Plans to charge £1 an hour to use computers in the county’s libraries has been branded as “ill conceived and money grabbing” by opposition councillors fearful it will impact on low-income families.
Cambridgeshire County Council’s highways and community infra-structure committee agreed on Tuesday (13) to introduce the charges in all 32 of the county’s libraries. The first half hour will be free and there will also be no charges for accessing government websites.
The move is just one of a number of ideas to generate income. There are also plans to introduce a chargeable premier membership scheme and pay-for events such as author talks and storytime sessions could also have a cost.
The council believe the move will ensure the long-term financial stability of the service by increasing yearly revenue by £180,000 and providing an extra £230,000 for this year’s book buying fund.
But Labour Councillor Jocelynne Scutt said the plans to commercialise libraries runs the risk of creating a ‘two tier’ service for residents and could marginalise low income and vulnerable families.
Coun Scutt said: “Our library services are, and must remain, trusted spaces open to all where anyone can explore and share reading, information, knowledge and culture.
“They say they are going to introduce mitigation measures to allow people to access gov.uk websites for free but that is going to come at a cost. People who are job hunting won’t just be accessing government websites and again they say they will look at introducing measures to deal with that, but it is a bit like Topsy it is just going to grow and grow.
“The council has increased the Council Tax and have put the extra money into what they are calling a ‘smoothing fund’ but it should be used for things like libraries - that is exactly where it should be being spent.”
Councillor John Morris, whose Lib Dem party has set up a petition to oppose the plans, said: “I am angry about it. It is an ill-conceived money grabbing idea which isn’t going to raise an awful lot of money, but cause a lot of suffering. It is really mean-spirited.”
A council spokesman said: “One of the proposals was the introduction of a £1 hourly charge for computer use, after an initial half hour free. This is designed to prevent people from monopolising limited facilities in our libraries and will allow us to make sure everyone has fair access to computers, as well as to generate income.
“We will ensure people who are completing essential online forms such as gov.uk sites and Universal Credit applications will still be free of charge.
“Members have agreed to consider additional websites to be exempt from charges and will review this in September to see if there are any issues.”