Former Gloucestershire senior library staff

John Holland, the previous Assistant Head of Gloucestershire’s Libraries and Information service, has written letters to both the Leader of GCC, Mark Hawthorne and to Ed Vaizey, Minister in the Coalition Government with responsibilities for Communication, Culture and the Creative Industries, in collaboration with other former senior library staff.

John has very kindly allowed us to reprint his (excellent) letters below:

Dear Councillor Hawthorne,

This letter is a complaint, to which I would appreciate a response.

Whilst the need to make savings and reduce services is clear, the proposed cuts to the library service are damaging and disproportionate. The library service is a high profile cost-effective service representing only 1.45% of the county council budget, yet loans over 3.3 million books and other media and has nearly 3 million visits from users a year. The proposed cuts reduce the current library service budget by 43%, a far greater cut than the overall county council target of 28%. This takes no account of the £1 million loss in book fund spending over the last 2 years (£400,000 in 2009-10, and £600,000 in 2010-11), the closure of Painswick Library, and the fact that scores of library staff posts at all levels have already been deleted through a staffing review (April 2009), BOF-funded early retirement and other means saving hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The Citizen headline refers to the possible closure of 11 libraries, as they will not be funded by GCC, but you know as well as I do, that, additionally, there will be 7 “Library Link” libraries reduced to 3 hours per week (ie effectively a closure) and all 5 mobile libraries taken off the road. That makes the total loss 23 libraries out of the current 43.

I know of no precedent in the UK for a council ceasing to fund libraries serving towns with catchment populations of over 10,000 people, eg Nailsworth (10,791), Cinderford (12,253), Churchdown (16,008), Stonehouse (14,261). These communities support and actively use their local libraries.

You have also been misinformed in your recent assertion that “They (community-run and funded libraries) end up being a lot better than when the county council was running them”. You may wish to speak to your opposite number in Swindon.

The current coalition government has stated that cuts should not be made to services for the poorest, least advantaged members of society. In your list of libraries which cannot be funded are Hester’s Way, Matson, Tuffley, Cinderford and Brockworth, as well as the Home Link mobile library services residential accommodation for elderly people and the Share a Book service for under 6s aimed at disadvantaged children. One of the main library roles is, and always has been, to redress the imbalances in society.

Some of our most successful libraries do little better from this review. Amongst the 11 “Library Express” libraries to be open only 3.5 days a week are 6 of our very busiest libraries! These are Bishops Cleeve Library, a model library for the 21st century and the third busiest library in the county with 177,000 visits per year! Also Up Hatherley Library, the 5th busiest library with 137,000 visits, Hucclecote with 113,00 visits, Quedgeley, Charlton Kings and Longlevens with around 100,000 visits per year. The analogy with the Tesco Express service does not hold water. Tesco Express is open all day everyday. These libraries will reduce to 3.5 days a week (28 hours), which represents a cut in opening hours of between 26% and 47%. There won’t be much of an express service when a current customer turn up during the 3.5 days a week the library is closed! You are building failure into libraries which are successful, cost-effective facilities loved and extremely well used by their local communities.

Overall, I have few issues with the principles on which the new library network strategy is based. However, the principles have been applied much too harshly. The library service has been hit disproportionately. Under the Public Libraries & Museums Act, the county council is required by law to provide “a comprehensive and efficient library service”. It may be hard to define, but this isn’t it, Councillor Hawthorne. It is possible to make reasonable savings from the service, but your proposals go too far.

At this point, you still have the opportunity to show that you can see the importance to society of library services which target literacy and enrich people’s lives in an extraordinary way. Take it.

This letter represents the views of a number of former senior library staff-

John Holland, Liz Dubber, John Hughes, Gwyn Hiatt and Patrick Baker  

The following is John’s letter to Ed Vaizey: 

Dear Mr Vaizey,

Like many people in Gloucestershire, we have been astonished and dismayed by the proposed cuts in library services in the county. As former senior members of library service staff we believe that the proposed cuts, if carried out, actually contravene the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. Whilst the Act is vague, there is no precedent in the UK for the damaging cuts currently proposed, which professional knowledge and commonsense suggest go too far. The remaining library service could not, in our view, be considered comprehensive or efficient.

On this basis, we are asking you to instruct your department to review the severity of these proposed cuts in Gloucestershire against the provisions of the Act, against good practice elsewhere in UK library services, and against current central government social policies.

Gloucestershire County Council’s proposals, under the heading of its New Library Strategy, are found at http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/index.cfm?articleid=101356

Overall, we have few issues with the principles on which the new library network strategy is based. However, the principles have been applied too harshly, and, in some cases, discriminately.

The general message from the county council, widely reported in the local press, seems to be that 11 eleven libraries are being offered to their local communities and that there will be cutbacks in many others. However, the actual proposed cuts are much worse than that.

Firstly, look at the 11 libraries being offered to local communities to run and fund. I know of no precedent in the UK for a council ceasing to fund libraries serving towns with catchment populations of over 10,000 people, eg Cinderford with a catchment population of 12,253, annual visits of 43,000 and annual loans of 62,000. Many of the other libraries are active successful libraries, too.

Secondly, examine the detail of the new “Library Links”. These 7 former libraries will have “some books”, but will open for only 3 hours a week. It is really difficult to imagine that we can call these places libraries in the true sense of the word. At 3 hours a week one might assume that the Library Link is for tiny communities. Not so. They include Nailsworth (10,791 pop), Stonehouse (14,261), Churchdown (16,008), the last named with 70,000+ visits per year from library users.

