PRIVATE companies look set to be involved in the running of libraries and leisure centres alongside the council, despite opposition from unions.
Councillors at Tuesday night's cabinet meeting approved plans for SLM to take over leisure centres in Ealing, Harrow and Brent and for a trust involving John Laing to run libraries in Ealing and Harrow.
There was no anxiety about the leisure centre changes which are hoped to save £250,000.
And councillors eased residents’ concerns by promising the town hall would keep control over book stock and opening hours at the borough’s 13 libraries, which would not drop below current levels.
After the meeting Carolyn Brown of HCF Library Action said she had hoped for an increase in hours, at least back to the rate before cuts last year.
She added: “Hanwell Library is closed three days a week and on lunchtimes. Anyone working outside Hanwell can only change their books on Saturday. Before we had one evening open until 8pm. John Laing run libraries in Hounslow where all of them have at least one late evening."
And she raised fears community groups could be priced out of hiring rooms in libraries if costs rise.
James Guest of the Ealing Fields Resident’s Association said the association sought assurances the contract will enable book stock and opening hours to be maintained.
He added: "The local history unit in central Ealing wasn’t mentioned in the report. It is of enormous benefit to the borough and we hope it will be maintained."
Protesting outside the meeting in the town hall, Unison said the changes would affect 100 staff.
Ealing secretary Mary Lancaster, said: “It will affect the public and shouldn’t have happened without a consultation.”
The changes are part of drive to save £85 million by 2015 following government cuts.
The council said the history unit would be protected and hope to improve it.
Council leader Julian Bell, said “This is to respond to budgetary pressures and keep libraries open which we’re 100 per cent committed to do. We’ve guaranteed this many hours but we will see if there are opportunities to expand.”
Referring to fees, he added: “The idea is to get more community groups to use libraries so they would have to be prices they can afford.”
Brent have already approved the plans. Harrow had to delay its meeting until next month after its Labour administration collapsed when nine councillors declared themselves independent in a political spat.