PROTESTERS have slammed Vale Council proposals to replace staff with volunteers and reduce opening hours in libraries across the Vale.

Crowds gathered outside the Vale Council Civic Offices in a UNISON-organised protest to show their opposition to the plans before they were discussed at a cabinet meeting on Monday, April 28.

Motorists beeped their horns in a show of support as they drove past the protest, while campaigners urged passers-by to sign a petition to save libraries across the Vale.

Among the proposals libraries in Dinas Powys, Sully, Wenvoe and St Athan could become ‘community managed” and staffed by volunteers with the help of the Council from April 2015 onwards.

This will be dependent upon further negotiations and consultation with various groups, organisations and Community Councils in the areas concerned

The proposals, which come after a review of library services across the Vale, also include reduced opening hours for the likes of Penarth and Barry libraries, by opening later and closing earlier, and cuts in funding for new books and cleaning.

It is hoped the cuts would save more than £500,000 a year as the council tries to make savings of more than £1million over the next two financial years. Under the proposals about £309k would be saved from the budget for employees, while reduced opening hours would save about £165k.

The leader of the Vale Council, Cllr Neil Moore, said that the way residents use libraries was changing and financial pressures “prompted a radical re-think of how we provide library services”.

He added: “The outcome of this is a new way of working that will not only secure the future of all of the Vale's libraries, but also broaden their appeal to bring in a new generation of library users.

"The Council is fully committed to the future of library services and has also committed over £300,000 to refurbish library buildings to ensure a quality service for local residents and that we will continue to do everything within our power to support the Vale's libraries."

The proposals also include £88,000 to address damp in Penarth Library from April next year

Library staff, speaking during the protest, said they were “disgusted” by the proposals and branded them “unsustainable”.

They warned they could lead to library closures and cited the difficulty in finding enough volunteers to run a library, saying a community managed library in St Donats takes 18 volunteers to stay open for five hours a week.

After the protest, where more than 100 people waved banners and placards, campaigners crammed into the committee room to see cabinet members discuss the report.

As councilors agreed to the recommendations there were murmurs of “shame on you” and “absolutely disgusting” by members of the public.

Joy Jones, a senior assistant at Dinas Powys Library, said that the community would suffer if the library was run by volunteers.

“It’s a big community and people deserve to have the library run by the council and not get people from the community to run it themselves.”

She added: “It’s not fair to expect volunteers to provide a service that the council should be providing. It will be difficult and it will be a very restricted service.”

One employee of Penarth Library, where there is set to be reduced opening hours, said staff were “disgusted” by the proposals.

“We don’t think the review has gone through the necessary feasibility studies that it should have done,” they said.

“It’s just how they think a library can be sustained with skilled and trained staff replaced by volunteers to maintain a service.”

They added: “We are concerned about the future of the library.”

Dinas Powys Councillor Chris Franks added: “I think the proposals are ill thought out and I would question whether they would be able to find volunteers to maintain the professional service of the librarians.”

The Council said it was revitalising library services, following a full consultation exercise. The plans, it said, informed by the recent library review, would see Wi-Fi service upgraded and extended and digital services such as e-books emphasised.

Under the proposals a ‘Friends Group’ would also be established at all libraries “to increase opportunities for the library service to be further embraced by the community but also to raise funding and apply for external grants”.

Cleaning costs would be reduced by 20 per cent across all libraries in the Vale, the book fund would be reduced from £220,000 to £195,000, a drop of £25,000, from April 2015, and a ‘pop-up library’ service would be set up in Barry.

Cabinet members approved the proposed Library Strategy and referred the report to the Lifelong Scrutiny Committee for their consideration. Final approval of the strategy will be made by cabinet at a further meeting and after considering the comments and any recommendations from the Lifelong Learning Scrutiny Committee.