Councillor Noble responds to criticism of the Buckinghamshire comparison

An article has appeared in the Gloucestershire Echo today (7th December) highlighting our request that Councillors Noble and Hawthorne publicly retract their comparison of volunteer-run libraries in Buckinghamshire with their plans for Gloucestershire. This comparison misleads library users about the level of support which will be available to volunteer-run libraries in our county.

Councillor Noble gives her response in the article. Here is some of what she has to say, and our response:

“Gloucestershire authority would offer start-up grants to communities to get libraries running”

According to the ‘The Big Community Offer’ section of GCC’s website, these grants would be distributed out of a total ‘pot’ of £50,000. If voluntary groups in all affected areas applied for this funding, as the Council claim they will, the funding would have to be split between up to 30 currently-council owned facilities earmarked for ‘community transfer’ (mainly library and youth service buildings). This would result in a grant of less than £2,000 each. This grant is intended to cover ‘start-up costs’ only and it is doubtful it would even do that. Under GCC’s plans volunteer-run libraries will have to acquire much of their own stock and equipment, secure their own internet access and library management system, and fund costs associated with volunteer recruitment (for example CRB checks). Under the current proposals all ongoing running costs would then have to be met by the voluntary group, with no Council support. The experience in Buckinghamshire has shown that it is unrealistic to expect volunteers to raise library running costs all by themselves – hence the deal struck with the council there to provide ongoing financial support.

It seems from Councillor Noble’s comments in this article, that GCC may have begun to admit how unworkable their plans for fully volunteer-funded libraries are:

“we are looking into the possibility of providing some ongoing funding to communities interested in taking on a library service”

– we await with interest further details and explanation of how much funding will be provided, and how funding arrangements will work.

“We’ll be offering expertise to help people to get started and training for volunteers”

Under GCC’s proposals this will be offered only for an unspecified ‘transition period’. Beyond this, volunteers running libraries would have to buy in any training and support they required from the central service.

The article also includes a quote from Richard Wells, the Media Officer at Buckinghamshire County Council, who describes the Buckinghamshire community libraries as “part of the council network”. This is another crucial difference between the situation in Buckinghamshire and the proposals for Gloucestershire which Councillor Noble does not address in her response to this article – we would be pleased to hear from her on this.

“We have been talking to Buckinghamshire about their community-run libraries. Their proposals to expand this programme demonstrates this can be a successful model”

This statement would have some meaning if the model proposed for volunteer-run libraries in Gloucestershire was the same, or even similar, to the scheme running in Buckinghamshire – but it is not! The libraries in Buckinghamshire receive far more Council support, in terms of funding and infrastructure, than what is proposed for Gloucestershire’s eleven volunteer-run libraries under GCC’s plans. These comparisons offer no assurance to residents concerned that their library will close under this scheme.

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