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Mr Justice Wilkie passed his final Order in the Judicial Review on 1st May, quashing SCC’s decision to proceed with setting up Community Partnered Libraries in ten communities across Surrey. The final Order is here (Final JR Order).

In response, SCC has announced its intention to retake the decision at a cabinet meeting on the 19th June 2012. Ahead of that date, and to inform the cabinet, SCC also announced that it will be consulting with library users over its CPL proposals.

SCC’s decision to consult with library users is welcome news. We have campaigned for such a consultation for a long time. A proper consultation with library users is entirely appropriate given the serious nature of what is being proposed: the removal of all paid staff and making volunteers take over the management and delivery of a vital public service. Even the Council admits this is a “radical” proposal.

The Council has already begun its consultation. The first batch of consultation documents landed on some library users’ doormats last week. We attach here the documents – these sent to parents of children in the affected areas, but all consultation documents are very similar (Cover letterConsultation documentEqualities/Diversity form).

So we should be pleased, yes? No. Consultation is good, of course, but only if done properly, comprehensively and in an open-minded way.

We looked up HM Government’s “Code of Practice on Consultation”. It has seven consultation criteria. It is worth checking SCC’s attempt at consultation against these criteria to see how the Council matches up. Criteria quoted verbatim below:

Criteria 1 – When to consult

Formal consultation should take place at a stage when there is scope to influence the policy outcome

How does SCC match up?

It is clear from the consultation documents that SCC has already made up its mind and that these documents are being sent out solely to shore up its previous unlawful and quashed decision.

Indeed, Cabinet Minister in charge of libraries, Helyn Clack, was recently interviewed by David Farbrother of the Surrey Mirror newspaper (Helyn Clack interview with Surrey Mirror), and gave this response:

DF: Can you envisage being persuaded by further consultation?

HC: Probably not

Criteria 2 – Duration of consultation exercises

Consultations should normally last for at least 12 weeks with consideration given to longer timescales where feasible and sensible

How does SCC match up?

The first batch of consultation letters started to arrive last week and users have been asked to return forms by 6th June. Many library users have still not received their documents. Let’s be generous and say the consultation began on 1st May. That’s a 5 weeks consultation period. Woefully short of what would be considered good practice.

Even if SCC dismiss the Government’s code of practice, it is still fanciful to suppose that it can properly consult, consider and analyse the results, and then present them to the Cabinet by 19th June.

Criteria 3 – Clarity of scope and content

Consultation documents should be clear about the consultation process, what is being proposed, the scope to influence and the expected costs and benefits of the proposal.

How does SCC match up?

Helyn Clack has already said she will “probably not” be influenced by the consultation. So why bother consulting at all? The answer can only be that SCC are simply trying to tick the right boxes.

Nowhere in the consultation documents does it explain the costs of the proposals. It is understandable that SCC does not want to reveal these costs, of course, because they are considerable and have by far outstripped any hoped for financial benefit.

Criteria 4 – Accessibility of consultation exercises

Consultation exercises should be designed to be accessible to, and clearly targeted at, those people the exercise is intended to reach.

How does SCC match up?

We believe that, of the documents sent out so far, most (yes, most) have been sent to the wrong recipients or to the wrong address. We are collecting envelopes as evidence and are finding more examples than not that have been sent to non-existent people.

We also have an example of a letter that was sent to a real person but at the wrong address. It just so happens that the person that received the letter knew the person that it was supposed to be sent to so could send it on. We have no idea how many other letters were sent to the wrong address in this way, but it is likely to be many.

Criteria 5 – The burden of consultation

Keeping the burden of consultation to a minimum is essential if consultations are to be effective and if consultees’ buy-in to the process is to be obtained

How does SCC match up?

The questions in the consultation document imply that the survey-taker has not only a full understanding of the Equalities Act 2010 and the Council’s specific obligations under its Public Sector Equalities Duty, but also that the survey-taker is experienced and highly knowledgable in assessing training needs and devising training programmes.

We are sure that the occasional Surrey resident will have this knowledge and these skills but to expect all residents to respond in a meaningful way to these questions is unrealistic and over-burdensome.

Criteria 6 – Responsiveness of consultation exercise

Consultation responses should be analysed carefully and clear feedback should be provided to participants following the consultation

How does SCC match up?

As stated earlier, we fail to understand how SCC can receive the replies, analyse and consider them properly in order to present a coherent report to the Cabinet by 19th June.

