Gloucestershire County Council have refused to engage with Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries for months. We have received “I do not intend to respond in detail” replies from Council Leader Mark Hawthorne. “In light of the forthcoming legal challenge I cannot answer your questions” from library portfolio holder Cllr Noble, despite none of us being the claimant of any legal challenge. Before this she either ignored, questions or sends non-answers from her numerous email accounts. We have had the ex head of the Schools Library Service, who is implementing these plans, telling people worried about the effect the cuts will have on their children that all will be fine as “there are still school libraries“. She should know better!
We have been told we are asking overly specific questions at parish council meetings, been dealt with with contempt when we made our statement after submitting our 15,000 signature strong petition at a full council meeting. We were placed on the agenda AFTER the council voted in the library plans when they had promised to take our comments into consideration – (to this day the council refuse to provide an explanation for this). ALL of the Conservatives voted in the plans despite fierce opposition from their constituents……..the list goes on.
It was obvious to us that we, the public, were being frozen out of the decisions about our libraries and the county council had no interest in what we thought. The plans were a fait accompli and the duty to carry out a consultation was merely an annoyance to the council who had intention of taking any notice of what people had to say.
Despite all of this though it still came as a surprise when we found out that Cllr Hawthorne was not only blocking us out but that he is blocking out anyone who may have any connection with our campaign group and worse still that some parish councils are colluding with this (see here and here). Could this be because we have been arming people with uncomfortable questions that the council leader has no answers for? Why is he so afraid of us? Is it because his plans are so utterly indefensible that he would rather whisper about them behind closed doors?
Try as you might Mr Hawthorne we are not going away. In fact this behaviour spurs us on. It confirms we should keep up the pressure. If Cllr Hawthorne and co are running scared then we have been asking the right questions and we will continue to seek the answers.