Gloucestershire County Council leader Mark Hawthorne has written a piece about the Tory administration’s slashing of our library service, which appeared in the local media soon after yesterday’s crunch budget vote.
The piece make several claims which are inaccurate, and unfounded and disparaging remarks against library campaigners.
We have written to the editors of the newspapers where this piece appeared and to Mark Hawthorne requesting corrections and retractions of several points (reproduced below),. We hope that others who are upset or concerned by this piece will do the same.
I am writing to ask that you publish some corrections in relation to the letter about library closures written by Council leader Mark Hawthorne as it features inaccuracies that are misleading to the public and makes false accusations about library campaigners
Mr Hawthorne states “libraries aren’t being singled out – and the savings we are making aren’t disproportionate. Some library campaigners have said we’re cutting libraries by 42 per cent – that’s not right. Overall local government grant is being cut by around 28 per cent and the savings we propose in libraries are 28.5 per cent.”
The budget cuts figure that featured on our petition was actually 43% and was accurate at the time. This is not a figure we plucked out of the air as Cllr Hawthorne implies. It is the figure used by and confirmed in writing by senior GCC Library Service staff when these cuts were announced. Since the “revised” proposals, which included the reprieve for Cinderford Library, this figure is now more like 35% – still disproportionate, and is not the 28.5% Mr Hawthorne claims. The only explanation for Cllr Hawthorne’s figure may be that he is has now begun to refer to the libraries, archives and life long learning budget combined rather than just the library budget, or that he is looking at year one only and not the total cuts package over 2 years – which is disingenuous. Furthermore, if the figure of 43% is inaccurate, as Cllr Hawthorne states, one wonders why, after several months, he is choosing to make this criticism only now? It is of great concern that the person leading the council, and presiding over these cuts, is incapable of getting his figures right. He claims the cuts are not disproportionate. This is also not so. The grant to local government is being cuts by 28% over 4 years so to make 35% (previously 43%) cuts in the first year is nothing other than disproportionate.
Hawthorne doesn’t even understand his own budget – “The county council spends around £400m each year. From that £400m, we have to find £114m worth of savings.”
As has been pointed out to Cllr Hawthorne elsewhere this is also incorrect. The council supposedly has to find £114m worth of savings over the next four years. For this year, the council’s central government funding has been cut by £22 million (or 13.82% of last year’s budget). GCC is making £30million of savings.
Mr Hawthorne says “Libraries are a really hard issue for me. I’ve spent a lot of time recently talking to library users, staff and Gloucestershire people about libraries – and it is clear just how much they are valued” If he has been “talking” it is clear he has not been listening. The whole process has been a farce. From the “train wreck” council debate, the cabinet meeting when the vote was made on library proposals before we were given the chance to speak, to the ridiculously biased “scrutiny” committee. There is no indication that our 15,000 strong petition or the “consultation” feedback has been taken into consideration at all. The only thing in his letter I can see as being accurate is the point he makes that “We have seen a passionate and eloquent campaign to oppose closures” Yes, there has been, and Cllr Hawthorne and his cabinet have treated us and other campaign groups with contempt. Six Conservative councillors submitted petitions against library closures from their constituents, including Cllr Stan Waddington who submitted a 2000 strong petition for Minchinhampton, and not one of them spoke up in the library debate.
It is too late for us but Gloucestershire County Council need to urgently review its democratic processes as currently it is failing its constituents and allowing the cabinet to implement damaging cuts that have not been open to thorough, honest debate. Councillors should be working together with the public to find the best solution for our county but this has not happened. Comments by a Conservative councillor at the full council meeting yesterday are indicative of attitudes in the cabinet. He stated “The public should leave the cabinet leader and cabinet member alone as they have been working hard” and then said “this restores the constituents faith in consultation’! They really do live on another planet. They need reminding that they are working for us.
Cllr Hawthorne claims that no libraries have to close. What about all of the mobile services and the libraries communities cannot afford to run themselves?
Cllr Hawthorne says “these are tough times” to justify the cuts to the library service but as one of our campaigners 86 year old Marion says, “libraries did not even close in the war”. It is precisely in these tough times that libraries should be protected as they provide people with the opportunity for self-education, job searching facilities and so many, many other important services. Mr Hawthorne is displaying a lack of understanding of the role that libraries play.
He claims that the cuts are a “hard issue for me”. Why then were Conservative councillors slapping themselves on the back and gleefully celebrating these cuts when they voted them in at yesterday’s full council meeting, and why have they behaved so appallingly throughout? They did not seem at all contrite about the effects on the people of Gloucestershire.
Hawthorne frequently accuses the opposition councillors of “political stunts” – if his letter is not one then I don’t know what is.
Hawthorne’s letter is shameless politicking and crowing and is another attempt to discredit Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries and opposing councillors. The nation has been watching the atrocious behaviour of the GCC administration, and Cllr Hawthorne should be ashamed.
I am writing in response to this letter from Council Leader Mark Hawthorne. The letter contains misinformation which should be corrected, and makes unfounded allegations against library campaigners which should be retracted.
