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.

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  1. As John Fogarty sang with unusual American irony, “It’s déjà vu all over again”

  2. (I will search for GCC’s report in full, presumably on their website or in local press)

    Hats off again to FoGL core team for getting into the bedevilled detail of GCC publicity smoothies.

    * It’s quite weird: from your quotes, GCC themselves seem to be struggling to put a positive spin on their own press release. Perhaps the overall response to their survey was actually AGAINST the cuts.

    * Everyone I’ve spoken to about the survey said, quite colourfully, that it was difficult to understand the rating ranges for answering the questions. I am certain the survey was deliberately designed to a) put people off responding and b) to mislead responders into incorrect responses.
    Readers might like to recall that the first FoGL petition – for which I like many others stood in the snow, talking to surprised and worried members of the public – amassed around 10,000 signatures.
    The public might have slightly lost sight of the Library campaign, as it’s been a long year and people face many other worries these days. But library support groups such as Lechlade are organised and running. Gloucestershire people care about their libraries.
    If it’s true that 0.6% of county population (some 3,900 people?) completed the survey then the daunting, deterrent style of survey clearly did exactly what GCC wanted it to. Except… GCC’s very first survey of approx 1% of local population was hardly valid, so how useless is this one?!

    * I have a reasonably good feeling about the future of the Mobile Library, based on the consultation letter I received 30 January. Proposal appears to be for a shared mobile vehicle, ie carrying books, internet link and public service personnel eg health advisers. I have written to support this idea.

    * GCC continue to steamroller over any points of view that clash with theirs, either ignoring or ridiculing opposition. How can elected county councillors be allowed to behave like this? Aren’t they supposed to represent taxpayers’/voters’ views?

    As I wrote elsewhere, I fear it’s not possible to go on fighting GCC as we have done. They’re too practised and powerful at bullying. And if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you always got… It is very difficult to be truly assertive and constructive when the people you must deal with make your blood boil; the sharpest watch on legal matters must continue; *and* I suggest we must grit our teeth and offer the most constructive, co-operative, friendly approach possible.
    …Get into the system; work change from within…

    We want an effective Library Service that meets its users’ needs now and preparing for the future.
    Even GCC dare not say they don’t want that.

    • Thanks Chloe, I just want to say that no matter their “practice and power” I will not give in to bullies. This is exactly why GCC behave the way they do…in the hope people will run out of steam and give in. Cllr Hawthorne has not once met with us or with anyone who disagrees with his ideological and damaging approach, despite our repeated requests, as you well know. You can talk as nicely as you like to a brick wall…..

      “We want an effective Library Service that meets its users’ needs now and preparing for the future.
      Even GCC dare not say they don’t want that.” << this is what they ARE saying loud and clear just by their proposals and draconian cuts.

  3. helhut says:

    Would a FOI request in respect of the commissioning of the survey from GCC be useful or are they too clever for that?

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