Published: January 12, 2012
U-turn on Burnham and Highbridge library cutbacks welcomed

Opening times at Burnham-On-Sea library will be increased from next month and the threat of closure hanging over Highbridge library has been lifted, the County Council has confirmed this week.

Self-serve technology is also to be introduced at Burnham as part of a county-wide £600,000 modernisation programme.

Wednesday's announcement comes after reported last week that the council had been recommended not to proceed with a series of financial cuts to its library services following last November's High Court judicial review ruling that they would be unlawful.

Highbridge library will therefore keep its funding and no longer faces closure, while opening hours at Burnham Library will revert back to their previous times by Monday 6th February.

Burnham county councillor Peter Burridge-Clayton, pictured below, welcomed the news, telling "Clearly, this is good news for Highbridge Library, and the modernisation of Burnham Library and the re-instated opening hours should be welcomed."

"I feel any proposals should be carefully considered to ensure that Burnham library will go from strength to strength and staffing levels maintained so as to provide a quality service for its users. A full service review is due to start in April and I will work to ensure our local libraries will continue to offer an excellent standard of service."

Somerset County Council had been advised in a report that not reverting library services to their previous state would make it "highly likely the council would be held in contempt of court."

Burnham-On-Sea Library users will see new equipment introduced over the next year to 'self-serve' check-in and check-out of books.

In making Wednesday's announcement, Cllr Lawrence, Cabinet Member for Community Services, also outlined the County Council's approach to deciding the future funding and shape of the library service.

Elected members will consider the future of the service as part of a service review due to begin in April. All of the Council's services are being reviewed over the next 18 months.

"The investment in self-service technology will help modernise the Library Service," Cllr Lawrence told "However, given the extreme financial pressures all Council services are under, we still need to consider the future funding and shape of libraries and this decision sets out the process by which that can happen."

The self-service technology will be introduced at Somerset's ten busiest libraries - including Burnham - during the financial year 2012/13, with work scheduled to begin in Taunton in April 2012.

Investment in self-service technology - also known as Radio Frequency Identification or RFID - will come from capital funding which cannot be spent on the running costs of the Library Service.

Funding was due to be withdrawn at six libraries - including Highbridge - at the end of October 2011, but this was put on hold pending the Judicial Review. The Judicial Review judgement on 16th November declared the decision taken by Full Council in February 2011 and related decisions, to pursue the proposed changes to the Library Service, unlawful because of a failure to comply with public sector equalities duties.


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