MLA and GCC say Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries are not “real people”

We had been told that the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) who are “the eyes and ears” for the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) and who oversee libraries, have been working with Gloucestershire County Council on their library proposals for the last 18 months. We were amazed that GCC could have come up with such an unworkable library proposal if this were the case and wondered how they were being advised so we submitted a Freedom of Information Request asking for all communication between the MLA and Gloucestershire County Council. We have received the following sparse meeting notes and this is all.

Meeting with MLA 31st January 2011

Present: Cllr Noble, Dave Martin, Sue Laurence, Trevor Gough, John Finch

We discussed consultation process so far and what had changed as a result.  It was quite a substantial shift.  It had been helpful to listen to what ‘real’ people were concerned about in communities and not just the campaign voices.

We advised MLA of an additional £800,000 of funding to the libraries budget, £500,000 of which was announced this morning – 31January as part of our consultation response. Library links hours of opening have been increased and the offer to community run libraries has been significantly improved with for example Talis providing a “cut down” management system

£100,000 of council underspend will be carried forward for the stock budget

We clarified that we were not saying community run libraries could charge. MLA thought the more enhanced community offer was an improvement.

In terms of timescales we anticipate ending our direct management of the community run libraries assuming successful business cases are made at the end of June. There will be handover training over approximately 2-3 months. Opening hours will be decided locally and libraries should re-open under new management in September.  We will be flexible. Cabinet will consider the new policy approach on 2 February with Council approving the Policy and Budget on 16 February

DM indicated that in terms of governance the starting point would be a policy statement upon which we have consulted.  We explained the tiers and the changes resulting from consultation so far. JF agreed that providing a library service is not just about buildings and that the right approach is to have a focussed strategy and plan for taking the service into the future

MLA suggested we look at what Warwickshire are doing with their virtual library and reminded us that support for taking forward work with volunteers was still available.

We discussed how we were planning to address the needs of the most vulnerable especially older peopleJF suggested that we make it clearer for public and national audience as well so that message is getting out. The Mobile service is being reconfigured and we will adopt a personalisation model of provision in partnership with a variety of organizations.  We should also be clear about things like Books on Prescription and how we will still deliver it in the future. We will be speaking to all mobile users about alternatives.

JF asked how we would respond to further campaigning.  We talked about being clear about the strategic framework, about the consultation and being honest about the reduced budget and these pressures.

MLA asked about our response to regional co-operation and said it would be worth looking at what Herefordshire and Shropshire were doing.  We said we were waiting for the results of the SW ‘Without Borders’ report to see if there was anything to develop.

JF asked for more information about the financial aspects of our change. (SL to send). Antonia asked for a meeting to be set up with TG, SL and Mark Parker to discuss the Community Run Libraries aspect. (SL to action)

SL raised the workforce development challenges and need to take the team through to believe in the future and the changes.

Hidden benefit had been that Cabinet knew a lot more about libraries role now. Cllr AN agreed to meet with JF again.

I am dismayed to see that the 15,000 people who signed the petition and the thousands of people who have supported Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries are not regarded as “real people“by the MLA and GCC. Gloucestershire County Council has always tried to discredit us as “a vocal minority” when in fact we are REAL PEOPLE, REAL LIBRARY USERS, who came together, as instructed by MLA Chief Roy Clare and Culture Secretary Ed Vaisey, to try to hold our council to account and to give “real people” a voice.

Nationally campaigners have been branded as  “white and middle class” who want to “maintain the status quo” by Mr Clare, and now we are not considered as “real people”. What ARE local people supposed to do? Last week Mr Clare mocked a nine year old girl for writing to the Prime Minister to ask him to save her library as she should be talking to councillors. We have tried the “talking to councillors” approach and are met with contempt. We have been ignored, referred to as “militant”, been sneered at and heckled in council meetings…the list goes on.

Cllr Noble has answered none of my questions and Cllr Hawthorne, the council leader is responding to emails with “I note the contents of your email. I do not intend to respond” People in Gloucestershire still have no idea what is happening to their libraries. Cllr Hawthorne got the figures and facts wrong and has misrepresented us in a letter to the newspapers, mis-truths that he refuses to set straight.

We have been refused access to  the “drop in” consultation feedback and when SIX conservative councillors submitted local petitions from their constituents opposing the library plans NOT one of them spoke up for their communities, not even the Cllr who handed in a petition signed by 70% of his constituents. We see no evidence that anyone’s views have been listened to or that their concerns have been applied to the library proposals.

