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Last year, SLAM challenged Surrey County Council’s volunteer-run library policy in the High Court in London – a policy that removes library staff and the library management system without saving any money.

SLAM would like to thank everyone that donated generously to our legal costs. SLAM promised to return donations if the challenge was successful and costs were awarded.

SLAM was successful in its legal challenge. Surrey County Council’s library plans were found to be not only ‘unlawful‘ but ‘considerably short of what was required by the law.’ Further, the judge found that SCC’s decision was ‘so unreasonable that no other reasonable authority would have made it.’ Lest we forget that SCC said it was ‘pleased’ with this judgment!

Due to the verdict being so emphatic, SCC was ordered to pay the full costs in the case. SCC has dragged its feet for months and months but it has at last paid what it owes. SLAM is now in a position, therefore, to pay back money to all that donated.

If you  paid by cheque, by bank transfer or by debit/credit card you will have received your money by cheque along with a letter of thanks. If you have not, please get in touch.

If you paid by Paypal, your donation will have been paid back via Paypal, minus Paypal’s small administration fee. Again, if you have not received the payment, please get in touch.

Since the High Court case, SCC has struggled to implement its CPL policy and has wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds in its attempt. Our campaign and the legal case has achieved a number of concessions:

  • A reduction from 19 libraries originally intended for CPL status to 10 (only 6 launched so far)
  • Formation of a 5 person team at County Hall to support each CPL for 20% of its opening hours
  • Improved training for volunteers
  • SCC on notice should they decided to extend the CPL policy to other libraries

SCC is trying to implement the CPL policy but, thanks to your support, it is a much improved model which will give the libraries a better chance of survival.

We would like to thank you for your contribution to the campaign and for supporting Surrey’s libraries and library staff.

Kindest regards,

SLAM

NEWS RELEASE – for immediate release

The reason given by many Councils for the closure of public libraries is declining visitor numbers and book issues statistics demonstrating that the libraries are not cost-effective and should be closed. What they often fail to take into account, or mention, is that the decline is a direct result of their budget cuts that have starved the libraries of up to date stock, ensured that lack of investment has meant that library buildings have become jaded and unappealing places to be and in some cases led to reduced opening hours.

Closing libraries is politically difficult so some Councils appear to be taking a new approach. They encourage or force communities to take over the library entirely or at least to provide volunteers to replace paid staff and then starve them of essential support. The lack of support will seriously jeopardise the effective running of the library with the inevitable result that some will fail. At this point Councils can claim that the failure is the fault of the community and walk away with their political integrity intact. Surrey County Council appears to be a Council that is taking this approach either by design or accident.

In July 2012 Surrey County Council (SCC) decided to replace paid librarians in 10 Libraries with volunteer staff. This caused a public outcry but despite protests and the fact that SCC admit the move will not save money, they still decided to press ahead with this deeply unpopular initiative.

The Surrey communities are being forced to provide volunteers or their library will be closed. The communities are trying to provide volunteers and work with SCC to provide a Library service but moves by SCC are jeopardising their efforts.

Key to running a Library and providing a comprehensive and efficient service to the public is access to the Library Computer Management System. SCC are denying access to their computer system (GALAXY) to all 10 of the volunteer-run libraries. Instead they are installing Auto Checkout Machines that only have limited functionality and are unpopular with a large number of library users. This means the Community Partnered Libraries are forced to provide a standard of service that is lower than expected by the public with the inevitable result that the public will go elsewhere as is evidenced by falling visitor numbers and the falling number of books issued. Despite repeated requests and there being no imperative to withdraw the system from these libraries, SCC has not given a good reason why they are denying access.

Another area in which SCC is deliberately denying CPLs the support they need is by refusing to pass on an offer of help from an experienced manager of a successful volunteer-run library. Jim Brooks, leader of the award-winning Little Chalfont Community Library in Buckinghamshire – often offered as an example of excellence in volunteer-run libraries – generously offered to help and advise the Surrey CPLs set up their community supported libraries. This offer was dismissed by Helyn Clack, SCC Cabinet Member for Community Services, and the offer was not passed on. Helyn Clack’s response to Mr Brooks offer was:

The Surrey model for community partnered libraries is very different but thank you for getting in touch.

Jim Brooks, leader of Little Chalfont Community Library, has been working with communities all over the country to help them set up their own community run or supported libraries. He has worked with one of the affected communities in Surrey and is appalled at the treatment they have received. Jim says

There is are large number of Councils in the UK and they all seem to be taking different approaches to library cutbacks and moving the library service into the voluntary sector. For example in Buckinghamshire the Council is taking a very supportive approach including providing full-blown access to their Library Management Computer System. We have used the computer system for over 5 years without any major issues arising. If access can be provided in Bucks why is not possible to provide access in Surrey. If Surrey are serious about making their Community Partnered Libraries a success then they need to take a positive and helpful stance rather than denying an essential resource.

