Public Meeting – My Notes

23 Feb

Last night I attended the public meeting called by Councillor Chris Stewart. The purpose of the meeting was to begin to  a ‘Friends’ group to put forward a proposal of intent to run Rosehill Library, should Suffolk County Council remove funding following the consultation period.

The following are my notes – apologies if I’ve got anyone’s name wrong, or misquoted anybody, please get in touch if you think I need to make amendments. Additionally, if anyone took minutes from last night, it would be great to see those too.

My opinion will follow, I wanted to get the details from last night up here as soon as I could.

Chris Stewart organised and chaired the meeting, Liz Harsant spoke about the history of the library (all research done by Tony, from Rosehill – see how useful librarians are?!). Ben Gummer, our MP, spoke about his love of libraries, saying in particular that small libraries are very valuable and that he would rather “chain himself” to the steps than see Rosehill close. He mentioned that he thought that SCC has rushed into an ill-judged consultation, and that they had handled it badly.

Lynda Farnworth spoke briefly on behalf of SCC, as she thought that her time would be better spent in a Q&A session. As a librarian, I have grave concerns over the future of the library should it be farmed out to a third party group and so asked Lynda about a ‘Service Level Agreement’ between any volunteer run libraries and SCC – by this I mean a contract between SCC and any library so that they continue to allow them to use their Library Management System (the software that runs the library, keeping track of loans etc) , book stock, IT support etc. and to ask how long they would guarantee this for.

Lynda answered that SCC are currently negotating a ‘Core Offer’ that will detail the support that they will offer. She mentioned that a service level agreement would be put in place, as all volunteer run libraries would still be an integral part of SCC library services. She added that they wouldn’t “just leave a room full of books – that’s not a library”.

A question was asked about the selection criteria for groups running libraries, how will SCC choose who runs each library, should there be a stampede of people bidding to run each branch. Lynda answered that the selection criteria would rise from the offers that are put forward in the consultation.

Lynda was also asked about training of the volunteers and how much this would cost? Training will be offered on the running of a library, however a cost couldn’t be given.  

A member of the audience mentioned that closing a library will only save that library’s running cost – not the corporate overheads, that is the library’s share of funding HR/Legal Department/IT etc would not be saved, as this cost would still need to be met and would then be distributed amongst remaining public services.

Lynda repeatedly mentioned that we should complete the consultation, in particular Section 7, which does allow you to add your own comments and gives the space to disagree with the proposed divestment.

Margaret, a local teacher, asked a for a quick show of hands for all those in favour of retaining the library as a public service – as far as I could see the vast majority of those in attendance raised their hands, a heart warming sight!

Chris Stewart closed the meeting by saying that we need to show what we can do and shame the County Council into helping us, and collected details of people who are interested in forming a ‘Friends’ group.

Please, if I have forgotten any salient points, or got he wrong end of any sticks, let me know.

The meeting has also been reported in today’s Evening Star.

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3 Responses to “Public Meeting – My Notes”

  1. Borin Van Loon February 23, 2011 at 2:12 pm #

    A quick reaction to last night’s meeting at Alan Road and Abby’s write-up. What a pressure-cooker of an event. I’ve never seen so many Councillors of various stripes at an external meeting. The turnout by the ‘real people’ was excellent, too and many spoke with passion and without a political agenda. Getting a local MP to attend (for a short time) and speak powerfully against his own Tory Council majority’s handling of the consultation and the statements by the Chief Exec. of SCC was interesting, if a little late. His own Government are driving all this.

    One of the most striking things was that several people spoke against the ‘divestment’: we pay for this service through our Council Tax already and we employ officers of the Council to run a “comprehensive and cost effective” library service for the public: as a Library Authority they’re legally bound to do it under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act. So, the argument was that it was the Council’s responsibility to maintain a proper publicly-funded library service in Suffolk. That’s 0.896 of one per cent of the SCC total budget on current figures.

    Trying to find another way of running the library rather plays into the SCC Tory politicians’ hands and the point was made that they need to be opposed in their ‘divestment’ and not until this fails do we need to start forming committees to take on the forty to fifty thousand pounds per year costs of running Rosehill (or any other) Library. I can’t see this figure as being in any way sustainable for a small voluntary group – or Parish Councils elsewhere – over the years to come and undoubtedly the first thing to go would be paid, trained staff. Purely on the basis of costs. Just what SCC want to get rid of in this staged closure of our public library system.

    Incidentally, the Officer who got lumbered with representing the Council was Lynda Farnworth, not ‘Farnham’.

  2. Rosehill Readers February 23, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    Thanks for pointing out he error with Lynda’s name, I’ve made the change. I blame the iPod auto suggest dictionary (and not my terrible note taking)!

  3. Jeanette Jane Murray March 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    I agree with the above comments. I felt very sorry for Lynda being lumbered with what should have been [the point was made!] a politician’s job, and could see that she was trying desperately to indicate [the “fill in section 7!”] how we could register our feelings positively – as well as all the wonderful demos.

    We should not have to think of alternative ways of running/funding our library service!

    I must admit that the sight and sound of a Tory MP slagging off a Tory County Council for carrying out the policies of HIS Government fills me with -apart from disgust and nausea – laughter. Go it Ben. Hope we’ve got lots of copies of whatever it is he’s the author of.

    Deeply saddened though not surprised by the number of “Let’s not make this political” comments. Whilst of course we needed something more positive than a protest meeting [time and a place for everything], phrases like waking up and smelling coffee do spring to mind.
    Where do the cuts come from? POLITICIANS!
    How are they being interpreted? BY POLITICIANS!
    Who is ignoring more positive ways of dealing with the deficit [for example, giving HM Rev & Customs proper powers to go after tax avoiders stashing their cash in offshore havens]? P………! ESPECIALLY PERHAPS THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER WHO KEEPS HIS OWN TRUST FUND IN AN OFFSHORE TAX HAVEN!
    I have it on very good authority that were HMRC to be given these powers to go after the missing tax revenues, the deficit [which was not created by library-users or kids crossing roads] would be wiped out very quickly. Perhaps Mr Gummer would like to take this matter up with his friends in Government on behalf of his suffering constituents?

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