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Posts Tagged ‘Community Partnered Libraries’

Last year, SLAM challenged Surrey County Council’s volunteer-run library policy in the High Court in London – a policy that removes library staff and the library management system without saving any money.

SLAM would like to thank everyone that donated generously to our legal costs. SLAM promised to return donations if the challenge was successful and costs were awarded.

SLAM was successful in its legal challenge. Surrey County Council’s library plans were found to be not only ‘unlawful‘ but ‘considerably short of what was required by the law.’ Further, the judge found that SCC’s decision was ‘so unreasonable that no other reasonable authority would have made it.’ Lest we forget that SCC said it was ‘pleased’ with this judgment!

Due to the verdict being so emphatic, SCC was ordered to pay the full costs in the case. SCC has dragged its feet for months and months but it has at last paid what it owes. SLAM is now in a position, therefore, to pay back money to all that donated.

If you  paid by cheque, by bank transfer or by debit/credit card you will have received your money by cheque along with a letter of thanks. If you have not, please get in touch.

If you paid by Paypal, your donation will have been paid back via Paypal, minus Paypal’s small administration fee. Again, if you have not received the payment, please get in touch.

Since the High Court case, SCC has struggled to implement its CPL policy and has wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds in its attempt. Our campaign and the legal case has achieved a number of concessions:

  • A reduction from 19 libraries originally intended for CPL status to 10 (only 6 launched so far)
  • Formation of a 5 person team at County Hall to support each CPL for 20% of its opening hours
  • Improved training for volunteers
  • SCC on notice should they decided to extend the CPL policy to other libraries

SCC is trying to implement the CPL policy but, thanks to your support, it is a much improved model which will give the libraries a better chance of survival.

We would like to thank you for your contribution to the campaign and for supporting Surrey’s libraries and library staff.

Kindest regards,

SLAM

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NEWS RELEASE – for immediate release

The reason given by many Councils for the closure of public libraries is declining visitor numbers and book issues statistics demonstrating that the libraries are not cost-effective and should be closed. What they often fail to take into account, or mention, is that the decline is a direct result of their budget cuts that have starved the libraries of up to date stock, ensured that lack of investment has meant that library buildings have become jaded and unappealing places to be and in some cases led to reduced opening hours.

Closing libraries is politically difficult so some Councils appear to be taking a new approach. They encourage or force communities to take over the library entirely or at least to provide volunteers to replace paid staff and then starve them of essential support. The lack of support will seriously jeopardise the effective running of the library with the inevitable result that some will fail. At this point Councils can claim that the failure is the fault of the community and walk away with their political integrity intact. Surrey County Council appears to be a Council that is taking this approach either by design or accident.

In July 2012 Surrey County Council (SCC) decided to replace paid librarians in 10 Libraries with volunteer staff. This caused a public outcry but despite protests and the fact that SCC admit the move will not save money, they still decided to press ahead with this deeply unpopular initiative.

The Surrey communities are being forced to provide volunteers or their library will be closed. The communities are trying to provide volunteers and work with SCC to provide a Library service but moves by SCC are jeopardising their efforts.

Key to running a Library and providing a comprehensive and efficient service to the public is access to the Library Computer Management System. SCC are denying access to their computer system (GALAXY) to all 10 of the volunteer-run libraries. Instead they are installing Auto Checkout Machines that only have limited functionality and are unpopular with a large number of library users. This means the Community Partnered Libraries are forced to provide a standard of service that is lower than expected by the public with the inevitable result that the public will go elsewhere as is evidenced by falling visitor numbers and the falling number of books issued. Despite repeated requests and there being no imperative to withdraw the system from these libraries, SCC has not given a good reason why they are denying access.

Another area in which SCC is deliberately denying CPLs the support they need is by refusing to pass on an offer of help from an experienced manager of a successful volunteer-run library. Jim Brooks, leader of the award-winning Little Chalfont Community Library in Buckinghamshire – often offered as an example of excellence in volunteer-run libraries – generously offered to help and advise the Surrey CPLs set up their community supported libraries. This offer was dismissed by Helyn Clack, SCC Cabinet Member for Community Services, and the offer was not passed on. Helyn Clack’s response to Mr Brooks offer was:

The Surrey model for community partnered libraries is very different but thank you for getting in touch.

Jim Brooks, leader of Little Chalfont Community Library, has been working with communities all over the country to help them set up their own community run or supported libraries. He has worked with one of the affected communities in Surrey and is appalled at the treatment they have received. Jim says

There is are large number of Councils in the UK and they all seem to be taking different approaches to library cutbacks and moving the library service into the voluntary sector. For example in Buckinghamshire the Council is taking a very supportive approach including providing full-blown access to their Library Management Computer System. We have used the computer system for over 5 years without any major issues arising. If access can be provided in Bucks why is not possible to provide access in Surrey. If Surrey are serious about making their Community Partnered Libraries a success then they need to take a positive and helpful stance rather than denying an essential resource.

Notes for Editors

1. Contacts

SLAM spokesman: Lee Godfrey 07916 297871 or leejgodfrey@gmail.com

Little Chalfont Community Library spokesman: Jim Brooks 01494 762328 or email jim.brooks@ntlworld.com

2. Text of the email exchange between Mr Brooks, Cllr Hodge and Cllr Clack follows:

From: Helyn Clack 

Sent: Friday, October 12, 2012 2:30 PM

To: jim.brooks@ntlworld.com 

Subject: Fw: Community Libraries

Dear Mr Brooks,

The Surrey model for community partnered libraries is very different but thank you for getting in touch.

Best Wishes

Mrs Helyn Clack

County Councillor for Dorking Rural

Cabinet Member for Community Services and 2012 Games

Surrey County Council

Email: Helyn.clack@surreycc.gov.uk

Tel: 0208 541 7595

—————————————

From: David Hodge/Councillor Con/SCC 

08/10/2012 10:11

To Helyn Clack/Councillor Con/SCC@SCC, Peter Milton/COM/SCC@SCC  

Subject Re: Community LibrariesLink

Please see email  below.

David Hodge

Leader of the Council

——————————————-

“Jim Brooks”  

08/10/2012 08:58

Subject Community Libraries

Dear Councillor Hodge

Many Councils are searching for ways to reduce expenditure on public libraries. Often this involves establishing Community Libraries run entirely or partially by local people.

I am the Chairman of the charity that runs the award winning Little Chalfont Community Library. The Library is entirely managed and run by unpaid volunteers and offers the full range of services available from a Council-run Library. A case study giving more information is attached.

In the last year or so we have been contacted by over 70 communities from all over the country for help and advice on how to set up a Community Library and we have gladly provided the support needed. We suspect that there are many other communities that would benefit from our help and advice and we are willing to provide it free of charge. Our motive is that we do not want to see unnecessary library closures simply because local people do not have the knowledge to set up a Community Library.

If we can help communities in your Council area please do not hesitate to put them in contact with me. I would also be grateful if you would share our offer of help with your colleagues and other relevant persons.

Jim Brooks MBE

Chairman

Friends of Little Chalfont Library

A Registered Charity

Home Tel. 01494 762328

Email: jim.brooks@ntlworld.com

Website: http://www.buckscommunitylibraries.org/little-chalfont/home

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Little-Chalfont-Community-Library/159422364115103

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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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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

 

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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.

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