Complaint: Misleading claims from GCC about consideration of deprivation in library strategy

A few months ago, former Assistant Head of the Gloucestershire Library service and FoGL campaigner John Holland submitted a formal complaint against recently replaced Cabinet Member with responsibility for libraries Antonia Noble, and Council Leader Mark Hawthorne’s repeated misleading claims that no libraries in Gloucestershire would be closing – completely ignoring the closure of the mobile libraries. He received the laughable response that his complaint would not be upheld, as the Councillors did not understand that mobile libraries were libraries!

John has now submitted a second complaint against Councilor Noble, this time highlighting misleading statements that the Council considered socio-economic impacts when designing their new library strategy. John’s complaint submission is copied below. Let’s hope the GCC standards committee do their job this time, and hold Cabinet members to account.

 

Statutory Code of Conduct for Members

I wish to make the following complaint against County Councillor Antonia Noble, former cabinet member for libraries, under the Council’s adopted mandatory Code of Conduct for its members, which is included within the Council’s constitution.

My complaint is as follows-

I attach for you the Individual Cabinet Member Decision Report published on 4 April 2011 by Councillor Noble about the Future of Gloucestershire Libraries.

On page 7 (section 5 i) Councillor Noble states, in relation to the methodology for the review of libraries, that-

“ ‘Hot spots’ where the data significantly differed to the Gloucestershire ‘norm’ were highlighted and considered.  Wards found to be in the top 10% of the country’s indices of multiple deprivation were assessed as one of the criterion for evaluating how future library services could be provided.”

(A similar inaccurate statement was also included in a heavily revised Equality Impact Assessment form (but not in the original EIA, on which the recommendations were based).

The above statement by Councillor Noble is untrue and meant to deliberately mislead Gloucestershire County Council, the people of Gloucestershire, the government’s Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). These are the grounds on which my complaint is based.

Why is this so important?

It is important because Gloucestershire County Council did not “assess deprivation indices as one of the criterion for evaluating how future library services could be provided.” It therefore lays itself open to an official Inquiry by the government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) which superintends public libraries nationally. The last council to review its library service and to be found by DCMS to be in breach of the 1964 Public Libraries Act was the Wirral in September 2009. Two of the main reasons the Wirral was found in breach of the Act were-

I quote directly from the Wirral report-

1) “It failed to make an assessment of local needs in respect of its Library Services. It therefore cannot have acted reasonably in meeting such needs in the context of its statutory duties and available resources, as, in the absence of such assessment or demonstrable knowledge of local needs, it was incapable of identifying a reasonable option for meeting such needs both comprehensively and efficiently.”

And

2) “No attempt (was) made to analyse existing or future patterns of need or to carry out equity mapping to confirm that resources will be applied where they are most needed.

As such, there are concerns from many stakeholders that the Council’s proposed closures did not differentiate between the needs of deprived communities and those of affluent areas. According to these stakeholders, this means that, among other things, no account was taken of factors directly attributable to poverty which could make problematic access to provision, including low levels of computer ownership and broadband access together with low levels of car ownership.”

This statement by Councillor Noble is very important, because if the needs of local communities including deprivation information had been assessed as one of the criterion for evaluating the review of libraries in Gloucestershire, then Gloucestershire County Council may not be in breach of the 1964 Public Libraries Act. However, as Cllr Noble’s statement (and the statement in the revised EIA) is untrue, then it is likely that GCC is in breach of the 1964 Public Libraries Act. If DCMS disregards Cllr Noble’s deliberately misleading statement it should find Gloucestershire County council to be in breach of the 1964 Act.

How do we know that local needs including deprivation information were not assessed as one of the criterion for evaluating the review of libraries in Gloucestershire?

There are 2 reasons-

1) Because, previous to the 4 April 2011 cabinet report quoted above, Councillor Noble and officers of the County Council had been very clear that such local needs including deprivation information played no part in informing the recommendations of the libraries review, and

2) Because, as part of the libraries review, the poorest, most deprived areas in Gloucestershire (ie Hester’s Way and Matson) are excluded from the 3 tiers of GCC libraries to be run by the council, and, instead, are to be closed or funded and run by their local communities. Had deprivation information been assessed as one of the criteria for evaluating the review of libraries this could not have happened.

