Archive | February, 2012

Library campaigners fear that the battle over libraries has only just begun

20 Feb

Save Suffolk LibrariesThe following letter has been sent from Rosehill Readers to local and national press:

Dear Editor,

As a group which is very interested in Suffolk’s public library service and the volcanic events surrounding Suffolk County Council over the last eighteen months, Rosehill Readers has noticed a peculiar thing in regard to the press reports of the subject. The EADT and Evening Star coverage was thorough, not to say dogged, in its uncovering of the strange goings-on in Endeavour House: investigative journalism at its best, many would say, although we doubt that the Tory county councillors would agree. Local Government Correspondent, Paul Geater in particular seemed determined to uncover the truth about the Chief Executive and Tory Leader and the dreaded ‘New Strategic Direction’ (NSD), to the point of his being banned from Endeavour House at one point. That is, until about April 2011.

Looking back at that short period: the resignation of Tory Leader Jeremy Pembroke, the successful family march organised by Rosehill Readers in defence and celebration of Suffolk’s libraries, the sudden departure of two senior council officers (the early departure of controversial Chief Exec. Andrea Hill was soon to follow), the election of Mark Bee as Tory Leader; all these events – particularly the last one – seem to have marked a change in the reporting of council matters. By the 2nd May 2011 the SCC spin doctors were obviously working overtime with ‘Libraries saved’ and ‘end of New Strategic Direction’. Neither of these headlines, no matter how often repeated turn out to be true. So why did the press coverage change so dramatically around April 2011?

Far from ending the NSD, Mark Bee’s regime are driving it forward dressed up as “We are listening, we have learnt”. Already cutting the central management and support services of Suffolk libraries to an unsustainable degree, the Conservative councillors are driving forward with the divestment of our libraries to an external, experimental and high-risk organization called an Industrial Provident Society (IPS). This will result in community groups running their libraries, heavy use of volunteers and extra layers of delegates and board members as well as county councillors, but probably even fewer qualified library staff.

We don’t recall anyone complaining about heavy bureaucracy in the public library service before now – it was more like a shoestring operation which delivered an excellent service to the public with great value for money due to the dedication of the staff – but the spinners were at it again and ‘cutting bureaucracy’ now regularly appears as an aim of all these changes. Looking at the IPS plans, such as they are, they can only create new layers of bureaucracy as people inexperienced in delivering a valued, professional service are asked to volunteer to shoulder weighty responsibilities.

No matter how many times ‘Libraries are saved’ appears in the press, they are under a greater threat now than ever before. What lies behind this threat? A little perspective might be helpful. Mr Pembroke regularly told us that SCC was a “billion pound business” (that is £1000 million per year). Suffolk libraries and Record Offices – paid for from Council Tax and Government grant – cost us £8.9 million in 2010/11. So our valued library network of 44 branches, mobiles, archives and all the materials, access to information, services and community involvement which are provided is 0.89 of one percent of the Suffolk County Council budget. And they are still cutting it hard: it was voted through by the large Tory majority on Thursday 15 December 2011. This can only be an ideologically-driven action by people who have always disapproved of publicly-funded public services and now have the power to achieve their aims. Suffolk, be warned. Other services you rely on will be next.

Finally, a plea to the Editor of the EADT: please keep reporting the detail; the people of Suffolk are looking to the local press to keep them informed.

-Rosehill Readers


SCC Full Meeting 15.12.2011 transcript

10 Feb

Save Suffolk LibrariesAt the top of this blog page (just below the ‘ROSEHILL READERS’ banner), you will see a link to the transcript document.

This seems a little late, but these things take time to pull together. On Thursday 15 December 2011 the Full Council Meeting of Suffolk County Council debated and voted on the future of the public library service in our county. The motion to divest the service to an Industrial Provident Society was, needless to say, driven through by the large Tory majority.  We believe that this vote is a significant point in the libraries campaign: a watershed between (a) protesting and trying to influence Council Officers, Councillors and public opinion through campaigning, formal questioning in Council meetings and (b) the high-speed and high-risk divestment of a valued service to the unknown quantity of the IPS as part of big cuts to library funding.

Rosehill Readers has always believed that the libraries and Record Offices in Suffolk should be funded, managed and wholly run by our Library Authority as required by law: Suffolk County Council. 83% of respondents to the SCC Libraries Consultation in spring 2011 agreed with this. As a campaigning group we must now assess our role in this changed political landscape. Things are moving very fast and IPS interim board members and a General Manager are now in place. Library divestment pilot projects seem to be something of a shambles and information is thin on the ground. Staff in the libraries (those who remain after the massive cuts to the central and support services) are having to carry the burden of uncertainty over the service including their own jobs and the concerns of the public. We support them in these troubled times and can only praise the ability of dedicated staff to maintain the service during a long freeze on staff recruitment and reduction in back office support.

