The consultation documents can be filled in online or paper copies are available in libraries and children’s centres. A series of public meetings will also be held over the 12-week period.
Cabinet agreed on 15 January to consult on options for changing both services to secure their long-term sustainability, while contributing to the council’s £57million savings target.
Alongside other councils, Ealing is facing its toughest financial challenges in living memory after years of significant and sustained cuts. Since 2010 the council has lost £143million from its government grant, a reduction of 64%, greater than the London and national average. This means that for every pound in government funding it used to receive, it now gets just 36p.
By 2021, its government funding will disappear and it will have to fund its services solely through council tax, business rates, fees, charges and commercial income. At the same time, demand, especially in the areas of vulnerable adults and children and homelessness, is higher than it has ever been.
As part of its response to its financial pressures, the council proposes to convert seven of its 13 libraries into community managed libraries. These would be run by local groups and staffed by volunteers. The remaining six will continue to be directly operated by the council. The home library service will also continue and could be operated out by the voluntary sector. Opening hours could also change with plans to open and close libraries later, in line with how residents currently use the service.
Children’s centres could also change. Ealing currently has 27 children’s centres; seven main centres and 20 smaller linked sites. It proposes moving to a new model of delivering its early intervention and support services from 16 centres. Subject to consultation, services will remain the same at its seven main children’s centres and will either stay the same or be enhanced at nine of the remaining 20 linked sites.
The early years services will be reconfigured and reduced at the remaining 11 sites, although services provided by others, such as childcare and early education, will continue and possibly be expanded in some cases to meet local needs. Early health services will also continue to be delivered from some sites. It is possible that a small number of the linked centres could close, however the council will work with its partners to maintain services wherever possible. If the changes go ahead, Ealing would still have more children’s centres than most other London boroughs.
Draft strategies setting out more detail on both sets of proposals have been published on the council’s website. Dates for the public meetings are also listed there and will be widely publicised in advance. There will also be a conference for groups interested in finding out more about community managed libraries and drop-in days for people interested in volunteering.
Councillor Jasbir Anand, cabinet member for business and community services, said: “There are as many as 400 community managed libraries across the country and many local authorities are considering this model in the face of the cuts to their government grant. We value libraries, and we know that our communities do too, and our proposals reflect this.
“During the consultation, there will be opportunities for community groups to meet with us, as well as operators of community managed libraries from other parts of the country, to find out more. I hope as many people as possible get involved.”
Councillor Yvonne Johnson, deputy leader of the council and cabinet member for schools and children’s services, said: “Like many local authorities, Ealing is facing some tough decisions. The 64% cut in our government grant means that we must look again at how we deliver important frontline services.
“We have set out some proposals in our strategies that we believe minimise the impact of these cuts and we want to hear what local people think. Your responses will help to shape what happens next so please take the time to come to a meeting and fill in the consultation surveys.”