a lot of people don’t realise this is happening – talk to your contacts and social networks and let them know.

2.  Complete the consultation before May 17th – either online or pick up a copy from the library.


3.  Sign the online petition.


4.  Write to your councillors – email or letter – and keep chasing them for a reply.


5.  Keep up to date with the campaign and be active – e.g. attend the march organised for 25th May at 11am, starting at Greenford.

For more information https://ealingunison.org.uk  and click on the Libraries link.

6. Visit WEN’s blog http://www.westealingneighbours.org.uk/ where we will publish regular updates on this.


Our Councillors – the people WE vote for – will meet for the public vote on the proposal on Tuesday 16th July.  Decisions tend to be made long before the public vote so our chance to let them know what we think is NOW!

It’s still possible to make a difference and secure the future of our libraries, not just for today but for generations to come.

*  data from FOIs submitted by “Save Barnet Libraries”

** info from “Save Essex Libraries”

*** FOI request, figures from Sheffield City Council for period 2014-2016

****  FOI figures January 2019

******  Latest CIPFA figures

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