Liberal Democrats “Call-in” GCC’s Library Strategy

We are pleased to have been informed that the local Liberal Democrat Group have lodged a legal challenge, known as a “call-in”, on the county’s “new” library strategy.  Those of you who have been following our progress since we first called on Gloucestershire County Council to rethink their draconian and ill-thought-out cuts to our library service in November 2010 may remember the “call-in” that happened last time the County Council presented their library strategy. We sincerely hope that there is not a repeat of the shameful farce that we witnessed then,

http://foclibrary.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/scrutiny-committee-farce-local-democracy-dealt-another-blow/

Sadly, judging by Cllr Hawthorne’s comments to the local press,  we suspect that it will be.

We urge the county council to finally take the opportunity to show that it has learned from the mistakes of the past. It must facilitate proper scrutiny and address and rectify the same serious issues that found it on the wrong side of the law not six months ago.

Cllr Hawthorne protests that the call-in is “pure party politics” (just as he did last time!). We would argue that this is deeply hypocritical as he and his colleagues in the cabinet have themselves been so blinkered by party politics that they have repeatedly failed to listen to the wishes of the electorate and have stubbornly continued to bulldoze through these overwhelmingly unpopular and inequitable cuts. This is not about party politics but about the authority’s duty to provide a statutory and important service to the electorate.

No one wants to end up back in court.

The following is the full Liberal Democrat press release and the grounds on which the call-in was lodged.

Liberal Democrats Lodge Legal Challenge on County’s Library Strategy

 LIBERAL DEMOCRAT group has lodged a legal challenge called a ‘call-in’ under Gloucestershire County Council’s constitution after the Tory cabinet approved plans for a new library strategy.

The ‘call-in’ will halt the strategy from coming into force until councillors on the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee can meet to review the grounds that have been put forward.

Liberal Democrat Leader Cllr. Jeremy Hilton said:

“The whole process for the strategic review of the library network has been shambolic from start to finish. The Tories first plan was thrown out by a judicial review last year, after it was deemed unlawful.

“The cabinet has learnt nothing from this and proceeded with some changes to the original plan, but with the fundamental flaws remaining intact.

“There appears to be a blatant favouritism with Tories increasing opening times at libraries in their Cotswold heartland but cutting hours in other parts of the county.

“We still have the ridiculous situation of the third most popular library in the county at Bishops Cleeve having its hours slashed by 13 hours per week and Stow Library number 25 in popularity getting an extra 19.5 hours each week – this is nonsense.”

The new library strategy involves a tiered network of libraries across the county with seven libraries facing the axe at Berkeley, Brockworth, Bream, Minchinhampton, Lechlade, Mitcheldean and Newnham, unless the community steps in to run them

Notice of call-in

To Pete Bungard – Chief Executive

We, the undersigned six members, give notice to call-in the decision made by cabinet on 5th April and published on 5th April 2012.

Agenda item 1 – Decision on the Future Library Strategy for Gloucestershire

The grounds for the call in are that the following conditions are satisfied for the reasons specified:

3. In making the decision, the Cabinet, Leader of the Council or Cabinet Member took account of an irrelevant matter or failed to take account of a relevant matter -

The relevant matter[s] not taken into account [are]

A – Three out of Seven of the proposed community-run libraries show a higher than average proportion of adult social care service clients in terms of the immediate local population; Newnham for learning disability, Brockworth and Mitcheldean for mental health. People with disabilities would only still be able to use these libraries and the 4 other libraries proposed to become community-run if they are successfully established in these areas. The cabinet report has failed to show what impact the unsuccessful establishment of these community-run libraries would have on people with disabilities in those areas and in particular Newnham, Brockworth and Mitcheldean.

B – The Leader of the Council could not provide members of the council with important information on the projected cost per visit for each library under the new provision. Such projected costs are essential for the successful delivery of any business plan including a future library strategy for Gloucestershire.

C – Mitcheldean and Brockworth have active co-located partners in their libraries which both the local communities and Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries pointed out to this council. There has been no reference made to this in the consultation report.

D – The Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) indicates that the draft library strategy is considered to have both positive and negative impacts on people sharing one or more of the protected characteristics. The negative impacts outweigh the positive impact, which has not been taken into account.

E – Vector research, the company asked by this council to manage the consultation process noted several key considerations, which should be taken into account when the final decision is made. For example, “How will the council address the disproportionate impact on older women and those living in rural areas, and older people generally, who are twice as likely to expect negative impacts as a result of the implementation of the strategy?” The cabinet report has neglected to provide a proper response to this question.

F – In terms of the 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act – the relevant matter not taken into account is the fact that findings in the consultation report shows that the main use of libraries in the county continues to be for book borrowing. The book fund (stock fund) is therefore at the heart of sustaining library provision. The comprehensiveness of book stocks is also a specific requirement of the Public Library & Museum’s Act 1964. In answer to a question at a recent cabinet meeting, the Leader of the Council confirmed that this budget will be cut by approximately 60% for the next three years (compared with the pre-cuts budget of 2008-9). Despite the importance of this book fund there is not a single reference to it in any of the reports provided by this council (This matter also contravenes 7.02.1 as unlawful in relation to the 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act).

