MEDIA RELEASE by Johanna Anderson & John Holland on behalf of FoGL
Gloucestershire County Council yesterday released its report on the libraries consultation. Council Leader Cllr Hawthorne claims it was a “thorough” exercise. Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries maintain that it was deeply flawed and misleading. And that the results as set out by the council are equally as misleading.
It gave people the following options – “you run libraries yourself or they close”. We raised serious concerns, which the County Council chose to ignore, about the leading and manipulative nature of the survey from the start and so are unsurprised by the results, which the County Council claims support their cuts. We are disappointed that the County Council paid Vector Research Company £60,000 of tax payers’ money just to get the answers they wanted.
The fact remains that the plans have changed little from the cuts that were deeply unpopular and were ruled to be unlawful and a result of “bad government” by the High Court in November 2011. Cuts that prompted 16,000 people to sign our petition opposing them, and 19 other petitions, to be submitted to the county council.
The council’s claim that the consultation results (undertaken by only 0.6% of the population – significantly less than last time) shows that people in Gloucestershire are in favour of the strategy simply does not hold water. GCC’s own report states-
- “Although some people accept that the library service has to change because of the reduction in GCC’s funding, the majority feel that the proposed cuts are too severe.”
- the 8 deliberative workshops held by the council, were against the proposals.
- email correspondence was “largely in opposition to the draft strategy.”
- correspondence from the communities threatened with running their own libraries “objected strongly to the loss of statutory service”.
- less than half the people completing the open text part of the questionnaire on reactions to the strategy were in favour
- the “self-selected and online respondents were more likely to record negative or neutral impacts”
There simply is not the support for the proposed cuts that Gloucestershire County claims there to be. The draconian attack on our library service, which costs less than 1.4% of the council’s overall budget, but which gets 3 million visits a year, remains deeply unpopular and disproportionate.
There are serious concerns raised in the consultation report that we are waiting for GCC to address.
There was high level of satisfaction expressed regarding the library staff and concerns were raised that the professionalism, helpfulness and efficiency will be threatened in the community libraries. Gloucestershire County Council state that
“The concept of using volunteers in libraries was also supported by 82% of the people questioned in the telephone survey and generally other respondents agreed with the principle”
Gloucestershire Libraries has long used volunteers alongside library staff and we agree with the survey respondents they can enhance the service however; this is very different to expecting volunteers to fund and run services themselves.
The statistics Gloucestershire County Council quotes, in an effort to justify the cuts, need to be considered with caution, as they do not provide the full picture. For example, the consultation report shows that there was particular opposition to the community library proposals in Minchinhampton Library, Lechlade Library and Brockworth, 3 of the areas that are set to have their county library service withdrawn and replaced with the volunteer run model. There is far from the overwhelming support for the volunteer libraries that GCC would have us believe and it is disappointing that Gloucestershire County Council chose cherry pick the results in order to suggest otherwise. We ask – will these people who will be directly affected by the cuts be listened to and the proposals changed accordingly?
We also have serious concerns that the consultation report states that the cuts will have disproportionate impact on the elderly who are “twice as likely to expect negative impacts as a result of the implementation of the strategy” and we ask how this will be mitigated?
The top priority identified by the public in determining how resources should be allocated was ensuring that vulnerable groups, deprived communities and those living in remote areas can still access libraries. Does the proposed strategy allocate resources in a way that mitigates these concerns? We fear not.
We note that there is overwhelming support for retaining the mobile library service, a service that Gloucestershire County Council would have scrapped almost a year ago if not for our tireless campaigning. We expect them to now be granted a reprieve.
Following the high court ruling GCC need to consider, and be at pains to show, that their planned cuts are equitable, sustainable and democratically accountable. We maintain that they still are not. We expect to see them change their proposals in response to all of these concerns.
We have passed all of the relevant paperwork on to Public Interest Lawyers who were successful in the judicial review case brought against Gloucestershire County Council.