Barnet Libraries Review : Barnet UNISON

British Library, Kings Cross.
March to protest about cuts to libraries, museums and the arts.
Barnet Unison were on the march along with striking Barnet library staff.
05/11/16 BP

Barnet Council have commissioned “an independent evaluation of recent changes to the library service and to make some recommendations for the future.” (

The Company undertaking the review have asked Barnet UNISON and a sample of Library staff for their views.  We welcome this engagement with Library workers.

We hope that the review will be fair and evidence based, and that the Council have made the necessary information and evidence available to the reviewing organisation.  This must include comparable statistics on the use of libraries in staffed and unstaffed hours and include the four Libraries outsourced in 2017.

The findings of the review should be published in March and Barnet UNISON will make a full response at that time.


Fire safety issues in Barnet Libraries

Over the last year Barnet UNISON have been very concerned about Fire Safety in Barnet Libraries.

This arose because the Council were slow in providing Fires Risk Assessments (FRAs) for Libraries and in complying with the actions resulting from these assessments.

During 2017 Library buildings were altered as part of the Library Program. This included internal structural changes and the installation of technology to permit unstaffed opening hours. These changes meant that the building’s Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) needed reviewing and replacing.

In addition a new Library, Finchley Church End was opened in September 2017 which also required a Fire Risk Assessment

UNISON began asked the Council for these Fire Risk Assessment prior to library staff returning to each site and before the Libraries opened to the public.

However the Council only produced these FRA weeks and months after library staff and the public were admitted to the Libraries.

Examples include;

1. North Finchley Library reopened to the public on the 12th June 2017

The FRA issued on the 24th August 2017


2. Golders Green Library reopened to the public on the 3rd July 2017                                  The FRA issued on 10th August 20.17


3. Osidge Library reopened to the public on the 26th June 2017

The FRA issued on the 16th August 2017

The FRAs when they were produced identified a number of actions for the Council to carry out. The majority of these were described as a

  • “…..a potential contravention of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, or a high risk to Health & Safety from fire”

The deadline for complying with most of these actions was three months from the issue of the FRA.​​

A few of the issues are listed below:

  • Replacing Fire Doors at some with doors with the required level of fire Resistance
  • Fire Refuge Area communication system not working at a number of sites
  • The Emergency Lighting untested at a number of sites
  • No record of the five yearly structural inspection of the external fire escapes at a number of libraries
  • Incomplete Fire Safety signage missing at a number of sites
  • Smoke seals needed for doors at a number of libraries
  • Insufficient numbers of fire extinguisher at one site
  • Fire extinguisher incorrectly mounted at a number of sites
  • Fire door not closing correctly at one library
  • Basement area at one library requiring upgrading to required level of fire resistance
  • Width of staff exit at one site below recommendations
  • Confirmation needed that there is fire separation in the roof void between the library and the commercial use area at one site

Barnet UNISON have been inspecting Libraries to see if the FRA actions have been carried out. In most cases these have not been completed. UNISON have raised this at a number of escalating meetings to the highest level and in our inspection reports.

But no real evidence was presented to Barnet UNISON by the Council that most of the issues had been resolved. Barnet UNISON informed the Council on a number of the occasions that if this continued we would be compelled to contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to report our concerns.

Despite this the Council failed to meaningfully respond and with regret Barnet UNISON reported our concerns to the Health and Safety Executive.

The Council have since then provided UNISON with a plan of works to act upon the FRAs but while this is welcome. These action should have been completed months ago.

The Council inaction has in UNISON view being largely caused by various Council/Capita management teams’ failure to take responsibility to have the Fire Risk Assessment in place in good time and to respond in sufficient time to resolve the problems identified in these assessments.

Barnet UNISON do not believe these failures have been due to library staff on site, who have reported these problems according to Council  procedures and to their Trade Union , and who have themselves been put at risk by the Council.

Barnet UNISON will continue in our campaign to make Barnet Libraries safe for our members, all Library staff and the public.

To this end we call on the Council to:

  • Ensure that libraries and other Council buildings have up to date FRAs in place before staff and the public are admitted
  • Act speedily and effectively to comply with Fire Risk Assessments
  • Review the management of Fire Safety arrangements and monitoring within the Council
  • Work with UNISON and other concerned parties in addressing the risks and hazards in identified in Fire Risk Assessments.