G – The Leader of the Council could not explain at the Cabinet the rational of why communities in his party’s Cotswold heartland were getting favoured treatment with extra hours at Stow-on-the-Wold (+19.5 hours), Chipping Campden (+12 hours) and Tetbury (+9 hours) with small populations of between 5.7K and 7K and annual visits from 25K to 30K, whilst more popular libraries elsewhere in Gloucestershire with large populations of between16K to 31K and with annual visits from 98K to 163K were getting hours dramatically cut.

H – After months of preparation the Leader of the Council was unable to answer a simple question about the projected value of the book fund at each library for the new financial year or the actual book fund per library for the past three years. This simple information should have been available as part of the business planning for the restructured library service.

I – The cabinet report failed to respond adequately to the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA), date of assessment 30th March 2012. Cabinet did not properly consider and provide adequate solutions to overcoming the negative impacts identified in the EIA. For example, where a negative impact has been identified, it does not clearly indicate how regularly re-assessment and monitoring will take place by the Development Manager and the Community & Development Officers team. It is not enough to merely state that these needs are regularly re-assessed and monitored without also providing a clear timeframe.

4. The Cabinet, Leader of the Council or Cabinet Member acted

contrary to the Cabinet Procedure Rules, the Access to Information about the County Council’s Formal Business and/or the principles of decision making set out in Part 2, Article 7.02 of the Constitution.

The above matter was contravened in the following way(s) –

7.02.1 They must be lawful

A – The decision is unlawful in relation to equalities legislation in that this council has said nothing about training volunteers about equalities. It is worth noting that Surrey library campaigners have just won a Judicial Review on the grounds that this particular council also said nothing about training volunteers about equalities.

7.02.3 They should take proper account of consultation with others

A – The Leader of the Council failed to circulate information requested by Cllr. Jeremy Hilton, member of this council, confirming the running costs for each library for financial years 2009/10, 2010/11 and 2011/12 or the projected budgets for 2012/13. This failure to provide such information prior to the cabinet decision on the future library strategy for Gloucestershire raises questions concerning transparency and openness in terms of consultation with others.

B – Despite the fact that the six week consultation was built on the findings from previous consultations undertaken by the council since September 2010, the council in receiving a number of complaints and/or adverse comments regarding the questionnaire led to requests for the questionnaire to be withdrawn in the first week. This significantly impacted upon the length of the consultation period. The consultation period should have therefore been extended accordingly or preferably given the full 12 weeks as recognised by the Gloucestershire Compact.

C – Minchinhampton, Lechlade and Mitcheldean parishes all provided information that people in those communities could not reach a main Library in 30 minutes by public transport. As a result this council changed the criteria to 30 minutes from any library. There has been no consultation on this change and no support received.

D – The deliberative workshops that formed part of the consultation process were flawed in that:

i. Each of the 8 workshop group sessions began with an introduction of the funding challenges faced by this council and the need to find savings of £114m over four years and thus contaminating the objectivity of individuals taking part in the two exercises. This would have also had significant impact on the same individuals whose final task was to then complete a copy of the consultation questionnaire.

ii. The offering of shopping vouchers (of up to £40) to ensure good attendance at each of the 8 deliberative workshops can easily be misconstrued by members of the public as bribery. Although it is fairly common in the private sector to offer people incentives like this, it is not, however, a widely standard practice for local government.

iii. The incentives offered in the form of shopping vouchers ensuring good attendance were deterministic and not randomly given in that only those individuals who attended the specific deliberative workshop and who qualified as being within a specified group could obtain such vouchers discriminating against the rest of those individuals who took part in the consultation process.

iv. The very fact that the deliberative workshop groups did not include an independent facilitator brings into question whether each of the 8 workshops were conducted in a transparent, impartial and open manner.

E – After months of deliberation, the Leader of the Council could not provide a list of the 50 places that the new public sector mobile library service would visit. This resulted to another cabinet member having to plead at a cabinet meeting for the mobile service to visit his own community.

7.02.6 They should be made in public whenever this is appropriate and practicable

A – Cabinet Members failed to provide adequate responses to supplementary questions asked by members at the cabinet meeting on Thursday 5th April 2012.

7.02.8 They should be properly reasoned and alternatives that are discounted should be identified and the reasons for their rejection explained adequately

A – (See above 3.F) – No explanation has been given to the reasons why no reference has been made to the stock fund, which is essential for the library service in the reports provided by this council.

B – The decision to cut the Home Link mobile library service is not properly reasoned. For example, in the consultation information, the Home Link mobile library service is put together with all mobiles at “low use and high cost”. This is highly misleading, as it is, in fact, according to this council’s own figures in the strategy report, one of the cheapest and most effective of all library services (This matter also contravenes 7.02.1 as unlawful in relation to equalities legislation).

Dated – 16th April 2012

 

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One Response to Liberal Democrats “Call-in” GCC’s Library Strategy

  1. Pingback: Lib Dems challenge Gloucestershire library plans | Alan Gibbons’ Blog

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