Libraries

Private Eye on Suffolk libraries plan

Much excitement today about an item in Private Eye’s Library News which compares Suffolk county Council’s suggestion that a community interest company should be responsible for its libraries with problems over a CIC in Glasgow.

The Eye says:

Before Suffolk rushes ahead, a glance at Glasgow might be informative. in 2007 the city council there outsourced all its museums, libraries and leisure centres by setting up Culture and Sport Glasgow, an arms-length charitable company with a CIC to operate as a “trading arm” and do the things a charity legally couldn’t.

There are cuts and redundancies facing all the services provided through Culture and Sport Glasgow, now expensively rebranded as Glasgow Life.

But while we know little about Suffolk’s plans, which seem to be for a social enterprise, possibly a CIC, to administer the county libraries, the comparisons with Glasgow are limited.

The CIC in Glasgow was set up to handle trading parts of the organisation, in much the same way as other major charities use them to run their shops. It represents a tiny part of the service.

Glasgow Life is a charity, funded largely by the City Council, which has got to make savings of £10m over three years (BBC). But this is on a £100m plus annual budget (Glasgow Life annual review).

That is a small cut compared with the 30% saving Suffolk CC is demanding in its library budget over thee years.

High court halts Gloucestershire library closures

The High Court today issued an injunction stopping library cuts in Gloucestershire until a hearing next month when  a challenge, supported by campaigners, will be heard.

The injunction’s terms include a bar on the county council transferring or agreeing to transfer any library building or lease or responsibility for any existing library, and transferring any mobile library or other library asset (such as computers, shelving etc). No funds can be withdrawn or library closed while the injunction is in force.

At the hearing next month the council will challenge the injunction.

The BBC quotes theleader of Gloucestershire county council saying:

This is very frustrating for council taxpayers and community groups. They are being forced into a costly legal process at a time when 20 communities have stepped forward with innovative and exciting business plans to take over their local facility.

Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries said:

Whilst we regret it has come to this we did warn Gloucestershire County Council from the start that this would happen. 15,000+people signed  a petition calling on them to pause and carry out an impartial, independent review of their proposals. The“consultation” feedback shows  that the public overwhelmingly rejected their plans. There was coordinated day of protest in every library in the county. All of this yet they refused to listen and have instead chosen to walk into an expensive court case. We welcome this news we received today. At last there is some hope. We support the legal challenge and are raising funds for it.

The progress of this case has been followed closely, since its inception, by campaigners in Suffolk. While many aspects of the situation here are different there are significant similarities.

Sources: BBC, Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries

Libraries: hopes of new meeting of community groups and Suffolk CC

On Wednesday I was a rather pessimistic (earlier post) about the previous day’s Suffolk County Council scrutiny committee where I feared the opportunity of opening further constructive talks on libraries had somehow slipped away.

Today things are looking more hopeful following a press release from the council and the reaction of one of the campaigners who gave evidence to the committee.

The press release, issued quickly and before formal minutes are available, clarifies the committee’s recommendations.

Colin Hart, who chairs the committee thanked those who had given evidence and said:

This was a valuable exercise in scrutinising an issue before decisions are taken and I hope and expect our recommendations will make a positive contribution to the new policy that is being developed.

The release which includes the valuable recommendations of the committee has not yet appeared on the county council website, but my copy is here.

James Hargrave, one of the campaigners who gave evidence to the committee, reacted on his blog saying:

I am hopeful that there is now an opportunity for all sides to sit down and discuss the situation and work together for the good of the counties libraries.

During the meeting on Tuesday a meeting was suggested, but it seemed to me that the opportunity faded away. Now, I hope it is back on track.

The press release quotes Judy Terry the council cabinet member responsible for libraries saying:

I am extremely grateful for the comments from committee members, representatives of various campaign groups and those who have submitted bids. We’re continuing to listen and will base future policy on exhaustive consultation with the people of Suffolk.