Please note: The following services are provided by #Capita:

  • Estates
  • Health and Safety
  • Project Management

Robot Wars: Barnet Libraries on the Eve of Destruction

Humans not Machines

What was once one of the finest public Library Services in the UK is about to undergo a transformation that will see it left in ruins. In 2002 Barnet won a Beacon Council award for libraries as a community resource, but since then successive restructures have seen staff numbers and service points cut. The decline will reach an all-time low in April 2017 when the newly restructured Library Service comes into operation.

In April the Library workforce will be reduced by almost half. The Council alleges that their skills, knowledge and experience can be replaced by volunteers and self-service machines.

Four Libraries will be handed over to charities and resident groups to be opened for only fifteen hours each a week.  The people of Mill Hill, South Friern, East Barnet and Childs Hill will lose direct access to a professional library service.

The Council will give these partnership libraries between £352,000 and £384,000 in grants for the first 3 years, money that would be better spent providing a service staffed and run by librarians and other real library workers.

The remaining Council-run libraries will have staff present only for a few hours on most days. Some days will be completely unstaffed. Under 15-years olds not accompanied by an adult will be unable to enter the libraries during these hours.

The Council seems unconcerned how this will affect the public, although aware that;

“The reduction in staffed opening hours will mean less support available in the library to get advice, information and to utilise the resources in the library. This will have the biggest impact on those who may require support to make best use of services at static library sites or are less able, or confident at using libraries without library staff support

 Barnet Future Library Service 5.9.10)

The Council claims that CCTV monitored from a control centre in Cardiff will be sufficient to maintain the safety and security of people using the Libraries. Barnet UNISON disagreed, and continues to disagree, with the Council, citing incidents of anti-social behaviour, physical and verbal abuse and theft that have occurred in libraries, the number of which would be far higher if library staff had not been on site to prevent them.  Barnet UNISON remains unconvinced that the emergency response systems the Council plans for unstaffed hours will be sufficient.

Libraries are also to be reduced in size by up to 90%, as space is hived off to be offered for rent to commercial and community groups. This will leave inadequate study, computer and events space in most libraries. With only a few days to go before the restructure the Council has confirmed only one organisation interested in renting.  Since 2014, when this plan was first announced, Barnet UNISON has been pointing out that the Council’s estimated rental income of £546,000 by 2019/20 is very unlikely to be met

The Council claims it is being forced into reducing Library staff numbers, space and direct control of all libraries because of the need to save £1.6 million from the Libraries Budget by 2020. But the Council allocated over £6.5 million to implement the changes. In December the Council made known it was allocating over £14 million for “library procurements”. On the 8th December 2016 Barnet UNISON asked the Council a number of questions regarding this “procurement” spend. Because the Council did not answer our questions in full we resubmitted them on the 16th January 2017 and on the 14th February 2017. We still await a meaningful response

This is a lot of money to be spent on reducing the assets, efficiency, accessibility and safety of a service.

Barnet UNISON and the Save Barnet Library Campaigns have argued with the Council for over two and a half years that a machine and volunteer dependant Library Service would lead to a decline. The Council’s own consultations with the public found little if any support for their plan.  But the Council has consistently failed to address these arguments instead repeating the mantra that no libraries in Barnet were being closed and that opening hours were being extended. But when the new Library structure is implemented in April opening hours will not be any longer than at present.  The promised extended opening hours are now being postponed until the autumn. Only five of the Council-run libraries will be open while building work to reduce library space is carried out and the four “partnership” Libraries will stagger their hours between them.

In April the people of Barnet will find their library service much reduced. It is likely that many current and potential library users, particularly children, will find Barnet Libraries hard to access, information and advice difficult to come by, containing very little study space and the range of stock and services a shadow of what was once on offer.  This is likely to lead to a decline in use and an excuse by the Council to close Libraries

Our members working in libraries will continue as they have done in the past to try and provide the best service they can. But their low numbers, limited staffed opening hours and lack of space will be insurmountable barriers. Barnet UNISON will strongly oppose any attempts by the Council to place blame on library staff for the decline in the Service and any attempt to shift responsibility for any harm resulting from unstaffed opening hours.

Our members will be the first in line to face the frustration of the public with the restructured Library Service, but those responsible are the present ruling administration of the Council. Public dissatisfaction with the Library Service is likely to grow and may well have an influence on how Barnet residents vote in the next local elections.

Barnet UNISON will continue to campaign for a restoration of the Library Service. The people of Barnet need and deserve a professional library service staffed by real library workers.

Barnet UNISON call on the Council to stop the restructure and work constructively with those people working in and using libraries and with the wider community to build a Library Service that can once again rightly claim to be one of the best in the UK.

