It's the end of the road for Bristol's mobile library service
COUNCILLORS who are charged with taking a closer look at controversial decisions debated the axing of Bristol's mobile library service for just five minutes.
Despite the mobile library having more than 800 registered users in the last 18 months and issuing 20,000 books, not a single member of the council's quality of life scrutiny commission raised any concerns over its closure.
Instead they asked a few questions but there was no one to answer them, as no officers from the council's libraries department had turned up to yesterday afternoon's meeting.
An officer from another department who was at the meeting told the committee that there was no point, as the decision had already been made.
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The council first announced plans to scrap the service last September, saying that it could not afford to replace the 12-year-old library van and that it was not being used enough. A three-month public consultation was carried out but at the end of it the ruling Liberal Democrat cabinet's executive member for culture, Simon Cook, took the decision to axe the service, although this was not announced until last week.
The scrutiny commission had requested a report on the outcome of the consultation while it was being carried out but it was not provided until yesterday.
The report, by head of libraries Kate Murray, explained that response to the consultation had been very low.
Only 15 replies were received to consultation letters – but all but one of those said the service should be kept. And letters were sent to just 167 households, despite the service having 838 registered users.
Public meetings were also staged but only five people attended them, while two replied to an online consultation and 82 surveys were returned from around 600 people who went to the Celebrating Age Festival in September.
Although the service was much loved by those who loved it, it was no longer fit for purpose, Ms Murray argued.
The mobile library is one part of the council's outreach service, the other being the "at home van" which delivers books to individuals at their own homes, to sheltered accommodation and nursing homes.
In total they cost £194,771 a year to run; £137,771 for staff, £37,420 for transport and £19,580 for premises.
The council plans on expanding the "at home" service, which currently provides books for 124 people and 170 organisations, to compensate for the loss of the mobile library.
It may add further routes so that it can help other people who cannot easily reach their nearest library.
Unlike some councils in other parts of the country, Bristol has yet to have to close any local libraries as part of its four-year, £70 million cuts programme.
Councillor Cheryl Ann (Liberal Democrat, Horfield) asked what the criteria was to use the "at home" service and how it would be marketed.
As there was no one from the library service to answer this and other questions, after just a few minutes the report was noted and members moved on to the next item on the agenda.
The mobile library will be discontinued in April.
Council spokeswoman Helen Hewitt said the at home library service is specifically targeted to those library customers who find themselves housebound and unable to access their local library.
Numbers of people using the mobile library have been steadily declining in the last few years, with half of those surveyed saying they also used their local library on a regular basis.
In a statement confirming its closure, Mr Cook said: "Falling numbers of take-up of the mobile library service, coupled with the need to replace the old, mobile library van at a high cost necessitated a long, hard look at how the council delivers a library service to those unable to access their local library. Now, following consultation, we can invest our resources into extending the at home service.
"This form of outreach service will benefit far more people across the city who are most in need and unable to access their local library."