Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries tonight witnessed yet another failure of democracy in Gloucestershire. Following a ‘call in’ by opposition councillors of the library proposals a ‘scrutiny’ meeting was called.
The Chair was a Conservative and the majority of people on the scrutiny committee were Conservatives. You do not need a crystal ball to see what ensued. Every motion made in the 31pg scrutiny report, which many members only had ten minutes to study at the beginning of the meeting, fell as the Conservative majority voted against them.
The Conservatives defence of their proposals was weak. Queries of the legality of the library proposals were dismissed with the line “verbal advice was obtained from the legal team”. There was no written evidence. When asked why they had not considered the social impacts of their proposals Council Leader Mark Hawthorne stated that they had carried out an impact assessment that was a “model of best practice” but could not answer how the findings had been considered in the library proposals. Councillor Noble who has responsibility for the library service stated that the proposals could not be scrutinized as they are still “proposals”, the fact that they had been voted through in the cabinet meeting on the 2nd on February and that the council meeting to finalise the budget will take place in just two days time, did not appear to register. They are basically voting in empty proposals.
So, our 15,000+ signature strong petition was ignored, the council debate about our request for an independent review of the library proposals was, as was branded by Mark Hawthorne, a “train wreck” and the ‘scrutiny’ committee was not a scrutiny but a whipped farce.
The public audience was dismayed and bemused and the council members involved were slow hand-clapped out of the room.
So what next? We have used every ‘democratic’ tool we have, the only remaining one is the ballot box, but by then it will be too late to save our public library service.