Notes for Editors

1. Contacts

SLAM spokesman: Lee Godfrey 07916 297871 or leejgodfrey@gmail.com

Little Chalfont Community Library spokesman: Jim Brooks 01494 762328 or email jim.brooks@ntlworld.com

2. Text of the email exchange between Mr Brooks, Cllr Hodge and Cllr Clack follows:

From: Helyn Clack 

Sent: Friday, October 12, 2012 2:30 PM

To: jim.brooks@ntlworld.com 

Subject: Fw: Community Libraries

Dear Mr Brooks,

The Surrey model for community partnered libraries is very different but thank you for getting in touch.

Best Wishes

Mrs Helyn Clack

County Councillor for Dorking Rural

Cabinet Member for Community Services and 2012 Games

Surrey County Council

Email: Helyn.clack@surreycc.gov.uk

Tel: 0208 541 7595

—————————————

From: David Hodge/Councillor Con/SCC 

08/10/2012 10:11

To Helyn Clack/Councillor Con/SCC@SCC, Peter Milton/COM/SCC@SCC  

Subject Re: Community LibrariesLink

Please see email  below.

David Hodge

Leader of the Council

——————————————-

“Jim Brooks”  

08/10/2012 08:58

Subject Community Libraries

Dear Councillor Hodge

Many Councils are searching for ways to reduce expenditure on public libraries. Often this involves establishing Community Libraries run entirely or partially by local people.

I am the Chairman of the charity that runs the award winning Little Chalfont Community Library. The Library is entirely managed and run by unpaid volunteers and offers the full range of services available from a Council-run Library. A case study giving more information is attached.

In the last year or so we have been contacted by over 70 communities from all over the country for help and advice on how to set up a Community Library and we have gladly provided the support needed. We suspect that there are many other communities that would benefit from our help and advice and we are willing to provide it free of charge. Our motive is that we do not want to see unnecessary library closures simply because local people do not have the knowledge to set up a Community Library.

If we can help communities in your Council area please do not hesitate to put them in contact with me. I would also be grateful if you would share our offer of help with your colleagues and other relevant persons.

Jim Brooks MBE

Chairman

Friends of Little Chalfont Library

A Registered Charity

Home Tel. 01494 762328

Email: jim.brooks@ntlworld.com

Website: http://www.buckscommunitylibraries.org/little-chalfont/home

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Little-Chalfont-Community-Library/159422364115103

It is with disappointment that we report the SCC Communities Select Committee decided today not to refer the libraries decision back to SCC’s cabinet for reconsideration. This means that SCC will now remove paid staff from 10 libraries across Surrey and seek to replace them with volunteers.

In an intense four-hour meeting, witnesses were questioned robustly, debate was often heated and tempers were lost at times. SLAM, representatives of the community libraries and opposition councillors made the reasoned  case for the decision to be referred back to cabinet to enable other more reasonable alternatives to be considered.

But although the case to refer back seemed unanswerable, the politics of the situation was always going to play the last card. In a committee made up of 7 Conservative, 2 Liberal Democrat and 2 Resident Association councillors, the final vote was perhaps inevitably 7-4 in favour of proceeding with the volunteer-run library policy, with all 7 conservatives voting for the policy and all opposition councillors voting agin.

We note that there are County Council elections next May. For the record, councillors voted as follows:

For proceeding with the CPL policy

  • Steve Cosser – Conservative – Godalming North
  • Chris Norman – Conservative – Chertsey
  • Angela Fraser – Conservative – East Banstead
  • Dennis Fuller – Conservative – Camberley West
  • Mike Bennison – Conservative – Hinchley Wood, Claygate and Oxshott
  • Denise Turner-Stewart – Conservative - Staines South and Ashford West
  • Richard Walsh – Conservative – Laleham and Shepperton

Interestingly, none of the above are councillors for the affected communities

Against proceeding with the CPL policy

  • John Orrick – Liberal Democrat – Caterham Hill
  • Colin Taylor – Liberal Democrat – Epsom and Ewell South West
  • Eber Kington – Residents Association – Epsom and Ewell North
  • David Wood – Residents Association – Epsom and Ewell North East

 

SLAM is currently taking advice and will be responding to today’s decision in a few days time.

The call-in of the cabinet’s decision to proceed with volunteer-run libraries is tomorrow (16th August 2012) between 10am and 1pm in the Aschcombe Room, County Hall in the London Borough of Kingston upon Thames. All are welcome to attend.

The special meeting of the Communities Select Committee will decide whether to refer the library decision back to the cabinet for reconsideration.

