A leading opposition Cambridgeshire county councillor is calling for a U-turn on controversial plans that would see charges introduced for people using library computers.
Labour councillor Jocelynne Scutt believes the controversial proposals to charge residents for Internet access in libraries and create a ‘premium membership’ will impact the less well-off and vulnerable members of the community.
The proposals are due to be debated again at Tuesday’s (20) full council meeting when Coun Scutt was due to propose a motion asking for £325,000 in the ‘smoothing fun’ - created as the result of the recent rise in next Council Tax - be used to support the library service and ensure free Internet access remains.
Cambridge-based Coun Scutt said: “Public libraries have played an important role in all communities since they were introduced in 1850 with the aim of encouraging all citizens ‘regardless of social class’ to engage with literature, culture and the arts. Libraries are so much more than just buildings containing books - they are places where those at risk of isolation, such as the elderly, students or the unemployed, can meet and interact freely. Research from 2016 showed that 29 per cent of all visits to libraries were to access the Internet.
“Libraries have a key role to play in reducing digital exclusion and social inequality but the introduction of charges for Internet usage risks widening inequality across Cambridgeshire by creating a ‘two tier’ service.
“The Government’s own Digital Skills Strategy highlights the good work of libraries as ‘a trusted network of accessible locations with free wi-fi, computers and other technology’.
“This is especially important for those on low incomes or pay as you go mobile contracts who need free Internet access to answer emails or search for jobs.”
Coun Scutt’s motion wants “the highways and community infrastructure committee to revisit its decision of February 13 with a view to reversing it insofar as it seeks to establish distinctions between library users on the basis of income – in particular the ‘premium membership’ scheme and charging for computer/Internet use, and integration of any services placing burdens upon staff”.