MEDIA RELEASE FROM FRIENDS OF GLOUCESTERSHIRE LIBRARIES 2 APRIL 2012 by John Holland
Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries (FoGL), the campaign group which took Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) to the High Court, finds the so-called ‘new’ GCC strategy (being considered by cabinet on 5 April) to be a cynical exercise containing some highly misleading information.
FoGL initiated the Judicial Review in November 2011 which resulted in the High Court Judge declaring all GCC library plans ‘as unlawful’, referring to them as ‘a substantive breach of the law’ and ‘bad government’. As a result GCC had to undertake a new review.
Founder and Chair of FoGL, Johanna Anderson said, “This is a deeply disappointing strategy. With a few exceptions, GCC has duplicated the same proposals for individual libraries as the original review which was declared unlawful. We believe that GCC has been running down its library service for a number of years, and these further destructive cuts simply continue this trend.”
Johanna also said, “The consultation process was a sham. Only one proposal was made so the public were offered no options, and the consultation questions were loaded to give the council the answers it wanted. Even then for the one and only open question about whether respondents agreed with the strategy, less than 50% said they did. Councillor Hawthorne has conveniently ignored this fact – as he has ignored many others.”
Gloucestershire’s former Assistant Head of Libraries, John Holland said, “We are delighted that Matson, Tuffley, Hester’s Way and two mobile libraries have been saved. These were always our priority. Without FoGL’s campaign and the court case we initiated, these libraries would have ceased to receive funding in 2011. However, we also campaigned, as did local communities, for the retention of Minchinhampton, Mitcheldean, Brockworth and Lechlade libraries, as they effectively met GCC’s published criteria. We are disappointed that their claims have been ignored.”
“The draft strategy criteria stated that everyone should be able to travel to a ‘Main library’ by public transport within 30 minutes. Rather than accept that, based on this criterion and proof provided, that Minchinhampton, Mitcheldean and Lechlade should retain their libraries, GCC has cynically changed the criteria specifically to exclude these libraries. In the new strategy it is now apparently acceptable for library users to theoretically travel in 30 minutes to any library (not just a ‘Main library’); no matter how few hours it opens.”
“Similarly both Brockworth and Mitcheldean libraries meet the criteria for partnership, which we and local community groups have brought to GCCs attention, but GCC refuses to even to refer to this fact, let alone acknowledge it.”
There are 3 million visits to libraries in Gloucestershire each year, a service costing only 1% of the whole County Council’s budget. GCC states that the cuts in library provision will save the council £1.8 million which they equate to 25.7% of the Library Services’ budget. GCC neglects to say that £1.73 million has already been saved from libraries since 2009 – making the real saving nearly £3.6 million which is nearer to 40% of the library service budget.
According to its own figures the Council has already wasted £1 million on staff redundancies, mainly of professionally qualified librarians, £95,000 on losing the High Court case, and £60,000 to pay a private company, Vector, to run its consultation process. These figures exclude the thousands of staff hours used in compiling and re-compiling reports and statistics, and may equate in total to the £1.8 million they are claiming to be saving.
John said this, “We have forwarded all the Council’s report to the Public Interest Lawyers, who won the High Court case for us against the council last year. Because we were victorious in the court case, the Judge made the council pay all our costs. We retain that budget should it prove necessary to use it.”
NOTES FOR THE EDITOR
Examples of misleading information, anomalies and omissions in the GCC Library Strategy reports
- Vector, the private company which both managed the consultation exercise for GCC and wrote the consultation report, asked in their report, “How will the council address the disproportionate impact on older women and those living in rural areas, and older people generally, who are twice as likely to expect negative impacts as a result of the implementation of the strategy?” Despite the fact that GCC lost the Judicial Review on equalities legislation there is no real response to this question from GCC. The law states that equalities must permeate the whole review. Even more bizarrely, the council’s equality impact assessment actually states that there are “positive impacts” for elderly people, children and disabled people losing their local library. This is highly misleading.