Cllr. Hawthorne states that the campaign against library closures has been ‘run by librarians, authors and members of the public’. This is incorrect. The campaign has been run entirely by members of the public (amongst whom authors are presumably included by Cllr. Hawthorne, given that they pay their taxes and vote in Gloucestershire?). Authors and public figures from outside Gloucestershire have sent messages of support, but have been in no way involved in the running of the campaign. As Cllr. Hawthorne should know, library staff have been forbidden from any involvement in the campaign under threat of disciplinary action, or reduction of their redundancy payments should they be amongst the large percentage of the workforce who will lose their jobs once these plans are implemented in the summer.
Cllr. Hawthorne says ‘some library campaigners have said we’re cutting libraries by 42% – that’s not right’. No it isn’t right – it was 43% when these cuts were announced in November and when the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaign and petition started – confirmed by senior library service officers. Cllr. Hawthorne’s implication that this figure has been invented by library campaigners is unfounded and he should apologise for it.
The cuts to the library service were reduced by the 31st January revisions of the library strategy proposals, but the figure quoted by Cllr. Hawthorne of a 28.5% saving also appears inaccurate. Cllr. Hawthorne may have arrived at this figure by combining the libraries, archives and records, and lifelong learning budgets (disingenuous given that the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaign and the article is concerned with cuts to public libraries), or by looking at cuts for year one only rather than the overall two year cuts package. The accurate figure is closer to 35%. Either way, the statement that ‘overall local government grant is being cut by around 28 per cent and the savings we propose in libraries are 28.5 per cent’, used by Cllr. Hawthorne to indicate proportionality, is rather misleading. The 28% cut to the local government grant is spread over four years, whilst these cuts to the library service will be implemented within two. There has been no confirmation whether or not we can then expect further cuts to the service in the latter half of this four year period. If Cllr. Hawthorne has such confidence in his plans, why does he indulge in this numerical smoke and mirrors?
Cllr. Hawthorne goes on; ‘it is also not right to say any libraries will have to close’. Again this is inaccurate – the five mobile libraries will close. Councillors have said that the mobile libraries are unaffordable as they cost £7.50 per user loan – but it is difficult to see how the ‘alternative’ of a free book postal order service for the elderly proposed by the Council will be any cheaper, given the postal costs of the weighty large print books or talking books favored by many elderly library users, and the staff hours involved in all this posting and packing.
Cllr. Hawthorne says; ‘we’ve said all along that we want them [libraries] to stay open, but for some to be run differently, with the support of volunteers’. But the community libraries will not be run ‘with the support of volunteers’, they will have to be run entirely by volunteers – this is why many feel the model is unworkable and unsustainable. These facilities will not be part of the council’s public library service. There will be no enforceable minimum service standard and it will be entirely up to volunteer groups how these facilities operate (including the option of charging for membership). If these libraries do not succeed there is no ‘plan B’.
Cllr. Hawthorne may have ‘spent a lot of time recently talking to library users, staff and Gloucestershire people about libraries’, but has he been listening? Concessions have been granted to Cinderford and some ‘Link’ and ‘Express’ libraries, but what about communities who have fought hard for their libraries and been ignored – notably in some of our county’s most deprived areas? A 15,000 signature county-wide petition calling for a review of the plans has been not just ignored but treated with contempt, as have a number of local petitions. Cabinet members voted to approve library proposals before the petition statement was presented at the Cabinet meeting on the 2nd January, despite a motion passed at the previous full Council meeting, that the petition and the statement made by the lead petitioner should be considered by Cabinet in their decision making. Nobody at GCC has been so far able or willing to offer any explanation of why this was the case.
The public consultation process has been far from satisfactory. Consultation sessions were only arranged anywhere other than six libraries not directly affected by closure following outcry from local residents and campaigners. Throughout the process, the Council have refused to reveal the identity of groups and ‘partners’ whom they are apparently in talks with about taking over library services, meaning that local people have been asked to consult on plans they are permitted to know virtually nothing about. Councillors and officers at consultation sessions have been unable to answer basic questions about the practical detail of the plans, and many members of the public have left these sessions confused, frustrated and with more questions than when they arrived!
No satisfactory answers have been given with regard to concerns over decision making criteria. Basing decisions over which libraries to cut on geographical spread (using a computer programme which works with distances by car and doesn’t take account of public transport infrastructure) has resulted in some frankly bizarre decisions. The Council also claim to have taken account of usage figures, but less-used Stow Library will be bumped up to full-time hours, whilst well-used libraries are closed or face service reductions to give just one example. If cuts are to be implemented it should be in a logical and well-thought out way, taking into proper consideration the needs of local residents – there is no evidence of this here.
I am saddened by Cllr. Hawthorne’s letter, but not surprised, as it reflects the Council’s behaviour throughout this process. GCC have behaved with a complete lack of transparency, accountability and clarity around their plans and decision-making, and have, through the most underhand means, thwarted efforts to challenge these indiscretions through democratic and constitutional procedure.
Whatever your view on libraries, the people of Gloucestershire should be deeply concerned by this kind of behaviour by their elected representatives, which could be applied to any issue affecting our lives.
Councillor Hawthorne’s reponse to both of these letters was
“I have read with interest. I do not intend to reply in detail”
It was as expected but still disappointing that he continues to refuse to engage.