Where is my proof of this?

Let’s start with point 1 above – Because, previous to the 4 April 2011 cabinet report quoted above, Councillor Noble and officers of the County Council had been very clear that such local needs including deprivation information played no part in informing the recommendations of the libraries review.

Example 1 – Cabinet Meeting 18 November 2010

Recorded question from Cllr Ceri Jones to Cllr Noble – “Could you please explain the precise and transparent criteria (including weightings) which were used to determine into which category” (main library, library express, library link, community run library) “each library should be placed?”

Answer from Cllr Noble “The primary criterion was geographical access to a main library within a reasonable travel time. Nine libraries were identified in this way. Additional libraries were then added to supplement the 9 main libraries and to reduce travel time. The next criterion was the top most used libraries as additional library Express (sic). The final element was to consider co-location with strategic partners where there was potential for sharing costs. A Library Link was proposed for these sites. Additionally, as more people now access information and services electronically it was decided to improve the virtual library as a more modern means for people to access library services.”

The above is the entire answer in full. As you can see there is no reference of any kind to local needs or deprivation information being amongst the criteria used in the review of libraries.

Example 2

The original Equality Impact Assessment form dated 9 November 2010 (attached) backed this up. Question 7 on the form is “What evidence has been used for this assessment: eg research, previous consultations, MAIDEN?”

The full answer provided is-

“Library usage figures were considered as part of the criteria for proposing a new network of libraries but the prime consideration was to provide reasonable geographic access to libraries across the county.” This is the full answer.

Example 3

Following the Cabinet meeting of 2 February the report on libraries was “called-in” by the opposition parties in the county council and a special Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee met on 14 February 2011. At this meeting Cllr Noble provided a 7 page submission about the review of libraries. It included this information about the principles behind the review-

“I set out below the factors that were taken into account when the cabinet agreed the proposals the subject of this call-in on 2 February. And it Is important to record that these principles for outlining future library provision were not solely a matter of “geography”, as usage was also a very important factor. Overall, there is a five-fold approach to service provision, which is designed to look at the whole issue holistically (sic). The approach aims to-

1. establish a good basic network of libraries giving a geographical spread of traditional library provision across the county, delivering through three standardised tiers;

2. improve access to library services through technology…

3. give local people and community groups the opportunity to run their own library service to suit local needs;

4. work with partners and volunteers to provide library services to those individuals who may want them for specific reasons, such as disability or mobility issues, may be unable to access library services independently; and

5. encourage volunteering across all tiers of library provision”

Once more, there is no reference of any kind in the 7 pages to an examination of local social needs, especially in relation to deprivation, being a criterion.

Example 4

Cllr Noble also repeated the criteria about geographical spread and levels of use verbally at the Full Council meeting of 14 February 2011 which made the final decisions on the review of libraries.

Example 5

At the Stroud Library consultation drop-in session I spent some time with Jo Hand, joint head of the Library Service, discussing this point. Jo was equally clear that social needs and deprivation played no part in informing decisions about library provision in the review.

Nor is it possible that Cllr Noble instigated a consideration of social needs and deprivation between her statements above in November 2009/February 2011 and those of April 2011, as there were no changes to the recommendations in relation to Hester’s Way or Matson Libraries between these dates or since April 2011.

As stated above, the second reason that Cllr Noble’s statement about “Wards found to be in the top 10% of the country’s indices of multiple deprivation were assessed as one of the criterion for evaluating how future library services” cannot be true is 2) Because, as part of the libraries review, the poorest, most deprived areas in Gloucestershire (ie Hester’s Way and Matson) are excluded from the 3 tiers of GCC libraries to be run by the council, and, instead, are to be closed or funded and run by their local communities. Had deprivation information been assessed as one of the criteria for evaluating the review of libraries this could not have happened.

