Buckinghamshire Council has announced plans to reduce the hours of library staff and replace them with self-service facilities as part of a plan to save £555,000 a year.

The council leader admitted he was ‘uncomfortable’ with the outline cost-cutting measures as councillors approved them during a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

The savings plan – dubbed ‘library flex’ – will be introduced at eight county libraries: Amersham, Aylesbury, Beaconsfield, Buckingham, Chesham, Hazlemere, Marlow and Princes Risborough.

‘Self-operated’ technology will be fitted at these libraries so library users can use facilities without staff being present.

This will include computer-controlled doors, alarms and lighting, with new membership cards to give people out-of-hours access.

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The council claims that this will allow it to cut staff hours by 25-30 per cent, while increasing public access by 50 per cent or more.

At High Wycombe Library, services will now only be delivered from one floor in a bid to reducing staffing, while at Burnham, the council will try to increase volunteer numbers to save money.

The council said services will not be 24/7 immediately and that ‘responsible community groups’ will be encouraged to run activities like yoga classes or film clubs at libraries.

Council leader Martin Tett said: “I liked the librarian always behind the counter. I think they performed not just a library service, with their knowledge of books and literature, but also a social service.”

However, he stressed that the council was in a ‘tough’ financial position and had to make ‘difficult decisions to balance the budget’.

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