According to Surrey County Council’s library plans, today’s Cabinet meeting (2pm, County Hall, Kingston) will decide on the closure of libraries where sufficient progress has not been made towards “Community Partnered Library” status. We have been campaigning very hard in the build up to the 20th December meeting, trying to influence the decision, and have received a hostile reaction from the Council, most notably during the JUNK-gate scandal of last week (see previous blogs).
Progress has been slow in getting volunteers to agree to the terms Council is imposing on them. The Council’s deadline for the 10 affected libraries to sign contracts (which make the volunteers set up businesses, passing all of the risks of running the libraries on to the volunteers while the Council gets to make all the decisions) was the 15th December. That deadline passed and, as of today, not one of the volunteer groups has signed the contract.
According to the plan, therefore, the Cabinet will discuss the closure of all ten libraries this afternoon. We believe that closing these libraries would be unconscionable and most probably illegal. Representatives of SLAM and the affected libraries will attend the meeting, trying our best to convince Cabinet not to act rashly, as it has too often in recent months.
David Hodge’s fledgling leadership has been characterised by its chaotic style so there is hope for a third embarrassing u-turn in as many weeks: the Council could back down on its closure threat and give the volunteering groups more breathing space. But this will only serve to pile more pressure on the volunteer groups, who are trying their best to save local libraries with a Council-held gun to their heads.
This is another option, of course. David Hodge could swallow his pride and abandon the library plans all together and put all libraries on a firm footing, saving Surrey Council-tax payers hundreds of thousands of pounds and putting this whole sorry affair behind him. We urge Mr Hodge to listen to Surrey residents and library users and take this option.