The scrutiny committee recommendations are:

  • the classification of County Libraries and Community Libraries referred to in the Consultation document is not a reasonable basis for a policy;
  • the potential community interest company agrees individual budgets for each library;
  • the business case considered by Cabinet should clearly demonstrate how the community interest company service would operate across the whole of Suffolk;
  • that the Council retain the ability to ensure that the terms offered by the community interest company were sufficient to maintain a sustainable service;
  • any claims on secondary taxation from Parish, Town, District or Borough Councils be carried out on an equitable basis across Suffolk;
  • due consideration be given to innovative ideas that have already come forward and any others that are received  from communities on how their services might be run;
  • the policy on mobile libraries be clearly stated in the report to Cabinet;
  • the Council provide absolute clarity to communities interested in running their libraries on issues they were likely to raise such as finance, staffing and legal issues;

Would a loo break have given a little more hope over future of Suffolk libraries?

After more than three hours of a council meeting about libraries yesterday afternoon, I wake up this morning still wondering whether the outcome might have been different if a loo break had been called.

The scrutiny committee of Suffolk County Council was breaking new ground by examining the issue before the cabinet makes a decision.

Colin Hart, who chairs the committee with flexibility and humour, said beforehand: “I’ve long called for the Scrutiny Committee to be given the opportunity to have a say on key issues before they are decided on by Cabinet.”

At a crucial moment yesterday he said to the non-council people called to give evidence (I was not taking a note but believe this is a fair summary): “We [the council] have got ourselves in a hole. Will you help us get out of it?”

The suggestion was for all those with an interest in the issue to sit town together and try to find a solution, but it got lost in the surprised and equivocal responses. Quickly, the momentum was lost.

If there had been a short break in the meeting at that point the idea of talks before the cabinet decision is made might have got somewhere during the meeting. It is not too late now to open a dialogue.

One concern among campaigners is that Judy Terry, the cabinet member responsible for libraries sometimes gives the impression that she wants to get through a policy as close as it can be to the old New Strategic Direction idea.

In fact she made a significant change in the amended version of the policy which was announced after Mark Bee became leader of the council.

She avoided saying they intended to set up a Community Interest Company to provide core services and instead talked about a “social enterprise”. A CIC would be a social enterprise, but so are other models of organisation and governance.

But this significant change in her position seemed to pass unnoticed by members of the committee who continued to talk about the Community Interest Company.

Sometimes Ms Terry’s use of language does not help. Many of the councillors seemed surprised to learn that the differentiation between “county” and “community” libraries had been dropped.

Library campaigners had learned this more than three months ago during a meeting at Endeavour House, but it had never been unequivocally announced. Probably there was a fear that it would make the drive a fatal nail into the consultation.

And yesterday, Ms Terry stuck to her formula that she had always made it clear that all libraries were subject to the consultation. The problem is that the consultation documents led most people to believe otherwise and that the bigger libraries were outside the consultation.

There does seem to be a basis for talks which just might result in a cabinet decision which is more widely acceptable.

This is a very subjective look at the meeting. For a traditional report (as a journalist, I would have written much the same), read Paul Geater in the East Anglian Daily Times.

Further links since this post was published: James Hargrave, from Stradbroke who gave evidence at the meeting, blogs about it. Alasdair Ross, an Ipswich labour blogger sees no change. And Andrew Coates, also sees a continuation of the New Strategic Direction.

 

Suffolk CC urged by campaign group to delay libraries decision

Suffolk County Council will be urged tomorrow (Tuesday, June 15) to defer making a decision on the future of the county’s libraries by a new campaign group involving nearly half of the “community” libraries.

A press release says: “We believe that the Cabinet will not be in a position to make a properly considered decision because the information put before them will be incomplete and inaccurate.”

Tomorrow, at a meting of the council’s scrutiny committee, campaigners will present evidence, “showing how the consultation process begun this January is fundamentally flawed – not least because those delivering it have failed to follow Suffolk County Council’s own procedures.”

The Save Suffolk Libraries Campaign Network will urge the scrutiny committee to recommend that the council cabinet should defer any decisions on libraries at its meeting on July 19.