Further details on the Library changes and the Barnet UNISON’s campaign to stop it can be found on.







Barnet Council Libraries: “Transformation or Destruction?”

British Library, Kings Cross. March to protest about cuts to libraries, museums and the arts. Barnet Unison were on the march along with striking Barnet library staff. 05/11/16  BP AMS

British Library, Kings Cross.
March to protest about cuts to libraries, museums and the arts.
Barnet Unison were on the march along with striking Barnet library staff.

Barnet UNISON’s response to Barnet Council Libraries Services Transformation Programme

(Report to the General Functions Committee 6.12.2016)

UNISON remains opposed to the planned reorganisation of Barnet Libraries.

This reorganisation will in our view (and we are not lawyers) see the Council failing to comply with its legal duty

“to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof,” (Public Libraries and Museums Act (1964). (7 (1))

The Council itself admits that the efficiency and accessibility of the Service will be adversely impacted:
“The reduction in staffed opening hours will mean less support available in the library to get advice, information and to utilise the resources in the library. This will have the biggest impact on those who may require support to make best use of services at static library sites or are less able, or confident at using libraries without library staff support” (Barnet Future Library Service 5.9.10)

Risks associated with the Restructure

The Council has proclaimed it will keep all libraries open but the Library restructure will have detrimental effects on individual libraries, the Service as a whole and the people who work in and use Barnet Libraries. The Restructure derives from a perspective that sees libraries as being little more than book collection points, which can be operated in the main through self-service machines. The quality, accessibility, and range of the services that libraries provide are being undervalued and the safety of the public put at risk.

Reduction of a Skilled Workforce

The planned restructure requires the loss of almost half of the current library posts, resulting in nearly 30 permanent library staff losing their jobs. This is a workforce that has consistently scored more than 90% for good service in surveys of public satisfaction. The Council believes staff can be replaced by the outsourcing of four libraries to the voluntary sector and using other volunteers and self-service machines in the remaining sites.

Staff Recruitment
The Council acknowledges that future recruitment to Barnet Libraries (much reduced) staffing complement will be difficult.

“Suitable candidates may not be recruited at the required level for the new libraries structure or may not be recruited in a timely fashion resulting in delays in future design and implementation phases.” (Libraries Service Transformation Programme )

The Council is already having difficulty recruiting, and a large number of front line posts are currently filled by agency staff. Since the 2013 restructure the Council has failed to fill all 7 FTE posts in the Service Development Team (the remaining professional librarian posts in the service). This is despite 25% of UK professional librarian and other library jobs being lost in the last 6 years*. Barnet Libraries in its present and planned forms is proving unattractive as a workplace to library professionals and para-professionals.


There is little prospect for career development for those staff that do remain in Barnet Libraries. The programme to support library staff to gain a CILIP recognised Library qualification was ended by the Council in 2013 and will not be reinstated. This effectively blocks the generally accepted career path for UK Library staff to Barnet workers. Barnet Library staff without such qualifications who are appointed to internal posts where this is usually a prerequisite elsewhere are unlikely to progress their career outside the borough. Barnet Council’s record of Library cuts also makes internal career progression less likely.

Short to Mid Term Closures

Major building alterations are also underway even before the General Functions Committee has voted its approval. Library space is being reduced and the interiors of libraries converted to other usage. The introduction of technology facilitating unstaffed library opening hours also requires major work. But the changes may not be implemented by the April deadline.

“Whilst the implementation date for this restructure is 1 April 2017, the committee is advised that transitional arrangements may be necessary to compensate for vacant positions, possible redundancies and handover of duties between current and future roles.”
(Libraries Services Transformation Programme: Summary)

Previous experience of library alterations, and the installation of the unstaffed library technology for the Edgware pilot, shows that work does not always run to time. It is possible, with even minor delays, that 10 Barnet libraries could be closed for building work in April 2017. Even if the timetable is adhered to the people of Barnet will be deprived of the use of many libraries during the coming months:

December 2016 2 libraries closed – Chipping Barnet, Mill Hill

• January 2017 3 libraries closed – Chipping Barnet, East Barnet, South Friern

• February 2017 8 libraries closed – Burnt Oak, Childs Hill, East Barnet, Edgware, Golders Green, North Finchley, Osidge, South Friern

• March 2017 6 libraries closed – Burnt Oak, Edgware, Golders Green, North Finchley Osidge, South Friern

• April 2017 4 libraries closed – East Finchley, Hendon, North Finchley, Osidge

• May 2017 2 libraries closed – East Finchley, Hendon

• June 2017 2 libraries closed – East Finchley, Hendon

• Chipping Barnet will also have further closures for building work in June to August 2017.

