Wisbech councillor who believes libraries are outdated ‘and the preserve of the elderly liberal classes’

Cllr Simon King who believes libraries are outdated: his views were criticised during a county counc

Cllr Simon King who believes libraries are outdated: his views were criticised during a county council meeting today. - Credit: Archant

A Wisbech councillor described libraries as ‘outdated’ during a debate earlier today on plunging usage figures for computers since charges were introduced.

Councillor Simon King admitted to a meeting of the county council highways and community infrastructure committee that he doesn’t like libraries.

He said they were “outdated” and the preserve of the “elderly liberal classes”.

Cllr King’s colleagues disagreed. Cllrs Noel Kavanagh and Mark Howell spoke up in favour of library services, saying libraries are full of children and “mischief makers” and are vibrant, thriving places at the “centre of communities”.

A motion put by Cllr Dupre to remove the charges was voted down. The plans however will be brought back to the committee in six months’ time when more data on the effects of the charges can be available.

Charging for using computers in libraries was criticised as “false economy” as it emerged relatively little has been raised from the scheme which has seen user numbers plummet by more than 50 per cent.

Charging for computer time in county council libraries has only raised a projected £16,000 in a year of a forecast £108,000. But usage has dropped by nearly 54 per cent since the charges were introduced.

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Charging for computer access was introduced on May 1, 2018. A charge of £1 per hour is made after an initial 30 minutes that is free for all users. Children up to 18 years of age continue to access the library computers free of charge.

A report detailing the findings came before today’s committee

Since charges were brought in there has been a 53.71 per cent drop off in people using the library computer service. A spokeswoman for Cambridgeshire County Council said anecdotal evidence suggested those no longer using computers had only been using them for Facebook or films anyway. She also said more people were making use of the free 30 minutes before switching off.

Lib Dem leader Lucy Nethsingha said the argument for keeping the charges was “weak” especially given the “minute” amount of money they had generated.

Cllr Nethsingha said using computers for social media should not be dismissed, as it is vital for many people struggling with isolation.

“Facebook and other access to social media can be important in tackling social isolation,” said Cllr Nethsingha. “If people can’t keep in touch with friends and family as a result of charges that is sad and also short-sighted. Isolation leads to poor health.”

Cllr Lorna Dupre said charging for computer access is a “false economy” and that losing so many users to only raise a small amount of money is not worth it. Cllr Lynda Harford said she was “obviously concerned” about the drop off in use.

Cllr Mathew Shuter, chairman of the highways and community infrastructure committee, said he was concerned that the scheme had raised so little money, but said it was too early to consider removing the charges. Cllr Shuter said one of the objectives of introducing the charges had been to make sure more computers were available for people who really needed the service. He said, in this respect, the charges had been successful.