Barnet Conservatives challenge fake news

Barnet Liberal Democrats have been accused of putting children’s education at risk with ‘fake news’ about libraries.

The party has posted leaflets through letterboxes in Chipping Barnet claiming children under 18 were ‘barred’ from entering libraries and from borrowing books under the reformed library service – neither of which is true. Councillor Reuben Thompstone, chairman of the Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee, said the Liberal Democrats were risking local children’s education for their own electoral gain.

He said: “Some people disagree with the way we’ve reformed the library service to ensure that, unlike some of our Labour-run neighbours, not a single library has to close down – and they’re entitled to their opinions.

“But peddling fake news to parents alleging their children are ‘barred’ from local libraries not only abuses the democratic process, it’s actively discouraging young people from using their library service. The Liberal Democrats’ general election candidates should publicly disassociate themselves from this cynical attempt to gather votes and apologise to parents for putting their children’s education at risk.”

Under cost-saving reforms to the library service, several libraries now operate self-service hours, during which the library is unstaffed and users aged 18 and over can enter using their library card and a PIN.

Children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult during self-service hours, but children aged 16 and 17 can register for unaccompanied access by filling in a form signed by their parents. Children aged 15 must also have this form stamped by their school to register for unaccompanied access.

All these details are clearly explained on the Barnet Council website. However, the Liberal Democrat leaflet claims several times that “under 18s will be barred”, “Now children will be barred from borrowing books”, and “During self service hours…no under 18s.”

The leaflet also claims that “the Council’s own figures show the cuts will cost £14 million to implement but will only save £2.2 million.”

However, the saving will actually be £2.2 million per year by 2020, and the one-off cost of implementing the new service is expected to be £7 million – meaning it will pay for itself within three years.

The remaining one-off costs are for capital projects such as the planned relocation of the ageing East Barnet library to a new leisure centre at Victoria Recreation Ground.

Self-service library hours and details of how children can gain entry during these hours is available here: https://www.barnet.gov.uk/citizen-home/libraries/barnet-libraries-changing/self-service.html