According to its own figures, Gloucestershire County Council is currently planning cuts to its Library Service of £1.8 million representing 25.7% of its budget, although £1 million of those savings were made last year (2011-12) mainly through the redundancy of qualified librarians. The council calls these savings “meeting the challenge”.
This is bad enough. What the council won’t admit is that, prior to this £1.8 million cut, it has already taken a further similar amount (£1,737,902) in cuts from the library service in the previous 3 years (2008-10). I have obtained these figures from CIPFA, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, whose responsibility it is to compile figures on local government spending. This makes the total library cuts over £3.5 million.
Yet these previous cuts do not appear in any GCC council report or in the hundreds of pages of information provided as part of its current public consultation process.
I wrote to GCC officer Jo Grills, leading on the Libraries Review, to suggest this, but her reply was dismissive, saying “Previous administrations at this council will have come to their own views and reasons for previous budget setting and the relevant effects on different services. Meeting the Challenge reflects the circumstances of today… The information provided in the consultation provides an honest picture of the savings required as part of Meeting the Challenge”.
My own view is that councillors cannot make informed decisions about cuts to any service without some contextual information about cuts in previous years. Surely this is common sense. I also believe that members of the public engaged in completing the council’s consultation questionnaire need this information to properly understand the situation.
The direct result of cuts already made can be seen in levels of library use. 10% reduction in loans last year; 25% reduction in mobile library use; 14% reduction in children’s use of the summer reading challenge. The effects on literacy levels are already being felt in this county, but the county council wants no one to know.
To cover up these huge cuts and their effects, is, I believe, highly irresponsible. Tell councillors; tell the public, so that the right decisions are made. Why does a simple statement of the facts seem time and time again to terrify the county council?