Cambridgeshire County Council to drop £1 an hour charge for using library computers after predicted income falls short by 91 per cent

Libraries in Ely, March, St Neots and Huntingdon all part of Cambridgeshire's stock - and like the r

Libraries in Ely, March, St Neots and Huntingdon all part of Cambridgeshire's stock - and like the rest to have the £1 an hour fee for computer use dropped from April 1. Picture; ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

A charge for using Cambridgeshire library computers – introduced partly as a result of a survey that found 87 per cent support – is being dropped after it produced only a tenth of the predicted income.

The charge was introduced last May after 102 out of 117 people who responded to a survey throughout the previous September and October felt that the council “should start charging for services”.

However a report to the highways and infrastructure committee next week will show predicted income by March 31, 2019 of just £9,041 “significantly short of the predicted income of £108,000”.

The council has been making a £1 per hour charge after an initial 30 minutes that is free to all users. Job seekers, those on benefits and children up to 18 have continued to have free access at all times.

The report says that although the reduction in income is close to what was predicted, the low income reflects the high numbers of users who are exempt from charges.

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Councillors will hear of a more recent survey of 494 users in which of the 255 who offered comments, 231 of these were negative.

And the survey also found support for upgrading the 330 computers available in libraries – complaints of taking 10 minutes to log in were commonplace.

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The recommendation to withdraw the computer charge comes in response to this review, as well as feedback collected in a customer survey.

If this proposal is agreed, computers will be free for all to use all the time from April 1 and the library service will look at how to manage demand for computers so they are available for those who most need them.

Committee chairman Mathew Shuter said: “The decision to introduce a charge for computer access was not taken lightly but we have to look at all avenues to ensure fair access to our limited resources as well as to generate more income.

“This was a difficult decision to make and exactly why we asked officers to review this change by asking for a more detailed analysis of the data.”

He said: “It is encouraging to see people continue to use computers in libraries for a shorter time, leaving the machines for those who most need it, which was one of the main reasons for the charge in the first place.

“However, we are listening to residents and customers with the feedback we’ve received which leads us to suggest withdrawing the charge altogether and seek other ways to prioritise access and generate income.

“We will continue to ensure our libraries are at the heart of our communities and will now look at other approaches to secure their long term financial sustainability.”

The report will hear that all 330 library computers should have been replaced last year – it will now happen this year.

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