Loss of Library Space

The restructure involves building work to reduce library space by at least 15% to a maximum of 90%. This will result in less stock and fewer study and activities spaces. The Council’s intent is to rent out most of the lost space or hand it over to other Council departments or to partner organisations. UNISON is unconvinced that all the space will be used. No compelling business plan has been put forward for commercial renting and it is unlikely that a significant amount of money will be raised.

Children Discouraged

Children will be greatly disadvantaged by the Library restructure. Libraries will be unstaffed for most of their opening hours and under 15 year olds not with an adult will not be able to get into a Barnet Library. Even those who have a parent or other adult to accompany them to a library will not be able to make use of the advice of library staff during 70% of opening hours when those staff will not be present. Some children and their parents may not be discouraged by these barriers but the loss of children’s library space and stock will not be an incentive to visit.


Four Barnet Libraries are to be handed over to “Community-Led” organisations and will be staffed by volunteers. This will mean that the people of Mill Hill, Childs Hill, South Friern and East Barnet will not have direct and local access to the skills, knowledge, experience and expertise of library staff. No matter how well intentioned volunteers are they are unlikely to be able to provide the level of service currently provided in Barnet Libraries. The Libraries Services Transformation Programme report does not mention this outsourcing of 4 Barnet Libraries. The organisations which have been successful in bidding to take over these sites have not been disclosed, nor have dates been given for the takeovers.


During the seven months up to November 2016 Barnet UNISON received four reports of physical assaults (2 on staff and 2 on members of the public) in Libraries. There were also 27 reports of aggressive behaviour and verbal abuse, with victims being equally divided between staff and public. But not all incidents (including thefts) are reported to UNISON so the real figures are likely to be higher.

Library staff have had to step in to prevent incidents of anti-social behaviour escalating and have had to deal with medical emergencies on occasion. Situations our colleagues have to deal with include preventing fights and calming arguments between members of the public, dealing with people under the influence of alcohol and drugs, library users viewing pornography on computers, members of the public urinating and defaecating on library furniture and floors, racial and homophobic abuse and threats of sexual assault.

But the vast majority of library users are unaware of this level of anti-social behaviour. This is because libraries are safe places to visit in the main, not least due to the vigilance and response of library staff. But library staff will not be present for 70% of future opening hours. The Council believes that during unstaffed hours the safety of the public can be left to remotely monitored CCTV. The Council’s assurance of a thirty minute response time to an incident shows either callousness towards the safety of library users or wilful ignorance of the risk of unstaffed opening hours in a public space.

The High Cost of the Library Changes

The Council claims that a need to make cuts to overall Council spending is the rationale behind the Library Restructure.

“By 2019/20 the Library Service revenue budget will have been reduced by £1.6m as part of the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy.“
(Libraries Services Transformation Programme: 5:2)

However the above report makes no mention of the costs of implementing the restructure. These have previously been reported by the Council as:

Cost of changes Reference £millions
Reconfiguration of libraries (para5.3.3) 3.00
Technology enabled opening (para 5.3.4) 1.41
Redundancy costs (para 5.5.5) 1.500
Phase 1 (para 5.7.3 ) 0.400
Phase 2 (para 5.6.2) 0.375
Phase 3 no estimate provided
Total 6.685

(Source: Barnet’s future Library Service, March, 2016)

There is also a further cost of £75,000 per year for monitored CCTV

Costs associated with the Library Service have also been published in the Council’s Annual Procurement Plan 2017/18.

These are:

• Libraries Construction £12,000,000
• Office furniture, fixtures and equipment £100, 000
• Shelving and other library furniture, fixtures and equipment £500,000
• Legal £250,000
• Communication £25,000
• Removals £250,000
• Surveys & Consultants £250,000
• Technical Services £250,000
• Statutory Services £5000, 000
Total £14,125,000


The Construction spend will begin at the start of the next financial year, 1rst April 2017. The other procurements began on 1st December and must relate to the restructure in the short and mid-term. These latter come to a total of £2,125, 000

From 2014 the Council has already spent money planning and implementing the library changes. Barnet UNISON asks why this and the spending outlined above were not included in the Libraries Services Transformation Programme report to the General Function Committee.

