Yesterday, representatives of library user group Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries travelled to Westminster to meet with officials from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). DCMS is the central government department with responsibility for superintending local authority’s provision of library services, and the purpose of the meeting was to explain county library users’ grave concerns around GCC’s plans for devastating and ill-thought out cuts to the service.
Topics covered included the strength of opposition to the Council’s plans amongst Gloucestershire library users (15,000 signature county-wide petition, plus numerous petitions from local communities); shortcomings in the Council’s consultation and decision-making process (in particular disregard of deprivation indices and the needs of local communities); concerns over the practicality of plans for ‘community libraries’, ‘Library Links’, and the proposed online ‘replacement’ for the mobile service; and concerns that the Council is acting in breach of the 1964 Public Libraries Act. We also shared some of the correspondence we have been engaged in with Councillors Hawthorne and Noble and senior library officers, so that the officials could see the ‘non’-responses we have been dealing with, and the Council’s failure to answer any of the many important questions raised around their plans.
The DCMS officials listened carefully to our concerns, and informed us that they will be considering all of the necessary evidence, which may include calling GCC to future meetings. Once they are confident that they have considered all the relevant issues they will advise the Minister (Culture Minister Ed Vaizey MP) on whether to intervene in the Council’s plans. We emphasised that time is of the essence, as Gloucestershire’s plans will be implemented from June.
It was a long day (5 hours of travel for a 1 hour meeting!), but we hope it was worth it, giving us the opportunity to speak up for everyone in Gloucestershire being affected by the slashing of library services and to whom the County Council will not listen, including the 10 communities that will no longer have public libraries and the users of the mobile library services which are being completely axed.
It’s such a shame that we have had to travel all the way to Westminster and to central government to make our voices heard, as, as many of you know, this is exactly the kind of open and honest discussion library users have been trying to have with GCC for months, but to no avail.