Yesterday (16th February), the County Council met to vote on budget proposals. The outcome was predictable, with the Tory majority voting the proposals through whilst other Councillors voted against.
The library issue was debated extensively, with opposition Councillors proposing an amendment which would have seen £500,000 drawn from Council reserves and spent on allowing libraries to remain open, and allowing a longer transition period into the redesigned library structure. Again, the Tory majority all voted against this amendment.
Much repeated were the now familiar mantras that the administration is protecting the most vulnerable. There has still been no meaningful response to our questions about what consideration has been taken of the role of libraries in the lives of the most vulnerable, despite this being raised again by opposition Councillors in the debate yesterday, and raised in several public questions.
There was also much congratulatory talk from the Tories about the ‘consultation’ process. One Tory Councillor even said; ‘this administration has restored the public’s faith in consulation’ – what planet is he on?? Would this be the same consultation process which has left countless people angry and confused, and contacting us in desperation as they are getting no answers from the Council? Where members of the public have been told that the identity of groups and ‘partners’ whom GCC are apparently in talks with about taking over libraries must remain confidential, so they are expected to consult on proposals they are permitted to know virtually nothing about? Where Councillors have been unable to answer the most basic questions about the practicalities of the plans?
The same Councillor said that ‘the public should leave our leader and the Cabinet member alone’ – words fail me at this point. More Tory Councillors presented petitions from their constituents against the library cuts – most notably Cllr. Stan Waddington, who presented a 2,000 strong petition from Minchinhampton residents. He said himself that the petition represented 40% of his constituents(!) yet seemed to find no contradiction in then voting for the proposals and joining in wholeheartedly with the Tory crowing and back-slapping at their ‘victory’.
Our statement released to the press following the vote is reproduced below. Cllr. Hawthorne was also quick to have his say (full story here).
Today the County Council met to finalise their budget decisions. At this meeting the County Council condemned our public library service to heavy-handed, disproportionate and permanently damaging cuts, the impact of which will resonate on our communities for decades to come, long after the council members responsible have left office. Falling literacy levels and increased social isolation will be their legacy.
They have not just ignored, but treated with contempt, the will of the 15,000 plus members of the electorate who have called for their representatives to pause and thoroughly examine the consequences of continuing down this path of destruction. In so doing they have risked the crippling expense associated with the legal challenges that are likely to follow.
Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries have raised the profile of the plight of our libraries to the national stage, proving how vital the public library service is in contributing to a healthy, motivated, and educated society and how important it is to the people of Gloucestershire. In these times of economic hardship libraries are more important than ever. We would like to once again thank the thousands who have supported us thus far, from across the county, of all ages and from all walks of life.
It is a testament to the arrogance of Councillors Hawthorne, Noble and their administration that this public outcry has gone unheeded.
Gloucestershire County Council has set our libraries up for failure. Once they are gone we will never get them back.