When we lost the last call-in at County Hall the Council had made its decision, condemning 19 libraries in Surrey to closure if the volunteering model can not be made to work. “Enough,” people said, “it’s over. You’ve tried your best to save the libraries but, in the end, you’ve lost. Give up now and go home.”
It was tempting to do just that. We are all volunteers, we all have busy lives and we have been giving up a lot of time trying to maintain a professionally run library service . So the idea of getting some of our lives back was appealing. And the truth is that we did think seriously about it. But here is why we decided to continue fighting:
1. The volunteering model is unsustainable.
There is plenty of evidence to say that, whereas there is often a lot of enthusiasm at the outset of a volunteering enterprise, this energy tails off over the medium to long term.
Take Hersham library. Eighteen months ago there was a drive to recruit volunteers to help out at the library. Fifteen keen volunteers came forward and for the first month or two everyone mucked in and the volunteer model was deemed a success. Eighteen months later and only two volunteers are left. It won’t surprises you to hear that those two volunteers are now fighting very hard against Surrey County Council’s Community Partnership plans.
If we genuinely believe in the library service then we must view it as a very long term commitment and staff them accordingly – a beacon of literacy and reading to pass on to future generations.
2. The Council’s library plans are going to cost more money than they are supposed to save
Surrey County Council claims that £197,000 needs to be saved from the library service due to the tough economic settlement received from the Government.
But as the plans for Community Partnered Libraries (CPLs) have been fleshed out, it has been established that the year-on-year costs of implementing the plans are greater than the £197,000 of savings that they are supposed to make.
When that was made clear (at the last meeting of the Communities Select Committee in October) there was an opportunity to abandon the plans and think again. But no. The Council plans to press ahead, wasting Council Tax Payers’ money and diminishing the library service at the same time. That’s just plain wrong.
3. The Public Value Review, used to justify the CPL model, is illogical, amateurish, and fundamentally flawed.
I’m going to paste a link to the final PVR league table for your perusal. Take a look. It barely needs any more commentary to justify the above statement.
OK, just one or two comments. No account of qualitative social value (i.e. what value does the community place on the library?). A number of columns relating to the size of a library (i.e. double counting in favour of larger libraries). A few of these columns relate to yes/no answers (e.g. Priority area?) – what makes a yes 4 times the value of a no?
Oh, many more faults and flaws – you can see them for yourself – but why, oh, why is it considered logical to multiply all the columns together to come up with a final score to rank the libraries on? I mean, what on earth does a score of 56,623,104 (taking Woking’s score) actually mean? What an arbitrary, illogical and utterly unreasonable way to decide the fate of these libraries!
4. The residents and users of the affected libraries have not been consulted.
Surrey County Council’s published methodology for carrying out Public Value Reviews (N.B. PVRs are the tool that SCC uses for cutting services) states that “PVRs will be delivered by…consulting widely including with residents and specifically vulnerable groups and communities and with staff”.
It was also resolved in the Council Cabinet meeting of 1st February 2011 (minutes available) that users of affected static libraries would be fully consulted.
No consultation with users has been undertaken so far on the library plans.
5. Surrey Council has bullied and blustered its way to passing the CPL plans
At every step, the Conservative Councillors that have the most to gain from passing the library plans have systematically not listened to legitimate concerns over the plans, closed down debate wherever possible and have even run roughshod over the Council’s own procedures.
Thousands upon thousands of Surrey residents have signed petitions – both online and paper-based, have filled in surveys and have written letters protesting against the Council’s CPL plans. All have been deliberately ignored.
In numerous Council meetings, the same Conservative Councillors have refused to engage in debate on the CPL plans and when SLAM was eventually given three minutes to state its case (in a Committee meeting in October) the leader of the Council, David Hodge, said that it was too late to change course and that he wasn’t going to let his staff look into alternative approaches.
And in direct contravention of Surrey County Council’s PVR process, the Members’ Reference Group (a group whose purpose is to review and make recommendations on PVRs) was never asked to meet and never asked to review anything. We note that, given the composition of the group, the group may well have given an unfavourable review of the PVR and we wonder whether this may have been the reason for them not meeting.
It would have been easy to give up, but what is driving us on now is a sense of injustice and a sense that an irreversible wrong is about to be committed by Surrey County Council. Perhaps above all else it is that we believe in libraries. We believe in the value they bring to local communities. We wholeheartedly support library staff and the skilled work they do. And if libraries are to suffer a long slow death as numbers of volunteers tail off over time then the last library will close with us fighting over every inch of ground. We will not give in. The campaign continues!