Rosehill Readers has created a transcript (see the link at the top of our blog page) of the Full Council debate which preceded the vote in December. We have made it as accurate to the audio recording provided by SCC as possible. We make it available here, so that people who were not able to attend can read what was said by Councillors. Here are a few choice morsels pulled from the transcript.

“… the council got to the edge of Beachy Head but didn’t actually quite decide to jump. (Laughter in chamber) I feel that is a very good way of putting the way things have panned out in the past few months.” Cllr. Penny Otton – Liberal Democrat

“A library is a recognisable and welcoming place for everybody whoever they are, from whatever their walk of life and wherever they belong, and I think that actually what you risk doing with this, and I, I say this by way of warning whether anyone listens is completely up to you, if you put something at one remove from this Council – from the heart of public service in this county – you may find that actually you no longer have that connection with people and that you are not able to talk to them. … I think here you are not just saving money; I think you are selling part of your soul.” CllrBryony Rudkin – Labour and Co-operative

“most of the libraries in this county were set up in the nineteenth century by Victorian philanthropists and the reason that they are run as a county service, a coherent and comprehensive county service, is because they did not work as independent charities or independent privately-run businesses. If they are going to be sustainable and comprehensive and coherent then I would submit to you that the best way of making that happens is run them as a council service.” Cllr. Sandy Martin – Labour and Co-operative

“We believe and really, truly feel that the library service has a future. If anything there is the scope for new libraries to be opened if there is the desire for them to be created in communities.” Cllr. Mark Bee – Conservative Leader

“I would like to pay tribute to the people of Suffolk who led the protests, who took to the streets and who made you think and who made you stop sitting on your hands and do something.  It might not be what they want but I have heard more questions in this chamber from them than any, so I would like pay tribute to them: [looking across at members of the public who asked public questions at the beginning of the meeting] well done and keep on doing it.” Cllr. David Wood – Liberal Democrat

“I’m disappointed that some members opposite continue to play politics with the library service.  We said right from the outset when I launched the, er, consultation that it was not the intention of this council to close libraries.” CllrJudy Terry – Conservative & Portfolio holder

[N.B. “The council will be meeting interested organisations and community groups, and organising question and answer sessions. However, should responses to the consultation prove disappointing, it is imperative that we make the necessary savings, meaning that we may have to close 29 libraries.” – Cllr. Judy Terry in the Libraries Consultation document, January 2011]

Rosehill Readers library campaigner gives evidence to Parliamentary Committee

9 Feb

Save Suffolk LibrariesRosehill Readers is proud to announce that our own Abigail Barker, speaking for a national library campaign group, gave evidence on Tuesday 7 February 2012 to the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media & Sport which is investigating cuts to the public library service. Witnesses seen during the first session of the day were: Miranda McKearney (Director, The Reading Agency), Abigail Barker (Voices for the Library) and Andrew Coburn (Secretary, The Library Campaign). The video of the session is available here:

and you click ‘Watch from the start’ to view Abby’s evidence. An uncorrected transcript of the meeting is here:

The session may be on the BBC Parliament Channel on TV this Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening we hope.

The written evidence to the Committee can be read here. (our submission is on page 503). Many councils which are making cuts also made submissions to this inquiry, explaining how their cuts will help to shape their local library service; nobody from Suffolk did. Abby even found time on Tuesday to speak to the BBC Radio Suffolk Breakfast Show at 6am: it’s available on the ‘Listen Again’ feature on their website.

Following a successful National Libraries Day at Rosehill Library, Ipswich last Saturday (the 4th February) when the staff and Rosehill Readers campaigners welcomed readers of all ages to participate in all the activities (congratulations to our ‘volunteer’ inside the Bookstart Bear costume!), it feels as if it has been a momentous week for Rosehill Readers and our Rosehill Library. That date also saw the first birthday of our group and what a year it’s been… People who care about the future of Suffolk’s public library service should take heart: we are monitoring the developments in Suffolk County Council’s risky IPS project to run our libraries and will report regularly on this blog.

DCMS Inquiry into Library closures

6 Feb

Tomorrow sees the start of the inquiry into Library closures by the Culture, Media and Sport
Committee. One of Rosehill Readers, Abby Barker, will be giving evidence on behalf of the campaign group Voices for the Library.

You can view the hearing online on Parliament TV from 10.30am.

Rosehill Readers submitted evidence to this inquiry, which you can read here (our submission is on page 503). Many councils that are making cuts also made submissions to this inquiry, explaining how their cuts will help to shape their local library service, nobody from Suffolk did. No doubt they were all too busy being too excited about the “exciting” new “opportunities” that the IPS will bring to be bothered to defend their choices.

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