3 Apr 2012

Glos new library strategy: more than disappointing

Well the libraries strategy is to say the least disappointing - the consultation was not great and the new strategy is well...rubbish.....

First see here comments from Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries on the library strategy consultation. For example GCC state: "The concept of using volunteers in libraries was also supported by 82% of the people questioned in the telephone survey and generally other respondents agreed with the principle." Well Gloucestershire Libraries has long used volunteers alongside library staff and many of us would totally agree with the survey respondents they can enhance the service however; this is very different to expecting volunteers to fund and run services themselves. There is much more in this vein....

Update: Gloucestershire County Council has announced its Library Cuts strategy, which despite massive opposition and a legal ruling against them remains extraordinary severe, and barely changed since the legal ruling and second consultation, not to mention the 16,000 person petition, etc. There will be a protest lobby outside Shire Hall this Thursday, 5th April, from 9.15am. Inside Shire Hall from 10am a GCC Cabinet meeting "will make decisions about the ‘new’ strategy for library services". The meeting will be open to the public so if you want to attend after the protest lobby, contact Shire Hall about ticket arrangements (Tel: 01452 425000).

Anyhow Glos County Council Cabinet decide on the new strategy - see papers here - more below but one mobile and SaB saved. 7 libraries inc Minch, Mitch, Lech and Brock to be funded and run by local communities as non-statutory "libraries". Dreadful. What on earth was the point of the consultation other than as lip service?

See a 'desperate plea' to Mark Hawthorne here from campaigners re Lechlade Library - GCC shockingly ignore costed viable proposals for Lechlade put forward by the community. I fail to see how GCC can say they have consulted meaningfully with communities - listened perhaps and then ignored...another waste of taxpayers money.....

Anyway the last bit I wanted to cover on this depressing blog entry is about the actual strategy - Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries put it better than me....here is their press release - once again huge huge thanks must go to them for mounting such a well organised, measured, professional campaign.  At least their work has made significant savings to the library service....

Cynical and highly misleading – Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries comment on Gloucestershire County Council’s ‘new’ library strategy.
2 APRIL 2012 by John Holland

Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries (FoGL), the campaign group which took Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) to the High Court, finds the so-called ‘new’ GCC strategy (being considered by cabinet on 5 April) to be a cynical exercise containing some highly misleading information.
FoGL initiated the Judicial Review in November 2011 which resulted in the High Court Judge declaring all GCC library plans ‘as unlawful’, referring to them as ‘a substantive breach of the law’ and ‘bad government’.  As a result GCC had to undertake a new review.

Founder and Chair of FoGL, Johanna Anderson said, “This is a deeply disappointing strategy.  With a few exceptions, GCC has duplicated the same proposals for individual libraries as the original review which was declared unlawful.  We believe that GCC has been running down its library service for a number of years, and these further destructive cuts simply continue this trend.”

Johanna also said, “The consultation process was a sham. Only one proposal was made so the public were offered no options, and the consultation questions were loaded to give the council the answers it wanted. Even then for the one and only open question about whether respondents agreed with the strategy, less than 50% said they did. Councillor Hawthorne has conveniently ignored this fact – as he has ignored many others.”

Gloucestershire’s former Assistant Head of Libraries, John Holland said, “We are delighted that Matson, Tuffley, Hester’s Way and two mobile libraries have been saved.  These were always our priority.  Without FoGL’s campaign and the court case we initiated, these libraries would have ceased to receive funding in 2011.  However, we also campaigned, as did local communities, for the retention of Minchinhampton, Mitcheldean, Brockworth and Lechlade libraries, as they effectively met GCC’s published criteria. We are disappointed that their claims have been ignored.”

“The draft strategy criteria stated that everyone should be able to travel to a ‘Main library’ by public transport within 30 minutes.  Rather than accept that, based on this criterion and proof provided, that Minchinhampton, Mitcheldean and Lechlade should retain their libraries, GCC has cynically changed the criteria specifically to exclude these libraries.  In the new strategy it is now apparently acceptable for library users to theoretically travel in 30 minutes to any library (not just a ‘Main library’); no matter how few hours it opens.”

“Similarly both Brockworth and Mitcheldean libraries meet the criteria for partnership, which we and local community groups have brought to GCCs attention, but GCC refuses to even to refer to this fact, let alone acknowledge it.”

There are 3 million visits to libraries in Gloucestershire each year, a service costing only 1% of the whole County Council’s budget. GCC states that the cuts in library provision will save the council £1.8 million which they equate to 25.7% of the Library Services’ budget. GCC neglects to say that £1.73 million has already been saved from libraries since 2009 – making the real saving nearly £3.6 million which is nearer to 40% of the library service budget.

According to its own figures the Council has already wasted £1 million on staff redundancies, mainly of professionally qualified librarians, £95,000 on losing the High Court case, and £60,000 to pay a private company, Vector, to run its consultation process.  These figures exclude the thousands of staff hours used in compiling and re-compiling reports and statistics, and may equate in total to the £1.8 million they are claiming to be saving.

John said this, “We have forwarded all the Council’s report to the Public Interest Lawyers, who won the High Court case for us against the council last year.  Because we were victorious in the court case, the Judge made the council pay all our costs.  We retain that budget should it prove necessary to use it.”

See here the full news release with additional info. The County Council's 'new' strategy is a large document and takes a while to download!

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