Following the announcement of plans for severe cuts to our public library service, GCC held ‘drop-in’ consultation sessions to gather public feedback. Originally these sessions were due to be held only in six of the main libraries whose opening hours and services would be largely unaffected by the cuts, and it was only following complaints from library users that sessions were scheduled at further, directly affected locations.
We have been trying for some time to obtain the full feedback data, rather than just the short edited version which was publicly viewable. Requests made through FOI were refused, and an appeal against the refusal to the council’s internal monitoring system was not upheld. Now, bizarrely another FoGL supporter’s FOI request for the same information has been granted, although some information has still been redacted for ‘data protection reasons’.
The documentation received is available to download below. As you can see, some libraries are missing as they were not offered a consultation session by GCC, and there is no information available on feedback received from mobile library customers.
A lot of issues and concerns are recorded in the documents, but some recurring concerns are:
- Libraries costs so little yet are taking such a large hit
- People don’t have the time and resources to run libraries themselves
- The government wants to encourage reading and literacy – so why cut libraries?
- Public transport limits mean it will be hard/impossible to get to another library
- Concerns around data protection, safeguarding of vulnerable people/children, and training/support for volunteers
- Deprived areas being worst affected
- Children, elderly and the least well-off will lose out the most
- To expect volunteers to run the service is unworkable – they will at least need support from some paid staff
- We are told these savings are the response to a temporary crisis – but once these plans come in our libraries will be lost forever
- Concerns over wider social issues – long-term unemployment, kids behaving anti-socially and wandering the streets, elderly or disabled people isolated in their own homes – libraries help prevent all these things
- The process is rushed – both consultation and decision-making need more time
- Concern about loss of mobile libraries
While there are some comments in support of the plans and offers to volunteer, the tone of the feedback is overwhelmingly critical and sceptical. How can GCC claim they have ‘listened’ to the public when they are charging ahead with implementing these, clearly, deeply unpopular and feared unworkable plans?
Worryingly, even these documents do not seem to represent a full and accurate record of the consultation process. Of course, it is impossible to record every word said at these events, but I attended the consultation session at Cheltenham Library, and my twenty-minute conversation with Cllr. Antonia Noble where I outlined a range of specific concerns around the plans and received no real answers, seems to have been recorded as – ‘discussed proposals’.
Were you at any of the consultation session? Were any questions or concerns you raised addressed on the day or have they been since, and do you feel that the Council have taken your concerns and feedback into account?
Downloadable consultation sessions feedback:
Berkeley, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham – Hesters Way also discussed, Churchdown, Cinderford, Cirencester, Coleford, Gloucester, Hucclecote, Lechlade, Matson, Minchinhampton, Mitcheldean, Moreton, Nailsworth, Stroud – Stonehouse also discussed, Tewkesbury and Wotton