John Holland writes
The Oxford Online Dictionary defines “irresponsible” as “a person …not showing a proper sense of responsibility”. I had a meeting with one last week. His name is Ed Vaizey, and he is the Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries. Vaizey is responsible to the Secretary Of State, Jeremy Hunt, for superintending public libraries. Yet both Vaizey and Hunt have not lifted a finger to stop the widespread cutting of public library services in many parts of the country, notably Gloucestershire.
Our Children’s Laureate, Julia Donaldson had, through her MP, set up a meeting in London with him last week and kindly invited library campaigners Alan Gibbons (children’s author and founder of Campaign for the Book), Gary Green (librarian representing the Voice for the Library) and me (representing FOGL) to join her to put the case for public libraries to Vaizey.
This we duly did. I gave many examples of the cuts which have already taken place here, and the further draconian cuts proposed by Gloucestershire County Council; and how I had written to Mr Vaizey about them time and time again only to hear back that his officials are “monitoring” the situation.
Our main question was, “What will it take for you to intervene and launch an inquiry into savage cuts proposed by a local authority? This is, after all, Mr Vaizey, your responsibility.”
In the 45 minutes of the meeting. Vaizey shifted his ground constantly, showing time and time again his lack of conviction, or even interest, in the serious plight of the public library service.
He claimed that-
- He is very optimistic about libraries and does not agree that any library services are in crisis.
- There are many situations in which it is appropriate to close libraries.
- Local authorities are responsible for services to the people who elect them.
- There is no default setting for launching an inquiry in library cuts. He would only consider this if his officials advised him – and they apparently have not.
- He is not embarrassed by local people, such as FOGL, superintending their own library services by launching Judicial Review court cases.
- Communities funding and running their own libraries is a good idea. He wants to see more of it.
So, what do we learn from this? That Vaizey is happy to suckle at the teat of Cameron’s big society, and pass the buck to local councils or his advisers. He is not getting involved. A cross-party Select Committee of MPs is currently looking into library closures and Vaizey’s role in relation to them. We can only hope he is rebuked and told to act.
We in FOGL have previously accused him of leaving his convictions at the door on entering office. I can assure all FOGL members that, when it comes to acting to save public library services, this is a man without conviction. An irresponsible man.