- Vector’s report for the council also states that “consideration needs to be given to the specific concerns raised by Minchinhampton, Lechlade and Brockworth communities”. How does GCC address these concerns? In the case of Minchinhampton and Lechlade by changing the criteria which would have allowed them to retain statutory library status, in order to exclude them. In the case of Brockworth (and indeed Mitcheldean) GCC completely ignores the fact that these libraries have active partnerships in place which should allow them to be retained as statutory libraries.
- Minchinhampton, Brockworth and Mitcheldean libraries are all busier than 10 other libraries which are being retained. This includes Stow-on-the-Wold library, which, rather than being excluded from council funding, has had its opening hours increased from 20 to 40 hours per week, at an estimated cost of £100,000 a year. The council’s original justification for the decision to invest in Stow library was the criteria that everyone should be able to travel to a ‘Main library’ by public transport within 30 minutes. Now that the criteria has changed to travelling to any library, no matter how few hours it is open, how can the continued waste of council money at Stow be justified?
- In the report Lechlade library users have been directed to libraries in Swindon. How can GCC, to whom Lechlade residents pay council tax, justify this? Will GCC be providing funding to Swindon Council?
- Cllr Hawthorne describes the seven local communities who will have to fund and run their own community libraries as enthusiastic about this. This is highly misleading, as, even the report by Vector for GCC states that there was “particular opposition to the community library proposals for Minchinhampton, Lechlade and Brockworth.”
- The council has failed to inform the people of Gloucestershire about the exact nature of the non-statutory community libraries it is proposing. People in these communities, who currently pay council tax for their library service, will have to pay a second time to directly fund their local library, and they will also have to organise, manage and run it. Such places will not be public libraries in the true sense of the expression, as they will be non-statutory, undemocratic and unsustainable.
- Findings in the consultation report shows that the main use of libraries in the county continues to be for book borrowing. The book fund, or stock fund as it is known, is therefore at the heart of sustaining library provision. The comprehensiveness of book stocks is also a specific requirement of the Public Library & Museum’s Act 1964. In answer to a question at a recent council cabinet meeting, Cllr Hawthorne confirmed that this budget will be cut by approximately 60% for the next three years (compared with the pre-cuts budget of 2008-9). Despite the importance of the book fund there is not a single reference to it in any of the reports provided by the council.
- Information provided in the council reports, including in the public consultation documents, refer to the low use and high cost of mobile library services. This is highly misleading, as the council has neglected to point out that it has been systematically running down the mobile library service over the last 3 years. This includes decreasing the frequency of visits; failing to promote the service; and failing to keep vehicles on the road because of staff availability. As a result levels of use have fallen by 25% in one year – a telling indictment of council library management.
- The Home Link mobile library service to residential homes for elderly people etc is to be axed in the new strategy, having also been referred to as high cost and low use. This is highly misleading, as it is, in fact, one of the cheapest and most effective of all library services.
- Page 31 of the strategy report states that “customer service staff who work in libraries are not themselves professionally trained librarians, although they are trained and managed by professional library staff”.
This is highly misleading; the implication here is that Chartered Professional Librarians directly manage all front line staff. Generally, library assistants are managed by other library assistants who are not Chartered Professional Librarians.
The approximate number of Chartered Professional Librarians remaining at this point in Gloucestershire Library Service is only 14, of whom 4 are the management team, another 3 work at shire hall, and only one is a group manager managing library assistants. The other 5 group managers, making up the rest of the county, managing library assistants are not Chartered Professional Librarians.
In fact, there is not a single post in the current library service which exclusively requires it to be held by a Chartered Professional Librarian. The majority of such staff were made redundant in 2011 to save money.
- Many of the statistics used in the library strategy reports are inaccurate and therefore misleading. The council has not defined the geographical catchment areas for individual libraries since 2003 (9 years ago) despite this being a criterion for the ‘new’ strategy.
The ‘active borrower’ figures provided for individual libraries are bogus, as the council’s library computer system is unable to provide actual figures for each library.