As proof of this, I attach the social deprivation work undertaken by Sue Laurence and myself (when I was Assistant Head of Libraries and Information) in May 2010. Although, it shows that some work was undertaken, this work in no way informed the libraries review. It was not applied to the libraries review. It was not assessed as one of the criterion for evaluating how future library services. It was ignored.

Had it been applied or had it informed the review, there is no way that Hester’s Way  and Matson could have had their GCC run libraries taken from away. The fact that Tuffley and Brockworth are in the same category of libraries to be funded and run by their local libraries just emphasises that point.

Is there any doubt about the severe level of social deprivation in the Hester’s Way and Matson areas?

Look at the work undertaken by Sue Laurence and myself early in 2010, which is attached. This is what it says – Hester’s Way has 30 hot spots – can’t list them all. They are under the children’s & young people’s headings. Safer & stronger (crime) heading and the healthy living & older people heading.”

As this is rather vague, here is more, independently assessed, information, about Hester’s Way and Matson’s social needs in relation to deprivation indices-

“Hester’s Way

Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs) within the area served by Hester’s Way Library (Hesters Way, St Marks and Springbank) appear in the top 10% of deprivation nationally based on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMDs), and several more LSOAs appear within the top 25% nationally.

LSOAs within areas currently served by Hester’s Way Library appear in the top 10% of deprivation nationally based on the individual Domain Indices of income, employment, education , training and skills, income deprivation affecting children, and income deprivation affecting the elderly; and within the top 25% of deprivation nationally based on the Child Well-Being Index.

LSOAs in the area served by Hester’s Way Library appear in the top 10% of deprivation within the county of Gloucestershire. LSOAs within this area also consistently appear in the top 10% ranking of most deprived areas in the county based on the following individual Domain Indices particularly relevant to library use; income, education, employment, deprivation affecting children, and deprivation affecting older people, and in the top 10% in the county using the Child Well-Being Index.

Matson

LSOA’s within Matson and Robinswood appear in the top 10% of deprivation nationally based on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMDs), and several more LSOAs appear within the top 25% nationally.

LSOAs within Matson and Robinswood appear in the top 10% most deprived areas nationally when using the individual Domain Indices of income, employment, education , training and skills, income deprivation affecting children, and income deprivation affecting the elderly, and within the top 10% of deprivation nationally using the Child Well-Being Index.

LSOAs within Matson and Robinswood appear in the top 10% of deprivation within the county of Gloucestershire – an LSOA within Matson and Robinswood ranks as the 2nd most deprived area in the county. LSOAs within Matson and Robinswood also consistently appear in the top 10% ranking of most deprived areas in the county based on the following individual Domain Indices particularly relevant to library use; income, education, employment, deprivation affecting children, and deprivation affecting older people, and in the top 10% in the county using the Child Well-Being Index.”

I believe from all the above examples that it is more than clear that Cllr Noble’s Cabinet Statement that “Wards found to be in the top 10% of the country’s indices of multiple deprivation were assessed as one of the criterion for evaluating how future library services could be provided” made in April 2011 is not accurate.

Is it just another “accidental mistake” by Cllr Noble and really no harm done? If not, why did she feel it necessary to make such a deliberately inaccurate revisionist statement?

At this point, in April 2011, the County Council was (and still is) under some pressure from both the MLA (Museums, Libraries & Archives Council) and the government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), as well as the local Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries, to prove that it is not in breach of the 1964 Public Libraries Act in the same way as the Wirral. GCC had been meeting with the MLA for some months, and had begun to meet with and correspond with DCMS in March. Neither of these bodies would have wanted GCC to be in breach of the Act, and both put pressure on GCC, especially in relation to the Wirral’s breach, to provide a review which “ticked all the boxes”. However, GCC’s review was, and still is, flawed in many ways, especially in not applying an assessment of local needs, particularly those of deprived communities as a criterion for the review. As a result, it is clear that in the Cabinet Report of 4 April 2011, Cllr Noble not only misled, but deliberately misled, the council, the people of Gloucestershire, the MLA and the government on this very important issue in order to hide a hugely important flaw in the GCC review of libraries.

DCMS can still call for an Official Inquiry into GCC’s review of libraries, and may yet do so.

John Holland

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