Having been completely ignored and dismissed by Gloucestershire County Council we have written to Culture Minister Ed Vaizey many times asking him to help us, to meet with us, to listen to our very real concerns about the destruction of our library service. He has ignored us every single time. We even offered to pay his train fare if he came to Gloucestershire, and promised to get his favourite biscuits in for the meeting! No response – not even an acknowledgement email.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport have said ‘we cannot intervene until the consultation process is over and decisions have been made’. The consultation process was over weeks ago and decisions have been made…….yet still….no answer (oh except one where the DCMS seemed to not have computed that the consultation process was over and sent us a template letter saying that if we are unhappy with the consultation process we should direct our concern to the council. Dear DCMS – THE CONSULTATION PROCESS IS OVER! NOW IS THE TIME!!)
We know that DCMS and Mr Vaizey are aware of the situation in Gloucestershire, as it is referred to in the MLA correspondence and documentation we have accessed through FOI.
Correspondence between DCMS and MLA officers highlights the complaints being received by DCMS from Gloucestershire residents who;
‘are not satisfied that the needs of the communities are really being considered’
Whilst internal email correspondence between MLA officers from January 2011 identifies Gloucestershire as an authority of particular concern being ‘watched closely’ by DCMS, and highlights that Mr Vaizey has asked for;
‘as much detail as possible on the ten authorities which are of particular concern. What exactly are their proposals? What stage are they at re consultations? When will they make decisions? What public engagement has there been etc?’
We could have given Mr Vaizey all this information and more if he’d replied to our emails!
We suspect Mr Vaizey is not meeting with us as our views are not entirely convenient with the ideology that is allowing this to happen. He seems to have time to meet with and email people from Buckinghamshire Community libraries and Council Chief Executives for “Round Table” chats about the “Big Society“…..whilst ignoring the real, big, loud, angry, cheated society in Gloucestershire that is screaming out HELP!!!
As we are seemingly being ignored, another FoGL member, Alice, had a go at writing to Mr Vaizey, again requesting that he meet with us, or at least listen to our concerns and… received a reply!
This reply states that GCC representatives have been asked to meet with DCMS officials ‘in the next few weeks’ to present their plans for our library service. Alice asked if we could still meet with Mr Vaizey as well to give our side of the story, and has been told ‘the DCMS will ‘reserve consideration’ of our request for a meeting until after their meeting with GCC.
The full correspondence between Alice and Mr Vaizey’s Private Secretary is below.
I’m writing on behalf of Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries AND the 15,000 residents who signed the petition against the swingeing library cuts proposed, and now confirmed, by Gloucestershire County Council, we think as a purely budgetary measure – NOT as a beneficial ‘streamlining and modernisation’ whatever the County says.
The cuts involve the closure, or doubtful takeover by the community, of 10 libraries in the County, curtailing of library hours in many others, halting of the Mobile Library service and many other cancelling of library services for the housebound and disadvantaged.
Three at least of the libraries to go are situated in deprived areas where community takeover will be very difficult to afford and where the almost inevitable loss will take yet further heart out of the neighbourhoods.
Many of the others are in rural areas of the County where their loss will mean long discouraging journeys on public transport, also scheduled for cuts, or by car, to the nearest but far-flung library.
From your February ‘Ask Ed Vaizey’, I note that you have just been waiting for decisions by Local Authorities before exercising your Ministerial role as Champion of the libraries and your statutory role under the 1964 Libraries Act.
In Gloucestershire, these decisions have been made.
Delegates from our group would dearly like to meet you to explain all this in full and, we would hope, to persuade you that something needs to be done before the cuts actually bite in April.
Would you be willing to see us? We should be so delighted for someone to listen as our County Council has charged ahead regardless and virtually ignored residents’ protests.
Thank you for your email, below, to Ed Vaizey, regarding changes to the library service in Gloucestershire.
Consideration by the Secretary of State of whether or not any statutory powers should be used to assess an authority’s compliance with the 1964 Act will be on a case-by-case basis and after careful consideration of all relevant facts and local circumstances. We have asked officers of Gloucestershire authority to come in to present their plans for their library service to DCMS officials. This will take place in the next few weeks, and we will reserve consideration of your proposal for a meeting until after that time.
Craig (Private Secretary to Ed Vaizey MP)
Thank you for your response.
We are very pleased that the Minister is going to speak to Gloucestershire County Council on its proposed library cuts. Is there a date for this meeting?
We are sure that he will probe behind what, on its past form, will be a slick and convincing presentation and hope that he too will recognise the flaws which will have such an adverse impact on library provision for so many people in our County.
We should be very grateful if we could have access to the complete minutes of the proceedings.
We look forward to a meeting ourselves with Mr Vaizey and do hope that he will reserve judgement on the situation until after he has heard our sad side of the story.
Just to clarify, as you seem to have misunderstood my email, the council have been invited in to meet officials not the Minister.
Thank you for the clarification.
I think our message applies equally to Officials assessing Gloucestershire’s proposals!
Will we still be able to apply to see the minutes of their session? Whom should we ask?
Minutes aren’t taken of meetings at official level, but the discussions will be used to inform the Minister’s thinking re Gloucestershire. As I say, we will be back in touch with you following the meeting with consideration re your proposal for a meeting.
When he was in opposition, Mr Vaizey called on his opposite number, Andy Burnham, in the strongest possible terms, to intervene and prevent library closures in the Wirral. He branded that Council’s decision ‘outrageous and offensive’, and said that in not intervening Andy Burnham would be neglecting his duties as Secretary of State.
We dearly hope that Mr Vaizey has not left his convictions at the door on entering office, and that he listens to library users and voters, and intervenes in Gloucestershire – SOON.
UPDATE: FoGL representatives have now been invited to meet with DCMS policy officials within the next few weeks. Full story here.