For 16 months Surrey County Council has justified its removal of paid staff from ten libraries across Surrey on the basis of cost savings. The Council has argued that the reason it needed volunteers to manage and deliver library services in the ten communities was that it was the only way to reduce costs and for them to stay open. We have argued all along that the cost savings argument doesn’t stack up. We have argued, most recently in yesterday’s open letter, that maintaining professional staff in the libraries is the cheaper and simpler option.
Today, Surrey County Council admitted that we have been right all along: that there is no cost justification in its Community Partnered Library (CPL) policy. In a statement to the SCC cabinet meeting today Helyn Clack, cabinet member for community services, said:
There are no expected financial savings in 2012 – 2013 in the Library Service as a result of Community Partnered Libraries proposals and there are no expected annual savings as a result of the Community Partnered Libraries proposals.
This is an astonishing admission as it removes the central plank around which the library policy was built. There is nowhere left for this policy to go. A policy without justification is no policy at all.
What about the workers?
The past 16 months has been a very stressful period for the staff in the affected libraries. Some have already been moved on, others live in daily fear for their job. We have found, nonetheless, that they have maintained the highest of professional standards throughout. They are a credit to their profession.
SCC has insulted its employees and their profession by claiming that any willing volunteer can provide a better service than trained, highly knowledgable and experienced staff. And now, without the justification that savings need to be made, SCC’s attempt to dismiss its “much-loved” professional staff is unfair and unjust.
And what about the volunteers?
SCC made it very clear indeed that if volunteers did not come forward to run their libraries, the council would likely close them. SCC convinced volunteers that them running the library was the only way to save enough money so that the library could stay open. Time and time again, David Hodge, Helyn Clack and other Conservative councillors said to the media, to council meetings and to anyone that would listen, that their intention was to keep all 52 libraries open, and that the volunteer library policy was the only way to do it.
The council has hoodwinked volunteers that have come forward in good faith to save their local library. But they have been fed a despicable lie by SCC. Their libraries were never under threat. There was never any cost savings basis for making volunteers run their own library. SCC has caused considerable stress for very many Surrey residents on all sides of the argument, and it has spent an inordinate amount of money on a policy with no justification.
SCC should now apologise to Surrey residents for its illegality, its irrationality, and for wasting taxpayers money. But above all, it should now swallow its pride and find the decency to abandon its unjustifiable library plans.