Gloucestershire County Council has backed down from its expectation that voluntary groups will run libraries without ongoing financial support. In a recently released statement, Councillor Antonia Noble says; ‘we are looking into the possibility of providing some ongoing funding to communities interested in taking on a library service’. This is a departure from information contained in ‘Big Community Offer’ documentation, which indicated that groups would receive only a small start-up-grant of around £2,500.
We believe this step has been taken as a result of Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries and other local library users’ groups highlighting the unworkable nature of the Council’s plans. Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries have exposed how volunteers running Buckinghamshire’s community libraries, which have been repeatedly referred to by Councillor Noble and Council Leader Mark Hawthorne as evidence that their scheme will be a ‘success’, have actually negotiated an ongoing core funding arrangement with the Council as they found it impossible to raise sufficient funds by themselves.
Whilst we welcome the decision to release some ongoing funding, this small concession does little to allay our serious reservations over the workability of the County Council’s plans for volunteer-run libraries. During a recent public consultation session, Councillor Noble stated that she was unable to provide details of the level of funding which will be available to voluntary groups, as it would be decided on a ‘case by case basis’. She also confirmed that this funding would only be available if it was absolutely essential in order for a group to be able to run the service – details of the criteria for making this decision have not been released.
We wonder how voluntary groups are supposed to make an informed decision of their capability to take responsibility for a service of such crucial importance to many in their community, without access to this kind of essential information?
The County Council have also failed to address criticism that volunteers in Gloucestershire community libraries will be unable to access the central library management system, described by a Buckinghamshire library volunteer as ‘essential’ to the smooth running of the service.
Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries will continue to campaign for the retention of the comprehensive and high quality library service which the people of Gloucestershire pay for through their taxes and deserve.
You can support the campaign by signing and circulating the county-wide petition calling for an urgent independent review of the County Council’s plans, writing to your Councillors and MP, taking part in the County Council’s own ‘consultation coversation’, or by joining the group by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org