On 28th February, Gloucestershire MPs Richard Graham (Con – Gloucester) and Neil Carmichael (Con – Stroud) took part in a parliamentary debate on the ‘Big Society’. Unsurprisingly, libraries came up in the debate, with Richard Graham particularly commenting on Matson Library, earmarked for ‘Community Transfer’ (closure unless run and funded by the community) under GCC’s plans.
Mr Graham described the current facility in Matson as;
“an isolated library building, with two parking places, two staff for health and safety purposes, and an inefficient, larger that necessary building that costs £54,000 a year. That is an important service in the wrong place and the wrong building, and it could be provided much better for rather less money. By contrast, the community offer could give the ward a library service and nearby community centre with lots of parking, plus sports, dancing and arts next door, and possibly a cafe, to be run by a charity formed of three religions, at a cost to the County Council of £20,000, or slightly more than a third of the cost”
Residents of Matson have reacted with anger to this misrepresentation of the local situation by their MP.
One Matson Library user emailed us saying;
“Richard’s whole speech about Matson Library is outrageously inaccurate – just wait till I see him in a week’s time, assuming that he has the guts to turn up to his constituency surgery! Far from being isolated, Matson Library is in the centre of Matson. The “two parking spaces” are for disabled parking – there are plenty of free parking spaces in the road. The building is not larger than necessary – you can’t have a library in a broom cupboard, but that is what Richard obviously thinks Matson deserves!”
Former senior Gloucestershire librarian, Patrick Baker, had this to say in response to Mr Graham’s speech;
“I have just read Richard Graham’s pontifications on the Big Society and the running of libraries by volunteers. First of all he makes the point that we should all be grateful that we are not living in Libya. Talk about looking at the positive! He then asks “who would vote for weaker communities, state monopoly of power and the discouragement of social action”. Well, no-one would vote for that, Richard, but that does not mean that we want our public services to be run by self-selected volunteers on an unpaid, casual basis. Most services are more important than that, and libraries are one of them.
He says the library service could be better provided by local community organisations at far less cost alongside “sports, dancing and arts”…and costing “not a penny from the state”. Gloucester’s MP is obviously gloriously unaware that there is rather more to providing a library service than is involved in organising sports or dancing classes.
In order to provide a library service each service point needs to be part of the whole library network so that reservations can be fulfilled, so that the book stock, and other media, can be circulated regularly and kept up-to-date, and so that standards and staffing levels are maintained. As well as basic library skills, library staff need to be trained users of the library housekeeping system. Staff also need the expertise to manage the network of public access PCs with all the complexity of software, hardware and security that goes along with this.
Mr Graham claims that Matson Library could “be run by a charity formed by three religions”. The MP will by now have been surprised to learn that Together In Matson, a partnership of three churches, has not agreed to take over the library. In fact, Rev Keith Hebden of TIM has said in the local paper “For months, Richard Graham has been telling people that someone in Matson is certain to take over the running of the library from the county council. He has asked at least four local groups to my knowledge and all of them have said ‘no’ and are committed to fighting the library’s unjust closure which targets one of the poorest communities.”
It is time for the Gloucester MP to follow the advice of his predecessor, Parmjit Dhanda, and tell his Conservative colleagues on the County Council that they are going down the wrong path, one that has lost all credibility with the people of Gloucestershire, and one which is probably illegal under the Public Libraries Act.”
In the same parlimentary debate, Stroud MP Neil Carmichael states that;
“In Gloucestershire we are benefitting from a sensible and forward-thinking County Council paving the way for local people to take over libraries. That is excellent … we should encourage more such initiatives”
Mr Carmichael appears not to have noticed, or chosen to ignore the wave of anger that has greeted the County Council’s harsh and ill-thought out plans for our library service, which will hit hard his constituency libraries in the Stroud and Dursley areas. He ignores the 15,000 plus people who have signed the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries petition, and who presumably consider the County Council’s plans anything but sensible and forward thinking, and the active and vocal local library use groups set up in Minchinhampton, Nailsworth and other areas.
These attempts to ‘talk-up’ the Council’s plans on the national stage are a disgrace, and an insult to the constituents who are failing to gain proper representation from their MPs.