The notes of the meeting also claim that charging to use community libraries was not suggested by GCC. This is an untruth. Both Cllr Noble and Cllr Waddington publicly said charging could happen.

We don’t know how the needs of the vulnerable will be met, how programmes like the Summer Reading Challenge and Books on Prescription will work. We don’t know what will replace the mobile libraries….despite asking, and asking we still have no answers. Everything is either “confidential” or is being made up as they go along. People have no idea what they are being “consulted” on.  Cllr Hawthorne says there are successful examples of the “model” they are trying to implement up and down the country but when asked for details he cannot name them.

The most surprising claim  in these notes is that Cabinet know a lot more about libraries role now. If they do there is no evidence that they are applying that knowledge otherwise why continue down this destructive path?

Library users have used every democratic tool at their disposal in Gloucestershire to try to get answers. Cllr Noble has been too busy to meet with us or engage, people have left “consultations” with more questions than answers, the “scrutiny committee” and petition schemes were “train wrecks”. Now a legal challenge has been launched. It is a sad day that it has come to this.

I have never been involved in local politics before and the conduct of councillors has shocked, upset and appalled me. As dictatorships are being overthrown across the world one is still going strong, for now, in Gloucestershire.

Central Government is passing the buck back to local authorities and no one is being held to account. Those who try are dismissed.

I think the truth is that the county council have been surprised by the strength of feeling against their proposals and have reacted by putting up the defence barriers instead of trying to work with local people to find the best solution, and it seems the MLA are cheering them on.

Still, we will keep asking the questions. We will not go away.


Cllr Noble is now responding to any questions about the library plans with this:

“I’m afraid, as this issue is now the subject of potential legal proceedings, I’m not going to be making any further comment.  I appreciate this is frustrating and, once the proceedings are resolved, I’ll be happy, once again substantively to reply to your e-mails and indeed to discuss issues with you further.”

I hope this means the library plans are also being delayed until the legal proceedings are over also!!  There is no point answering questions in retrospect once the damage has been done. It is a further abuse of democracy if we are not allowed to ask questions yet the library plans continue to be pushed through.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” Mohandas Gandhi

This entry was posted in Councillor Hawthorne, Councillor Noble, Service Cuts, The National Picture of Cuts, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to MLA and GCC say Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries are not “real people”

  1. Patricia Tuson says:

    The arrogance of these people, leaves this ‘real person’ almost speechless!

  2. Shirley, Gloucester says:

    It is the people who represent us that are UN-REAL.
    I am 76 years of age and get really frustrated at how we – the electorate- are regarded by these persons (I am trying – with great difficulty – to be polite here!) who are in power. What planet do they live on, it certainly isn’t the same one as me. But then I remind myself
    WE VOTED FOR THEM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    so in effect we have brought this on ourselves and that doesn’t bear thinking about.
    Keep calm and all good wishes,

  3. Alistair Fisher says:

    well we are real people and i feel that all the people are being treated so unfairly. the young are not listened to the elderly in residential homes are not as they cant have there say. I feel the young is our future and they will all grow up illiterate, and the elderly will be swept under the carpet. they spend money on trams that will not be used in Gloucester, and there policy was protect the vulnerable and the elderly, this to me seems they cat read there own policys
    I notice our PPM has not shut a library in whitney his own constituency, seems strange to me. and the day of the meeting on feb 16th i refer to the sun newspaper the fat cats at he council gave them selves 100k pay rise, i was led to believe that the council money was frozen. i was told this was an emergency , which i consider, famine flood disater etc, the librarys were open in the war and we coped so why not now
    a very disheartened man, but It wont end easily we will fight on

  4. Martyn says:

    When the Council talk about ending “direct management” of the community libraries. I hope that they are aware that they still retain legal responsibility for running the service. The community libraries are the service that the Council intends to provide, and their legal duty under the 1964 Act is to ensure that the service they provide is “efficient” and “comprehensive”. This would mean that all aspects of the County service including the ability to borrow items from the rest of the County stock, reservations, inter-library lending, reference material and information provision, etc must be made available to the users of the community libraries in the same way that they are in the rest of the county.

