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New Library Proposals

November 24th 2013

Library books

Book 1.0: still the most popular format for long-form reading

On Friday 22nd November the county council met to discuss the future of Lincolnshire's library services, and to hear new proposals following the outcome of the consultation. Jenny Gammon and Jonathan Platt presented their suggestions, which you can read in detail here. I'm going to highlight some of the key points.
  • The new plans will save the council 1.734 million rather than 1.937 million, a difference of 203,712.
  • 167 mobile stops will be withdrawn, down from 274 in the original plans.
  • Tier one libraries were all allocated 50 opening hours a week in July's plans, but in these it's down to between 40 and 48. Louth library, originally set to gain two hours of provision, will now lose three.
  • The original plans would slash 170 jobs. There's no mention of how many jobs will go in the slides outling the new proposals.
  • GLL and Bibliotheca expressed an interest in taking over the library service. The new proposals did not recommended taking these forward.
  • 43 groups expressed an interest in running a volunteer-staffed library, although one of these expressions was withdrawn. The deadline for expressions of interest should be extended to 31st January 2014.
  • The mobile library provision has been re-labelled "non-statutory service." This is curious, because it implies they are not statutory.
Of the old set of recommendations, Jenny Gammon said the "over-arching comment was that people did not like the proposals." These proposals seem ever so slightly better than those put forward in July, but they still constitute substantial cuts which will gut the library service.

The council debate was heated, but nothing will be finalised until 3rd of December. It does give us an insight into what the ruling executive think they can get away with, and some of the thinking behind these cuts.

More than once certain councillors mentioned a figure of 1% as the number of people who engaged with the consultation. It's misleading, and it was clearly being used to downplay the resistance to the original proposals. It ignores the 23,000 people who signed petitions, which means that they've had feedback of some form from at least 3% of the county's population. What they couldn't hide was the nature of that feedback, which is outlined in the report from Sheffield Hallam University. It's interesting that the county council executive have been using their failure to adequately advertise their consultation as a way to downplay the unpopularity of what they are planning.

"There are some minor changes, but the core remains the same," Councillor John Hough commented on the new proposals. "We believe the views of people of Lincolnshire should be taken into account to a much greater level. ... What we will end up with is a library lottery."

Volunteers

Councillor Phil Dilks appealed to the executive not to go ahead. He said the consultation was "frankly a grooming exercise" for volunteers. He went on to criticise the figures for funding volunteer-run libraries.

Conservative Councillor Patricia Bradwell called the transfer of youth centres "very successful". In Louth that volunteer model led to a considerable reduction in staff levels in 2011, but I'm not sure you could call the disruption and loss of services a success.

Labour Councillor Sarah Dodds answered the accusation that her party is somehow anti-volunteer. "We are not against volunteers. We are them and we know how it works". She went on to explain how this gave them a good perspective on the limits of volunteering.

Labour leader John Hough certainly knows about volunteering. With his wife Lesley Hough (formerly Lesley Koumi)he is heavily involved in running the charity Tanzania Rural Revival. See this 2011 interview for an idea of what that entails.

Conservative Martin Hill made an extraordinary comment to Councillor Dilks, who said something to suggest Councillor Jackie Brockway might wear a T-shirt to protect her library. Martin Hill's response was that Councillor Brockway doesn't need a T-shirt because "she's succeeded, you've failed."

Quite apart from the bad taste of crowing about such a serious loss of jobs and services, this implied to me that he thought it was somehow Councillor Dilks' job to recruit volunteers. Or was he referring to the fact that Councillor Dilks belonged to the political party that did not control the council, and therefore could expect nothing. Because The Deepings, which Phil Dilks represents, presented the largest single-library petition of 9000 signatures, and yet that library has gained no reprieve under these new proposals.

Won't somebody think of the money?

Talking of when she was elected in May, Councillor Rosie Kirk said "I didn't think I'd be defending a statutory service". She urged the council to "think about the children".

"Our group endorses the public's wish to save their library service," Councillor Chris Pain said. However, he also urged the council to consider paid internet access in libraries.

Conservative Councillor Jackie Brockway justified the cuts by saying "You know as well as I do that the money has gone." I think it's time to examine this austerity scaremongering, because it gets repeated time and again, as though its truth is beyond question. The money has not gone. If it had gone, there wouldn't be 207,378 for Tony McArdle. What's actually happening is we're living in a time of unprecedented inequality, where the pay of top executives has detached itself from that of ordinary people and has become more about prestige than about the amount of skill required to do a job.

Labour Councillor Nev Jackson said "People employed by this authority are being dispensed with. ... That 1.9m is people, it's not just money." He also had criticism for the dependence on volunteers. "The value Liberals and Conservatives put on people is at the top end. For everyone else it's work for nowt."

"There is money within the council," Councillor Hough said.

Later on Twitter Councillor Daniel McNally responded to this comment with "He needs to explain where it is then. Just talking doesn't do any good."

Indeed. But we can start with the council employees earning over 100,000. For some reason LCC's own information on senior management salaries does not appear to have been updated since 2010.

Those hefty salaries would pay for a few libraries if they were brought down to a more reasonable level, for instance by capping them at no more than three times the average income in Lincolnshire. These people are only so well paid because we have decided they must be, or rather the people we have delegated the decision to have considered it is okay. But is it?

Read more

There is more about this meeting that I haven't covered here, including the substance of the Lincolnshire Independents' alternative proposal that the council voted to consider. If you want to read more reactions from the council meeting, tweets were made under the hashtag #LincsLibraryDebate.



 


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