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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Today (Tuesday 24th July), 18 months after it originally proposed the idea, Surrey County Council will again decide whether to proceed with its plans to remove staff from 10 libraries across Surrey and replace them with volunteers.

SCC’s cabinet will meet to make its decision at 2pm, County Hall, in the London Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames (ironically, not Surrey). We will be there putting our questions and submissions, and presenting petitions with over 5,000 signatures. A motion has also been put to cabinet by independent councillors asking for the library plans to be dropped, and Liberal Democrat leader, Hazel Watson, is also due to put a question to the cabinet. It should be a lively meeting!

There will also be protest outside of County Hall between 1pm and 2pm. We appreciate that many of you are at work and others can’t make it because the venue is too remote (not being in Surrey!) but if you can come we would love to see you.

Some things to remember ahead of the meeting:

  • The library proposals were based on a Public Value Review (PVR) that was fundamentally flawed (and still is). SCC’s audit committee was convened (a very rare occurrence) and ruled that the PVR needed improvement. It has not been improved.
  • SCC held a gun to the heads of local communities, telling them “volunteer to run your library or we will close it.” This is not a policy that has been enthusiastically received, as SCC would have you believe. Not one person in Surrey has asked SCC to remove paid staff from their library and not one resident has volunteered so that their library staff can be sacked.
  • The Community Partnered Library (CPL) policy will save no money – not now, not in the future.
  • The libraries policy was ruled “unlawful” in the High Court and that the libraries decision was “so unreasonable that no other reasonable authority would have made it.” The policy has not been changed since this judgment.
  • SCC’s “equalities consultation” is generally considered as being “shambolic” both in its content and in its execution
  • A number of credible, simple and cost-effective alternative to the libraries policy have been put forward by SLAM and by library steering groups. SCC has ignored them all.
  • Library groups and SLAM have asked for meetings with David Hodge prior to the cabinet meeting tomorrow to find a reasonable way forward. SLAM’s meeting request was ignored and no concessions offered to library steering groups.

Tomorrow is decision day. Let’s hope somewhere around that cabinet table there are some wise and reasonable heads.

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Over the past eighteen months we have become used to Surrey County Council ignoring residents and refusing to listen to genuine concerns but even we were shocked by the draconian behaviour of council leader, David Hodge, at Tuesday’s (17th July) full Council meeting.

Cllr Eber Kington (Epsom and Ewell North) had tabled the following motion:

The Council calls upon the Cabinet to review its current Community Partnership Library policy so as to develop a more widely supported alternative.’

Council Leader Hodge stood up before the motion could even be put and stated that debating the motion would be “inappropriate” because cabinet members were present and it would not be right for them to be influenced by the debate.  Many councillors raised their eyebrows or shook their heads in surprise, even on Hodge’s own Conservative side of the chamber.

Council chair, Conservative Cllr Lavinia Sealy, asked David Hodge what he wanted to do and after repeating what he’d previously said, Hodge said he did not want the motion debated.

Pressing Hodge further, the Chair told Mr Hodge that he could not just bar the debate – he could either let the motion be debated or refer the debate to a committee. In the end, a reluctant Mr Hodge said that he would be “happy” for the motion to be “debated” at the cabinet meeting where, sadly, compliancy and sycophancy are the rule and scrutiny the rare exception.

And that was that. The debate was barred before it even started, democracy snuffed out at a stroke. Cllr Kington argued that the council had not debated the issue in a long time and a lot of important and pertinent things had happened since, like the High Court ruling the plans “unlawful”, the admission that the library plans would save no money and the “shambolic” equalities consultation. Cllr Kington further argued that councillors for the affected communities had not had their chance to put the case for their communities and that, at 244 pages long, the submission to cabinet in support of the libraries proposals clearly required scrutiny and debate.

But no. There was to be no debate on the issue. Councillors would not be given the chance to represent their constituents.

We should add that we have had no response to our letter offering a compromise and asking to meet David Hodge to discuss a way forward. There will be no meetings, no listening, no compromise.

In the short time that he has been council leader, David Hodge has made it very clear that he intends to administer a draconian, un-listening regime – one in which dissent, alternative views or debate will not be tolerated. David Hodge has stamped his iron fist on the table and, presumably, we are all now supposed to bow down and accept his will.

David Hodge should know that one of the key drivers behind SCC being taken to the High Court was that residents felt let down by the lack of a democratic process, that residents had been ignored and that genuine concerns had simply been swept aside.

After our efforts at conciliation, SLAM supporters are beginning to feel that another injustice is about to be committed!

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Surrey County Council is due to reconsider its volunteer-run library plans at its cabinet meeting on Tuesday 24th July 2012.

Any Surrey resident can put a question to the cabinet meeting about the library proposals but you must put your question a week in advance. That is to say, the deadline for questions is today (Tuesday 17th July)!

You can submit your question using this form http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/your-council/how-the-council-works/how-the-council-makes-decisions-and-getting-involved/have-your-say-asking-questions-at-cabinet-and-committee-meetings.

You don’t have to go to the meeting to submit a question but, if you do, you can ask a supplementary question in person if you so wish.

If you do have a question about the council’s library proposals we would encourage you to take this opportunity to have your say.

And if you want to put yourself through it, here is a link to the mountain of documentation that is being put to the cabinet meeting for its consideration. http://online.surreycc.gov.uk/legcom/CouncilP.nsf/f5fb086c73d64f3000256954004aed25/ed8758b7ed2c90fd80257a3a0047c34c?OpenDocument

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