  5. Kay Powell says:

    I challenge the Cabinet members to prove that they are “real” people, given that they are all white and probably all consider themselves to be middle class. This seems to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

    • Hi Kay,
      The fact is, as you, I and indeed Cllr Noble knows, that people from all backgrounds and from across the political spectrum are Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries. However, that fact is inconvenient for the politicians so they dismiss us. The most worrying thing is that Councillor Noble is on the Arts Council which is due to take over the MLA’s responsibilities when it is closed. Libraries are doomed as evidently the people in charge know nothing about the people who use them nor do they see us as ‘real’! It seems that Roy Clare has been bruised by “campaigners” before so has his own axe to grind and paints us all with the same brush. He is also far from shy in expressing his political bias, nor are the cabinet who refuse to represent the people who elected them. It is all rather hypocritical.

  6. Maggie says:

    I am appalled and angry at the contemptuous attitude displayed by those in charge towards the people who use their council services.
    They’ve condemned themselves out of their own mouths by admitting that these ludicrous plans were drawn up by people who didn’t know much about the library service. I’m very happy that the cabinet now know more about the library role, but we didn’t go though this whole charade just for that. Shouldn’t they have made it their business to know about the service that is probably used by more of the county population than any other before they started hacking it to pieces.

    I am very grateful to FOGL for representing us “real people”, as it turns out our elected representatives are not willing to do so. I’ve twice written to my (Tory) councillor without receiving an acknowledgement, not even a Hawthorne-style brush-off, leaving me wondering what he’s there for.
    We’d do better to save money by getting rid of these self-serving politicians and thinking up a better system of local “democracy”.

    • Thank you Maggie,
      I thought the same myself about the “know more about the library role” comment. It is bizarre. They said “hidden benefit” and they have indeed kept it hidden! You are right, they should have made it their business to know beforehand. It is almost as bad as when, at the council meeting, in response to the Lib Dems suggested amendments, Cllr Noble admitted that the plans were “unsustainable” then the cabinet continued to voted them in! She said the Lib Dems changes would be short term and make the library proposals as “unsustainable as ours”. At the end of the meeting the public were told they should “leave the cabinet member and council leader alone as they are working hard” Unbelievable. You could not make it up!
      Who is your councillor? We have heard similar stories countless times.

  7. Pingback: MLA and GCC say Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries are not “real people” (via Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries) « The murmurings of Barry Kirby

  8. Mike Skinner says:

    Education, Education, Education!
    They need to learn we are all “real people” and if the AV campaign succeeds we shall all have a ‘real vote’! I was elected in 2009 by just over 9% of my electorate I’m sorry to say!

  9. Judy Rose says:

    In Devizes, we took on a similarly arrogant Council ten years ago by standing for election. We won seats first on the Town and District Councils, and today we now Iate the 3 Devizes seats on Wiltshire Unitary Council, and 4 on Devizes Town Council causing the lead party, the Tories, to lose overall control. Contact me if you’d like to hear more about how to do it! Good luck with your campaign.

  10. Marcus Moore says:

    The more I learn about Gloucestershire County Council’s handling of this issue, the more UN-REAL everything becomes.

    From which, the only conclusion I can draw is that, having turned sixty, I’m probably experiencing some early signs of senile dementia.

    That would also explain why – not being as wise as our elected councillors – I signed that petition in the first place.

    But when there are 15,000 possible cases of dementia in this county alone, many of them much younger than I…. eeek! I think the NHS may soon have a major epidemic on its hands.

  11. Linda Monk says:

    Keep going Gloucestershire. The arrogance of councillors and politiciancs in pushing forward these cuts – are they cutting their own salaries to help ease the burden? I haven’t heard yet any councillor saying they are taking a pay cut.

  12. Pingback: Local round up

  13. AW says:

    The MLA have a modernising agenda based on diversification, retail models and shiny new ‘multi-function’ city centre based libraries. Roy Clare has shown contempt for library users, he is on his way out so doesn’t give a damn! The future of public libraries lies in the hands of users and campaigners, the profession has been ineffectual, CILIP are in bed with private companies such as LSSI and John Laing and the Condems want to see the public sector privatised.

    • I agree with much of what you say but I am part of the profession (although not in public libraries) as are several other campaigners I know so it is not quite as cut and dry as that. Please don’t write us all off. At the moment users and campaigners in Glos have no say in the future of libraries as those in charge are completely ignoring us. 😦

  14. AW says:

    Im also part of the profession and cant see the solution coming from within, I despair at some of the decisions being made by mostly senior librarians! I also know and have known lots of colleagues who are genuinely commited to public libraries and their users but feel let down by poor management and a lack of direction and leadership.

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