CONCERNS have been raised about volunteers potentially replacing professional staff to run some of the county’s libraries.

That is an option on the table as Worcestershire County Council undertakes a review to save £1.8 million in the library service over the next three years.

But chiefs say it is early days in the review process and added if they do decide to go down that route for any of the county’s 21 libraries then they would not just leave volunteers in the lurch.

At a meeting of full council Councillor Richard Udall, Labour, said he was “very concerned” about the community model approach.

“I can understand the benefits for the service but I’m concerned that well-meaning volunteers will be asked to be replacements for trained, professional, dedicated library staff,” he said.

“Would it not also be an opportunity for us to consider transferring library staff into some form of workers co-operative?”

Councillor Penelope Morgan, Liberal Democrat, said: “I find it quite worrying because litigation always comes to mind in many situations and I would suggest that we pause, we look and we consider very carefully Coun Udall’s proposal because you need to have some framework to ensure that volunteers are doing what they should be doing, in the right way and giving the right information.” Councillor Adrian Hardman said: “If there is a genuine expression of interest from library staff to form a co-operative or mutual we would be very keen to hear what they have to say.

“We already operate three community libraries in the south of the county and we actually do have more than 100 volunteer workers already who give up part of their time to work unpaid in libraries.”

That drew an under-the-breath response of: “It’s no substitute for professional staff though is it?” from Coun Udall.

Councillor John Campion, cabinet member for localism and communities, said: “If we want to empower the community to actually provide a service locally then we also have to not only give them the assests, whether that be the building or financial ongoing support, but we also have to give them the trained support so it’s not just about telling volunteers to get on with it.”

We previously reported in your Worcester News how the council is considering moving libraries into other public buildings to link up with other services; run them in partnership with, or wholly by, the local community; get other public, voluntary and private sector partners to deliver them; or keep them the same while incorporating other services. Opening times will be reduced, charges for taking books out and fines will increase, while funds to buy new books will be reduced, as will stock. Some staff will almost certainly lose their jobs.