31 Jan 2011

GCC revise Library plans - but don't go far enough

Gloucestershire County Council have announced revisions to their plans for the library service - but sadly they don't go far enough. The key points are:

The cuts to the service will be reduced by £500,000 – This money has been ‘found’ as the Council have re-calculated the number of Council Tax payers in the county.

Cinderford library, which was destined for transfer to volunteers, will now remain open as a ‘Library Express’ (three and a half days a week).

Opening hours will be extended at some ‘Library Express’ and ‘Library Link’ services.

Volunteer-run libraries will have access to the central library catalogue and network.

‘One-off’ funding for ‘community libraries'

Here is the library campaign's response:

While we welcome the revisions announced today, they go nowhere near far enough. They do not alter our position, and we repeat our call for an urgent independent and transparent review of these plans.

Gloucestershire County Council says it has listened to the tens of thousands of people who have complained, attended meetings and signed petitions against the cuts in the library service. The result is that one additional library (Cinderford) is to be kept open with many others still to close or be funded by the local community. Furthermore, these revised plans have been announced with four consultation sessions still to be held and an online consultation survey which runs until the 11th February. Are the people attending these sessions and completing the survey between now and then to assume that their views will not be taken into account then? Or can we expect still more revisions as a result of what these people have to say?

Whilst we are pleased that the Council have finally understood the arguments for Cinderford, this does nothing to help those who will be affected by the complete loss of the mobile library service (including some of our county’s most vulnerable residents), or the communities of Hesters Way, Matson, Tuffley, Stonehouse, Churchdown, Nailsworth, Brockworth and others whose library services will be closed or severely reduced under these plans.

Community groups are still being asked to take on libraries without appropriate support. The extra funding announced today is “one offs” – so what then? Nor does a one-off addition of £100,000 to the book fund achieve much when the budget has been cut by £1 million in the last 2 years and will be cut by £600,000 a year from now on.

These revised proposals still fail to take proper account of social impacts, and are being rushed through without the opportunity for proper scrutiny. Our concerns around the Council’s plans remain unchanged. The most deprived areas and most vulnerable people in our county continue to be hit hard, and the Council still fails to grasp the level of support needed if community run libraries are to be sustainable in the medium to long-term.

MeanwhileMark Hawthorne has been claiming that this 'shows we are listening'. I am sure the timing of this change is very deliberate. It leaves opponents of these plans little time to scrutinise and raise objections ahead of the Cabinet meeting this Wednesday where plans are due to be finalised. Meanwhile the library campaign has received an open letter of support, jointly signed by 20 Gloucestershire-based writers, including Jilly Cooper. You can see the letter here.

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