An investigation into Barnet Borough Council’s library consultation has revealed people find it “impossible" to respond in any meaningful way.

The authority is consulting on plans to cut library services – and options in its consultation include closing them altogether, reducing their size or swapping experienced libraries with volunteers.

But a report carried out by independent company The Research Practice labeled the wording of the survey “confusing”.

The report said: “The longer people spend on the consultation, the more confused they become and the more they perceive the council’s plans to be flawed.

“They are likely to simply dismiss the consultation as unintelligible and/or too demanding of their time.

“If they persevere and manage to submit a questionnaire, they seem likely to unwittingly endorse propositions with which they do not necessarily agree.

“This is because members of the public feel under pressure to fill in the questionnaire even if they do not fully understand the questions they are being asked.”

The report goes on to explain how many say they “would not be able to complete it” if left to their own devices, with some suggesting this was the intention of those who had designed the consultation.

People surveyed also said they were “sceptical” about the consultation, particularly when asked whether they would support the idea of reducing libraries to one tenth of their size.

This left people wondering what small libraries would contain, and the consultation document provided no information on this.

“What would they be cutting out to squeeze it to this size? The children’s section, the computers, the seats? Then later, I am supposed to rate this idea but I’ve got no idea what a 500sq ft library would contain.”

Respondents said the consultation contained “contradictory language and business jargon” which contributed to the “unnecessary confusion and complexity”.

The report added: “The questionnaire prompted far more difficulties and complaints. Respondents found it long winded and confusingly constructed.

“Part one appears to be the only part of the questionnaire respondents were obliged to complete. Hardly any of the questions were straightforward or made sense.

“Some questions seemed so bland that they did not seem to be worth asking.”

Other questions, according to the report, raised “vague imponderables”.

The report concluded by saying: “Instead of a straightforward and transparent approach to library reform, the council’s current proposals and consultation seem unfit for the purpose.

“The consultation documents are unnecessarily confusing and wasteful of respondents' time.

“The questionnaire is also badly constructed and does not obey market research norms. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the consultation has been designed to deter response and to steer people into endorsing the council’s plans.”

Councillor Reuben Thompstone, chairman of the children, education libraries and safeguarding committee, called the critical report an "odd" document.

He said: "It not clear who has commissioned it or why. Indeed It is not clear why whoever commissioned it has not put their name to the document.

“It is full of contradictions -  it says that we are giving people too much and not enough information, and that we are being too open-ended and that we’ve already made up our minds.

"This just doesn’t make sense. It also seems to make the rather simplistic assumption that if we must make cuts we should do so based purely on the number of users of each library, rather than considering location or social need. Again this is a very odd suggestion.

“As for no one being likely to complete the consultation, so far we have had more than 1,200 written responses to the libraries consultation with more than a month to go before it closes. 

“There have been many ways for residents to feed into the consultation as well as the written survey, including last year’s drop-in sessions at every library, several public meetings with a further three taking place in early February. We are also having presentations and discussion with groups representing potentially vulnerable users including the disability, youth, and older adults’ partnership boards.”