Other Council Spending

Barnet Council intends to spend over £14 million on altering the library service with the avowed aim of saving £1.6 million by 2019/20. The Council claims it has no option but to cut the Library Budget, yet money has been found to fund £59,747,631 million on agency staff/consultants in the last four years.

And the Council is on target to spend over £20 million on agency staff/consultants by the end of the current financial year in April.


A large amount of money is being spent in transforming Barnet Libraries into a poor shadow of what was once one of the leading library services in the UK.

The Council’s plans for the Library Service will lead to a decline in use. Libraries will only have trained and experienced library staff on site to help and advise the public for around 15 hours a week. Library stock and the events they hold will be greatly reduced. Children will have their access reduced and libraries will become unsafe. This is not an attractive offer to the public and will lead to fewer people using them. The fall in numbers may then be given as a justification for eventual library closures. However these may only be announced after the next local government election.

Further Reading

Watch “Last call 4 Barnet Libraries”

Further Response to the Library Restructure Staff Consultation

Unstaffed Libraries – Unsafe and Unproven

“What the hell is going on?”- Update on Save Barnet Libraries campaign

Save Barnet Libraries

Save Barnet Libraries

Barnet UNISON Library workers, 46% of whom are facing the sack, are quite rightly outraged by the latest financial information on Council spend which was published last week.

Barnet Council Policy & Resources Committee meets at Hendon Town Hall at 7 pm on Thursday 1 December 2016.

It is Agenda Item 10 – Annual Procurement Forward Plan which has caused anger, dismay and disbelief.

Scroll down to point 17 in the procurement plan where it reveals proposed spend on Libraries construction of £12 million. Items 18-25 show a further £2.125 million for additional associated costs making a total of:

£14.125 million.

A quick recap on other Barnet Council spend.

Below are the Agency/Consultancy figures for the last four years.

  • £12,526,943
  • £13,775,546
  • £15,538,090
  • £17,907,052

Making a total of £59,747,631.

In the first two quarters of this financial year Barnet Council has spent £9.3 million which, if it continues at this rate, will bring the total spend for this year to over £20 million on Consultants/Agency.

Barnet Council claims it is being forced into the Library changes by a need to cut £2.162 million from the Library Service budget by 2019/20.

Members and Barnet UNISON have been asking a very simple question:

“Is it true that in order to save £2.162 million Barnet Council is spending over £6 million (which does not include redundancy costs) on a project to close four public libraries (by handing them to volunteers), on a project that will restrict access for disabled people and children under 15 and is now planning to spend an additional £14.125 million on construction and associated costs (making a grand total of £20.125 million)?”

This latest revelation seriously calls into question why staff are being made redundant and why a service with a 97% Customer satisfaction rating is being brutally dismantled.

As far as Barnet UNISON is aware the £14.125 million construction and additional costs have never been disclosed in any of the reports going to previous Children’s Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committees.

What can we do?

There is still time to stop the destruction of the Barnet Libraries Service. Barnet UNISON will be speaking at General Functions Committee on Tuesday 6 December at 7 pm at Hendon Town Hall. The Leader of Barnet Council Richard Cornelius is on this committee. The committee could refuse to implement the redundancies which would save the Library Service.


Join Barnet UNISON on #6December


Volunteers running Libraries is Outsourcing – Join us 5th November

"Dont take our members jobs"

“Dont take our members jobs”

Why we are asking all Barnet UNISON members to join us on 5th November

This is critical moment in the future of Libraries. Volunteers are being used now to help push through brutal austerity policies and take the livelihoods of thousands of low paid Library workers.

Imagine if you will, going into work today. There you are carrying out your job, earning your living, paying your bills feeding your family. Next you receive a tap on the shoulder, you look up and a stranger/volunteer says:


Volunteer: “Excuse me, erm, this is all a bit awkward for me, I really am unhappy about this but if I don’t do this there will be nothing left.”

Worker: “What?”

Volunteer: “I’m your replacement, don’t worry they’ve told me although you are being sacked you will get redundancy pay”


I think you would be pretty upset and angry.

That is what is happening in Barnet.

Barnet Council are not closing the Libraries they are simply sacking the staff and using volunteers to replace them.

This isn’t a closure it’s “outsourcing” with mass redundancies (46% of the workforce are being sacked).

I have a message for any voluntary organisation thinking of running “Partnership Libraries” either here in Barnet or anywhere else.

“Don’t do it. Don’t be part of brutal assault on our Libraries. Don’t take the livelihoods of our members and their families.”

Join us on 5th November on the National Libraries, Museums, Galleries demonstration.





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