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Posts Tagged ‘Ed Vaizey’

Things happening apace at the moment. Hot on the heels of our open letter to Surrey County Council, Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture (including libraries), weighs into the debate in an interview with BBC Radio Surrey this morning.

BBC Radio Surrey was interviewing SLAM Chair, Mike Alsop, about SLAM’s open letter to the Council when the presenter, Mark Carter, suddenly introduced Ed Vaizey to the interview, to the surprise of SLAM’s Chair.

Ed Vaizey said that he would expect there to be a “discussion” when an authority attempts to reconfigure its library service, in direct contrast to SCC’s non-consultative approach.

He went on to say that he “fully supports” SLAM’s right to campaign against SCC and to change their mind over the library plans.

The most telling part of the interview, though, was this:

Mark Carter: “You are quite happy with the direction Surrey County Council is taking?”

Ed Vaizey: “Hold on. I don’t want to get too pedantic because I don’t think your listeners are interested in, sort of, me dancing on the head of a pin…”

Mark Carter: “But from what you’ve heard and what you’ve read, you are happy with the direction Surrey County Council is taking?”

Ed Vaizey: “If the local population and the local campaigners think that the County Council has taken a decision in the wrong way they are entitled to Judicially Review it, which is what SLAM has done to Surrey County Council. They won that Judicial Review and the County has been asked to look at the way it made its decision again… I can’t say whether I am happy with Surrey’s plans because I have to wait until I’ve seen the final shape of them before I make a decision about whether it’s appropriate or not to have an enquiry into whether or not they are providing a comprehensive library service.”

There are three very important points raised here by Ed Vaizey.

Firstly, he accepts that the claimants (supported by SLAM) won the Judicial Review. SCC has, absurdly, yet to accept this and has said it is “pleased” with the judgment and that the judge did not criticise its plans.

Secondly, Ed Vaizey says that the judge has asked the Council to look at the way it made its decision again. This is clearly the Minister’s expectation, too. Yet SCC has said that it intends to press on with its plans regardless of the High Court ruling and without reviewing its decision.

Thirdly, the Minster for Culture says that he “can’t say whether he is happy with Surrey’s plans because he hasn’t seen the final shape of them,” before deciding whether to hold an enquiry. It is very clear that Ed Vaizey expects the Council’s plans to change, which chimes with the Judge’s ruling that the plans fell “substantially short” of what is required by the law. The Minister also makes it clear that he is holding the threat of an enquiry over SCC’s head.

It can not be clearer that SCC needs to mend its ways and to fundamentally change its plans to run 10 libraries with volunteers only. Our letter sent this morning spells out how this process of change may be started.

The ball is firmly in the Council’s court. Will it defy Surrey residents, the High Court and, now, the Minister for Culture (risking a full-scale enquiry) or will it see the error of its ways?

We say the easiest way for SCC to get out of the tremendous mess it has made for itself is to drop its library plans and have a fundamental rethink. But if it really does “insist on this policy” then it has an awful lot of hard work and expense ahead of it.

Over to Surrey County Council.

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SLAM campaigners attended a rally and lobby of Parliament yesterday, organised by the national campaigning group, Speak Up For Libraries – a group set up by library campaigners, Elizabeth Ash of Croydon and Mar Dixon from Shropshire (www.speakupforlibraries.org).

SLAM¬†joined other campaigners from across the country in highlighting the withering away of the nation’s library service while the Minister for Culture (including libraries), Ed Vaizey, stands idly by. (SLAM has previously written to the Minister for Culture asking him to intervene over Surrey County Council’s library plans – see prior blog).

High-profile authors and campaigners spoke to the rally, including Elizabeth Ash, Mar Dixon, Kate Mosse, Alan Gibbons, Phillip Ardagh, Dave Prentis (Gen Sec – Unison) and Dan Jarvis MP.

SLAM caught up with shadow culture minster, Dan Jarvis MP, after the rally to inform him of the situation in Surrey and the upcoming Judicial Review. Labour MP Dan Jarvis was critical of Ed Vaizey, saying:

He has left it to campaigners to do his job, by taking library authorities to court at great expense and effort.

How can it be credible that an authority can break the law [referring to another library legal challenge  РEd] without in his view triggering his legal duty to oversee and promote the library service?

And if a local authority can be in breach of equalities legislation without him thinking it fit to act, just what WOULD it take?

SLAM also contributed to a lobby, organised by Elizabeth and Mar, with Conservative MP, Justin Tomlinson (Chairman of the parliamentary all-party libraries group). This was an extensive meeting which was both useful and constructive, during which many ideas for the future of the library service were shared. The lobbying group and Justin Tomlinson found common ground on a number of different library issues, including on the use of volunteers. Justin Tomlinson has since posted this interesting and thoughtful piece on the future of the library service which is well worth a read (http://www.justintomlinson.com/news/379/).

SLAM then tried to lobby Surrey MP and Defence Secretary, Phillip Hammond, but he was giving a statement to the House on the Nigerian hostage situation so was unavailable.

We think the rally and lobby were well timed – given the current economic climate, and the recent report issued by OFSTED detailing declining reading and literacy levels in British children, the need for a well resourced and well staffed library service is more pertinent than ever. Local administrations should be investing in libraries, not closing them or getting rid of library staff, and the Minister for Culture must become the “champion” of the service he claims to be – now is the time for him to be acting, not sitting on the sidelines!

We are indebted to Elizabeth Ash and Mar Dixon for forming Speak Up For Libraries and organising the event, providing a national focus for the crisis currently affecting the library service. We hope they have provided a platform upon which a vision for the future of the library service can be formulated. We call on the Minister for Culture to consult with library users, campaigners and local authorities to begin putting such a vision together. Come on Ed Vaizey – Speak up for Libraries!

Fundraising

The Judicial Review is just a few days away now and we still need your help in reaching our Community Contribution target to enable the Review to go ahead.

Please see our Legal Action tab for ways to pay. And please donate generously!

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