Thirdly, look at the small print. All mobile library services are to be completely cut. There is no other rural shire county the size of Gloucestershire without a single rural mobile library. In Gloucestershire, this would mean, even in the context of the current network of libraries, communities of 5,000 people like Northleach having no publicly funded library provision. Even worse, should the 11 libraries being offered to the local community have no takers, then communities like Cinderford, with a catchment population over 12,000 people, will have no library service.

The overall picture, therefore, is that 23 libraries from the current 43 libraries may be cut (or offered to others to run and fund).

Look too at the type of community being hardest hit. The current coalition government has stated that cuts should not be made to services for the poorest, least advantaged members of society. In the list of libraries which cannot be funded are Hester’s Way, Matson, Tuffley, Cinderford and Brockworth, as well as the Home Link mobile library services residential accommodation for elderly people and the Share a Book service for under 6s aimed at disadvantaged children. One of the main library roles is, and always has been, to redress the imbalances in society. We cannot imagine that the current County Council administration has deliberately targetted the least advantaged, but perhaps this context was not properly considered.

Some of our most successful libraries do little better from this review. Amongst the 11 “Library Express” libraries to be open only 3.5 days a week are 6 of our very busiest libraries! These are Bishops Cleeve Library, a model library for the 21st century and the third busiest library in the county with 177,000 visits per year! Also Up Hatherley Library, the 5th busiest library with 137,000 visits, Hucclecote with 113,00 visits, Quedgeley, Charlton Kings and Longlevens with around 100,000 visits per year. The analogy with the Tesco Express service does not hold water. Tesco Express is open all day everyday. These libraries will reduce to 3.5 days a week (28 hours), which represents a cut in opening hours of between 26% and 47%. There won’t be much of an express service when a current customers turn up during the 3.5 days a week the library is closed! This builds failure into libraries which are successful, cost-effective facilities loved and extremely well used by their local communities.

Whilst the need to make savings and reduce services is clear, the proposed cuts to the library service are damaging and disproportionate. The library service is a high profile cost-effective service representing only 1.45% of the county council budget, yet loans over 3.3 million books and other media and has nearly 3 million visits from users a year.

The proposed cuts reduce the current library service budget by 43%, a far greater cut than the overall county council target of 28%. This takes no account of the £1 million loss in book fund spending over the last 2 years (£400,000 in 2009-10, and £600,000 in 2010-11), the closure of Painswick Library earlier this year, and the fact that scores of library staff posts at all levels have already been deleted through a staffing review (April 2009), council-funded early retirement and other means saving hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter. We would appreciate it if you could keep John Holland informed of developments.

This letter represents the views of a number of former senior Gloucesteshire Library services library staff-

John Holland

Liz Dubber

John Hughes

Gwyn Hiatt

Patrick Baker

Gerald Kidd

Please see the recent follow up letter from the same signatories to the DCMS.

7 Responses to Former Gloucestershire senior library staff

  1. Tony Bamber says:

    Congratulations on the efforts you are making and on getting coverage on BBC national TV News. Does the Sue Charteris report to DCMS on the proposed 2009 closures in the Wirral have any relevance? I would be very happy to add my name to the list of former senior staff expressing concern.

    • John Hughes says:

      Hi, Tony, good to hear from you via FOCL’s website.
      The short answer to your question is, of course, “yes”. There are many parallels:
      they’re both called “strategic reviews”
      both sets of communities have been sufficiently aroused in their anger
      the protests have had some effect

      However, the big difference is between two sufficiently different political approaches at the national level.

      In Gloucestershire’s case the “revised” plans are due to be published on Monday for consideration by Cabinet next month and then presented to full council.

      Pressure from FOCL for a recorded vote came to naught this month (no vote at all).

      I could go on at great length.

      John

      • Tony Bamber says:

        Hello John,
        Congratulations on all the efforts that have led to the judicial review; you really must have a good case and I wish you every success.
        Very best wishes,
        Tony

        • John Hughes says:

          Thanks, on behalf of all the efforts put in by FOCL (now FOGL). Thre has been a tremndous and energetic will to get the right thing done. The 15,000 strong petition was received with barely concealed cynicism by GCC. A presentation by a FOGL member to full council was virtually shouted down by chattering and other disgraceful behaviour by Tory councillors. Both the petition (basically for a full inquiry) and the presentation (a warning about potential illegality and poor management of human rights issues and social impact studies) fell on deaf ears I’m afraid and so the engagement of Public Interest Lawyers by an anonymous resident resulted in the initial injunction prior to the High Court hearing last week. A full High Court judgement will be made over the 28 & 29 September and PIL are very confident that GCC will have to think again about its distructive strategy.

          You will know that other library authorities have been waiting in the wings and even this interim decision may well bring forth other challenges.

          It’s my view that local and national politicians do not understand the importance of the national public library network and its superstructure, a progress that was unlikely to be destroyed after 150 years in the making.

          Thankfully there are still some of us left who can remember the progress made in the 1960s and beyond and who know the real value of what needs to be preserved without being precious or self-serving about it.

          Historic times!

          Good to hear from you again and I guess you’re still in your Welsh idyll?

          With best wishes to yourself and Audrey,

          John

  2. Helen Briggs says:

    The latest advisory report to the Coalition Government emphasised the importance of preschool education for children if they are to succeed. Does no one see the fatal mistakes of closing local libraries thus denying young families access to a wide range of books and activities to develop a love of reading? Last summer 11,000 children took part in the Summer Reading Challenge and every week preschool children attend story times and Baby Bounce sessions.

  3. Lynne says:

    Fantastic letters. The situation is depressingly similar here in Doncaster, but we are not quite as far down the line as you, because there is no actual plan or new organisation in place to ‘re-balance’ the swingeing cuts proposed, as yet.

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