This week’s statement on Surrey libraries by Council Leader, David Hodge, seems to be a welcome u-turn, but on examination is little more than window dressing of the current policy.
Hodge announced that, due to the Council having “listened and learned”, he was prepared to cancel the second tranche of libraries that would be closed if the volunteering model could not be made to work and, also, that support staff would be made available to the first tranche of 10 libraries for 20% of opening hours.
My initial reaction was that this was a great success for the campaign and I was genuinely thrilled for those communities whose libraries were in the second tranche. But then I took a second look at the announcement and understood that nothing has actually changed.
On cancelling the second tranche of volunteer-run libraries
Hodge was very careful to state, in his announcement, that the national economic outlook was grim and that if the Council received another difficult settlement then a review of libraries’ operating model would have to be brought back on to the agenda. Well, we know that it is highly likely that Council’s income will be frozen for a second year running, which represents another difficult settlement. We know that, you know that, David Hodge knows that.
The original library plan says that progress of the first tranche of volunteer libraries would be reviewed in April 2013, and then the second tranche would be subject to the same volunteer-run model. In his announcement, Hodge has given himself the perfect excuse (when the foreseeable Council Tax freeze is announced) to carry out the original plan to press on with the second tranche.
On 20% of opening hours being supported by paid staff for the first tranche of volunteer-run libraries
This is straightforward. Hodge has offered absolutely nothing new here. Nothing new whatsoever.
The library plan issued at the Communities Select Committee of 18th October 2011 revealed that a new central library support team costing £100,000 would be put in place – its job to support volunteer-run libraries and to travel between the first-tranche of libraries offering a mixture of on-site and off-site support.
We are told that the “extra” paid staff mentioned in Hodge’s announcement will not be working as library staff and David Hodge admitted in an interview with BBC Surrey on 30th November 2011 that the paid staff will cost nothing extra.
It is very clear, therefore, that David Hodges announcement is simply a restatement of what is already in the plan. Hodge has misled Surrey residents in claiming that he has offered something new because he has “listened and learned”; he has done nothing of the sort.
What we want, and what Surrey residents want, is a firm commitment to the future of professionally run libraries for the long term, not desperate attempts to spin an unworkable and unwanted policy.