The campaign network says no decisions should be taken until the council has, “completed a review of the completeness and validity of the information they have received, assessed whether they have adequately gathered and listened to the views of the Suffolk people and have completed an appropriate Impact Assessment.”

The Save Suffolk Libraries Campaign Network was formed last week by campaigners supporting many individual libraries and has three objectives:

  • Network, share information, knowledge, ideas and expertise.
  • Coordinate countywide campaign activities
  • Work collectively on identified themes of common interest

The full press release can be dowloaded here.

Public Libraries News: Suffolk — campaigning works OR too good to be true?

Public Libraries News has a series of links today about the decision of Suffolk County Council not to go ahead with the divestment of libraries to individual community groups under the heading: Suffolk — campaigning works OR too good to be true

As the announcement, of a plan for a community interest company to run libraries, continues to be absorbed and debated, traffic on the internet is very firmly agreed that the library staff are hugely important to a successful future and that they need to be consulted and involved in the next stage.

Mark Bee, the council’s leader-elect has said that one of his tasks is to improve morale of council staff. I trust he is working on this in the library service where a lot of staff are dispirited at present.

Every library user can also help by letting the staff how much they are valued. Give them a metaphoric hug if you don’t think the real thing would be appropriate in a library!

Labour leader responds to libraries announcement

Sandy Martin, labour leader on Suffolk County Council, was asked for his comments on the the plan for a community interest company to run the council libraries (see earlier post). This is what he said:

Suffolk County Council is responsible for Libraries. They are already owned by the people of Suffolk. We don’t know the details of the so-called Community Interest Company – and why do we need it anyway?

By all means let’s make any possible savings that won’t damage the library service, and let’s involve the local people even more than they are already. But how can we trust a word that the Conservatives are saying on divesting libraries?

Why have they released this so-called “news” just 3 days before the local elections? What has changed since this whole libraries “consultation” process first started? Cllr Terry is still talking about local communities running their local libraries, she’s still talking about making a 30% overall saving, and she’s still not categorically promising that all the libraries will remain open.

Lib Dem leader responds to libraries announcement

Wordblog asked Suffolk County Council opposition leader Kathy Pollard (Lib Dem) for a comment on the announcment of the plan to set up a Commnity Interest Company to run the libraries (see previous post). This is her response:

At first I believed that the County Council had completely changed its mind about the divestment of libraries to “communities”. Excellent, I thought. As ever the small print revealed a different picture.

The transfer of libraries to a Community Interest Company raises a further series of questions and surely means this is just “Divestment” under a different guise?

How much money will be given to this CIC to run the library service? Will the service still be expected to save more than 30% of its running costs? If so how will that work?

And why was it that Judy Terry seemed determined to go ahead with the closure of some libraries even on Wednesday of last week after she had received nearly 19,000 petition signatures in favour of keeping them open?

It is absolutely and startlingly clear that the people of Suffolk value libraries far more than Cllr Terry. I suspect this small change in direction is meant to be a distraction before the local elections, and designed purely to regain votes.

Once more we are left with a complete lack of detail. People are asking me “What’s happening to libraries?” All is still confusion and uncertainty.

Sandy Martin, the Labour opposition leader has also been asked for a response and that will be published when received.

Suffolk libraries ‘saved’ announcement reeks of political oportunism

The announcement that Suffolk libraries have been “saved”, rushed out over a bank holiday weekend, stinks of political expediency.

It comes just four days before the borough and and district elections which are widely expected to see Labour win control of Ipswich as Conservatives suffer there and in the districts.

While the abandonment of the plan by Conservative dominated Suffolk County Council to divest all libraries is welcome, it is far from clear how libraries would operate under the newly proposed community interest company.

It was a political announcement apparently agreed by some sort of sofa cabinet consisting Mark Bee, the leader elect, Jane Storey, the interim leader and Judy Terry, the cabinet member responsible for libraries.

It comes before they have even had time to read all the submissions to the ill-fated libraries consultation which only ended on Saturday.

On BBC Radio Suffolk this morning Cllr Terry said they hoped to save all the libraries and denied that the announcement was a political stunt.