Witnesses have been called to address the Communities Select Committee and answer questions as follows:

  • Helyn Clack – cabinet member for community services
  • David Hodge – Leader, Surrey County Council
  • Sue O’Connell – Chair of Bramley Parish Council
  • Jenny Meineck – Ewell Court Library
  • Lee Godfrey – SLAM

Another prospective CPL announces its dissension

The Friends of Stoneleigh library, the group expected to take over Stoneleigh library should the CPL policy be approved, are the latest group to have sent an open letter to SCC CEO David McNulty announcing their disquiet about the CPL policy and ask for sensible amendments to the flawed CPL policy.

Their complaint highlights that their volunteers came forward because they were led to believe running their own library was the only way to save enough money to keep it open. Now SCC has admitted the policy will save no money they are demanding their paid staff and library management system back.

The letter was sent on 11th July and, as yet, they have had no reply. The Friends of Stoneleigh library are not the first group to have been ignored by SCC and I suspect they won’t be the last.

Ideological plans to make ten libraries in Surrey volunteer-run face fresh delays after Surrey County Council’s Communities Select Committee “called in” the libraries decision for further scrutiny.

Under SCC’s constitution, any three members of a select committee can, under exceptional circumstances, call in a decision made by the cabinet for re-assessment. The committee can then request the cabinet reconsiders its decision. The constitution also states that the council must not make any moves to implement the plan until the scrutiny process is complete, at the earliest.

Residents’ Association (Jan Mason) and Liberal Democrat (John Orrick and Colin Taylor) members of the Communities Select Committee demanded the call-in due to the decision being irrational and unreasonable, and due to evident public outrage over the decision. The decision, they say:

  • does not have adequate justification,
  • does not abide by the High Court Order of 1st May, having not taken fully into consideration the High Court judgment of April 3rd 2012, and
  • has not been scrutinised by council or by any committee since the library plans were ruled unlawful by the high court, since the announcement that the plans would save no money and since the “shambolic” equalities consultation.

Full grounds of the call in are here.

The special meeting of the Communities Select Committee (the call in) will take place at 10am on Thursday 16th August at County Hall, (London Borough of) Kingston-upon-Thames and will call witnesses including Council leader, David Hodge, volunteers, members of volunteer steering groups and a SLAM representative.

The attached video is provided courtesy of www.getsurrey.co.uk. It was shot before and after last Tuesday’s (24th July) SCC cabinet meeting.

There is a quick interview with council leader David Hodge at the end of this clip in which he says that he would prefer we stopped using the word “library” and instead use the term “community centre.” So this is what the policy is all about – closing libraries and using the buildings for other purposes.

The Community Partnered Library proposals cost more money than they were originally designed to save which is why SCC admitted to the policy saving no money. So paid staff remaining in place would cost less than the CPL policy PLUS all of the benefits identified by David Hodge can be achieved with paid staff in place.

Sadly, volunteers are being exploited for the purposes of Conservative Party ideology. And that is despicable!

Surrey County Council decided yesterday to proceed with its volunteer-run library plans – plans that will see paid, professional staff removed from 10 libraries across Surrey and replaced with volunteers.

Conservative councillors at yesterday’s cabinet meeting lined up to expound the virtues of volunteers running libraries and, by implication, denigrate the profession of library and information professionals.

Let’s make this clear. Surrey County Council has freely admitted that removing paid staff  and replacing them with volunteers will save no money. So given the free choice, SCC has decided that volunteers working one or two hours every other week will provide a better service than paid professionals with years of experience, training and knowledge.

Sensible, credible and cost-saving proposals put forward by Surrey residents to mix paid staff with volunteers were not even considered.

The decision taken yesterday would not stand up to the scrutiny of any reasonable person so let us make another thing very clear. This is a decision that was motivated solely by an ideology that says that all public sector workers are bad, therefore anybody or any policy that removes them must be good, no matter what damage is done to the service in the process. Normally this ideology is carried out under the cloak of “cost savings” but on this occasion the dogma is laid bare for all to see.

David Hodge knows that this policy does not stand up to rational scrutiny. That is why he blocked a debate on the libraries policy at last week’s full council meeting and also why he refused to allow residents’ questions to be answered at yesterday’s cabinet meeting (despite the answering of public questions being standard procedure at cabinet meetings). Avoiding debate and scrutiny is the last hiding place of a man who knows he can’t win the arguments in the sunlight of open debate. This should be a worry to all Surrey residents, not just those interested in the library service.

This irrational decision, and the preceding shambolic decision-making process, has re-stoked the anger of Surrey residents and library users that has been bubbling under the surface throughout.

Yesterday’s decision will not be the last word on the matter!

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