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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!

Any questions?

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

On the 24th July Surrey County Council Cabinet is due to reconsider plans to remove staff from ten libraries across Surrey and replace them with volunteers.

In reconsidering the decision SCC must, by Court Order, abide by the judgment handed down on 3rd April 2012. The Council must this time show due regard to its public sector equalities duty (PSED) and it must this time make a reasonable decision*.

Whether SCC will have done enough to abide by the court order by the 24th July remains to be seen. This is a battle that could run and run…and run.

But we don’t think it is in anyone’s interest for us still to be arguing over the libraries policy in another year’s time. We have, therefore, written a letter to council leader, David Hodge, proposing a compromise that will enable all parties to move forward.

We have proposed that paid staff and the library management system remain in place for stability, sustainability and to meet the needs of vulnerable groups, but that volunteers could assist in the delivery of services and be able to have a greater say in what additional services are offered.

We have further suggested that a community consultative group (CCG) is set up at each library – a forum in which volunteers can contribute to a shared vision of how their library can provide better and new services for the local community.

Our proposal costs no more, and probably less, than SCC’s current proposals and it is a solution around which the whole community can unite.

We hope that SCC gives the compromise serious consideration.

*(in failing on Wednesbury principles – para 109 of judgment – Mr Justice Wilkie judged that SCC had made a decision that was “so unreasonable that no other reasonable authority would have made it”)

CILIP’s policy on volunteers in public libraries

CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) reformulated its policy on library volunteers in June 2012 (http://www.cilip.org.uk/get-involved/policy/statements%20and%20briefings/pages/use-of-volunteers.aspx). We reproduce the policy below:

CILIP believes that society benefits from the contribution that trained and skilled library, information and knowledge workers make to developing and delivering services. We do not believe that volunteers should undertake core service delivery or be asked to replace the specialised roles of staff who work in libraries.

Volunteers have long supported and provided highly valuable additional support, working alongside qualified and paid staff, and they should be acknowledged and valued for this role. They should also be given appropriate role descriptions, training and management.

CILIP is opposed to job substitution where paid professional and support roles are directly replaced with either volunteers or untrained administrative posts to save money. This applies to all library and information services in every sector.

If this happens services will suffer and will be unsustainable. What remains would be a library service unable to serve the community comprehensively, support people’s information needs or provide everyone with the opportunity for learning and development.

CILIP will not assist in recruiting or training volunteers who will be used to substitute the role of qualified, trained and paid library and information workers.

We acknowledge the difficult times that we live in, but now more than ever, high quality information services are vital to people’s lives, and local communities, learners, workers and businesses need the support of a trained and skilled workforce to thrive.

I would like to write a very simple and short blog today. The objects of this blog will do all the talking.

We were forwarded two letters yesterday that were sent to Surrey County Council regarding the CPL policy. One is from the Steering Group of Bramley Library and the other from Bramley Parish Council.

Both letters are already in the public domain and we feel they should be shared as we believe it is in the public interest to do so.

The letters dispel the myth that volunteers have willingly come forward to run their library and are completely in favour of the CPL policy as it is.

I hope that Bramley residents and volunteers forgive me for publishing these letters and that I have in no way mis-represented your views.

Response to “equalities” consultation by Bramley Library Steering Group

Letter to SCC from Bramley Parish Council

 

One simple question

We sent an open letter earlier this week to Peter Milton, Head of Cultural Services at SCC, pointing out the myriad ways in which SCC’s current equalities survey is fundamentally flawed.

The outcome of the Judicial Review gave SCC an opportunity to take a step back, review its policy and make some adjustments that would make the policy more agreeable to Surrey residents. But instead of taking that opportunity, SCC has got hung up on trying to overcome a perceived “technicality”, only consulting with the minimum number of people to satisfy the “technicality”, and only on questions that it feels the High Court judgment demands.

The result is the overly complicated, fussy and poorly administered equalities consultation and monitoring we now see.

The consultation documents have been to sent to some library users many times over whilst many other library users have received no documents at all. The questions themselves are complicated to answer and demand too much knowledge of regulation, training and equalities law for a library user to reasonably answer.

As one resident put it to us, SCC has tried to be “too clever by half”.

SCC could have avoided all this confusion and complication, and it still can. We recommend that the Council sends out a simple referendum to all residents in the affected communities with this simple question:

Given that there is no financial saving in replacing paid, professional staff with volunteers, would you rather your local library was run by

A. Experienced, paid, professionals (with volunteers providing additional services where appropriate)

or

B. volunteers only

We have evidence that leads us to believe that most people will vote for option A. But if we are wrong and the majority of people vote for option B, then we will accept defeat gracefully and wrap up this campaign. You will hear from us no more.

Come on Surrey County Council, let’s see localism in action.

LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

We sent this brief open letter to Helyn Clack, SCC cabinet member for community services, earlier this week. In the letter we ask for confirmation that the 10 libraries earmarked for CPL status are now no longer under threat of closure.

It is minuted in many SCC meetings over the past 16 months that the aim of the CPL policy is to save £195,000, and that if volunteers do not come forward to run the libraries then SCC will consider those libraries for closure. Now that it has been established by SCC that removing paid staff and replacing them with volunteers will save no money – indeed, that cost saving is no longer the justification – it is reasonable to assume that the libraries are financially sustainable as they are and are, therefore, not under threat of closure.

We have received many emails, letters and calls from volunteers asking to seek such a clarification because, they say, the threat of closure was the sole reason they came forward to volunteer. They say that they would much rather the professional staff ran the library and that they only agreed to volunteer as a last resort. We think it is only fair to the volunteers that SCC clarifies its position.

Helyn Clack has not yet responded to our letter but she did manage to give an interview to Get Surrey website (http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/s/2115284_libraries_campaigners_criticised_by_councillor).

 

In the interview, Helyn Clack denies any knowledge of the letter but we have established that she has, in fact, received it. She also criticises SLAM for providing “opposition for opposition’s sake.” We (all of us Surrey residents) have campaigned for well  over a year now, have raised very many legitimate concerns and issues alongside many other Surrey residents and in any number of mediums, have organised protests and demonstrations, petitions that attracted thousands of signatures opposing the CPL policy. My goodness, we even went to the very great trouble of taking SCC to the High Court, and we won. All of this, according to Mrs Clack, is “opposition for opposition’s sake.”

It is tempting to feel insulted by Mrs Clack’s dismissal of the campaign and her disdain for Surrey residents. But truth be known, we feel sorry for her. Mrs Clack is obviously feeling the strain and is lashing out. She is being put in front of the media by her leader, David Hodge, and being made to justify a policy that is now unjustifiable. She is trying her best for him but with each interview her answers get weaker and weaker, her justifications making less and less sense.

But we have a limited amount of sympathy for Mrs Clack, and much more sympathy for the now long-suffering and stressed staff that have had the damoclean sword of dismissal hung over their heads for nearly 18 months without any good reason.

SCC’s library staff, Surrey residents and the volunteers that came forward in good faith to “save their libraries” deserve an explanation and some assurances.

We call on Surrey County Council to confirm that the ten libraries potentially affected by the CPL policy are no longer under threat of closure.