Just five days ago, on Wednesday, April 27, there was no hint of this change of heart. Cllr Terry told people handing in save our libraries petitions: “We  are looking at all options ay the moment…. The consultation does ot end until the end of the month and then we have to analyse all the results.”

So what happened in the following three days? We simply don’t know, but rumours started to circulate on social media yesterday and during the afternoon a story appeared on the website of the Ipswich Evening Star by local government correspondent Paul Geater.

Today Geater has a fuller story in the East Anglain Daily Time (which shares staff with the Evening Star) today which says:

The libraries are set to be run by a community interest company which will be fully owned by the county council – but will include representatives of communities across Suffolk as well as councillors and officials.

Mrs Terry said this would ensure that the county retained responsibility for providing the library service – but it would enable individual communities to decide what was on offer.

She said: “The review of library services has shown how much they are valued by their communities, but it has also shown that different communities want different things from their libraries and this should allow them to develop in different ways.”

She said that involving communities in the running of the libraries would lead to a reduction in the amount of bureaucracy and should help to make savings needed by the county.

On Radio Suffolk she said that the Community Interest Company would make savings of at least 30% but they hoped the savings could be greater. Cllr Terry did say there would be a further consultation before a report to the council’s Cabinet.

A lot of questions remain to be answered. Not least, why was the decision leaked on the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend at the start of a week in which local government elections (not including the County Council itself) take place?

There is the question of why a community interest company with “community representatives” on its board will be more democratic than the council running the libraries. How will these representatives by chosen and how will that be more democratic than elected councillors running the service?

How will a community interest company be able to make greater savings than would be possible if the county continued to run libraries directly?

After Cllr Bee was chosen by the Conservative group as leader-elect two weeks ago folwoing the resignation of Jeremy Pembroke, he told the EADT:

If we are going to properly engage with the people of Suffolk we are going to have find out what they want in such a way that there is a meaningful way that these things can be run and not just a theory and a hope that people will take them on.

If the Big Society is about anything it is about working with communities and I want us as a council to actively do that rather than just hope and anticipate that people will take these things on.

One of the principle objections to the just-finished consultation was that it appeared not to have been thought through before being launched on the public with apparently one option for many of the libraries: form a community group to take it over or lose it.

Now another single idea is being presented to the people. And it appears to have been cobbled together in three days.

More than 19,000 petition Suffolk CC to save all libraries

Save our Libraries petitions with more than 19,000 signatures have been handed to Cllr Judy Terry, Suffolk County Council cabinet member responsible for libraries. The petitions come from 12 libraries and a couple of other sources, out of 44 libraries in the county, so it can be anticipated the total number signing Save Libraries petitions is considerably higher.

Paper
Online
Total
Aldeburgh
1200
1200
ALL Libraries
722
722
Bungay
1202
56
1258
Debenham
828
149
977
Hadleigh
59
59
Ipswich County
3945
3945
Ipswich Labour
1600
1600
Kesgrave
45
265
310
Leiston
759
181
940
Oulton Broad
1229
22
1251
Rosehill
3128
469
3597
Saxmundham
1703
147
1850
Stradbroke
700
100
800
Woodbridge
578
578
TOTAL
16976
2111
19087

Petitions in italics previously handed in but representatives at handover. Ixworth also handed over their petition. List from James Hargrave.

Cllr Judy Terry, who is the portfolio holder for libraries, came down to the entrance of Endeavour House, after some shoting and phone calls, to recieve the petitions. She was very keen to explain that no decisions on the future of libraries had been taken as can be seen in this video.

There did appear to be a change of tone in what she said reflecting the promise of the new council leader Mark Bee that they would be more transparent and listening. However, many questions about the consultation remained unanswered.

A complete video of the comments made by Cllr Terry and her answers to questions is available here. It includes the admission of an “error” in a council response to a Freedom of Information request.

Before the presentation opposition leader Kathy Pollard (Lib Dem) and Sandy Martin, the Labout leader, were interviewed by Anglia News. The videos are my recording of the interviews.

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