Criteria 7 – Capacity to consult

Officials running consultations should seek guidance in how to run an effective consultation exercise and share what they have learned from the experience

How does SCC match up?

If officials did seek guidance on how to run an effective consultation, we would be very interested to know where they looked. We found the Government’s “Code of Practice on Consultation” by doing a simple online search. We think that, as an absolute minimum, SCC officials could have done the same.

Conclusion

There is a final sentence underneath the criteria in the “Code of Practice on Consultation”. It reads, “These criteria should be reproduced in consultation documents”.  The criteria are not reproduced in SCC’s consultation documents.

SCC was taken to the High Court by Surrey library users and residents, and was found to have acted not only “unlawfully” but “significantly short” of what is required by the law. It would be reasonable to think that, given another go, SCC would make every effort to get it right this time around.

Not content with the hash it made of its first attempt at passing its CPL plans, it seems, if anything, to be doing an even worse job on its second attempt. It is perfectly obvious to any reasonable person that the Cabinet will not have sufficient information in front of it to make a decision on June 19th. If it attempts to make that decision in spite of the serious shortcomings of the current consultation attempt, it will be seriously misguided.

More and more Surrey residents are now saying enough is enough. The Council has already spent too much money on this library policy and it continues to burn money on it – far more money than it ever hoped to save. Common sense must now prevail.

Kenny Rogers sang in his song, The Gambler, “you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, and know when to fold ’em.” For Surrey County Council, it’s time to fold.

In our next blog – how people are  emphasising the benefits of paid staff in their consultation returns
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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  – Ed] 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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We are only a few weeks away from the Judicial Review into Surrey County Council’s decision to dispose of its responsibility to run 10 libraries across Surrey. The decision will remove professional staff from the libraries, remove computer systems linking the libraries to the central library system, and forces volunteers to take legal responsibility for running the libraries – a decision over which neither local residents nor library users were consulted.

The Courts have found in library users’ favour thus far, rejecting SCC’s many technical attempts to avoid scrutiny, issuing an Injunction in quick time, and awarding an expedited Judicial Review, due to take place on the 19th and 20th March 2012.

The Legal Services Commission has granted the claimants legal aid but, due to the LSC having decided that the case is in the broad public interest and that a very large number of people stand to gain should the claim succeed, the LSC have insisted that the community makes a contribution to the legal costs in the region of £18,000.

Due to the High Court acting so quickly over the issue, we have very little time in which to raise the “Community Contribution” – just a few weeks!

So we are now making this unashamed appeal for you to contribute to the “fighting fund”. We believe libraries and librarians are worth fighting for and have been working extremely hard to protect them and improve them. But we do need your help. It is wonderful and encouraging to have such high profile celebrity supporters such as Stephen Fry, Brian Blessed and Sue Perkins, but as you can see from our fundraising thermometer on the right of this page, we still need everybody’s help, including you!

There are three ways you can donate:

1. Make an online transfer from your bank account to the SLAM bank account at LloydsTSB Account 48371668 Sort Code 30-99-80. Please also send an email to slamtreasurer12@gmail.com with your name , address and amount of donation. This will enable us to return any surplus donations.

2. If you wish to pay by cheque, please make it payable to “SLAM” and post with your contact details to SLAM Treasurer, 10 Coombe Way, Byfleet, West Byfleet, surrey KT14 7DP.

3. To pay by debit card, credit card or paypal, click on the yellow Donate button on the right and follow the instructions.

If the High Court finds in the claimants favour, and costs are awarded, then we will return all donations.

Thank you for reading and for your help. Please ask your friends and neighbours to help too! Pass the message on!

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Stephen Fry has come out in support of SLAM and its campaign to stop 10 libraries in Surrey being run solely by volunteers.

SLAM contacted Mr Fry’s office, explaining SCC’s library plans, the campaign against them and the impending Judicial Review. SLAM further explained that up to £18,000 needed to be raised within a few weeks to help pay the legal costs.

Stephen Fry’s office told SLAM that he was working on The Hobbit, which is being filmed in New Zealand, and that he didn’t have very much time at the moment, but that they would pass on all the information, and Stephen could then peruse and decide.

SLAM was therefore surprised and delighted when Mr Fry posted the following Tweet this morning to his nearly 4 million followers within 12 hours of the request being made:

stephenfry
Do help @surrey_slam fight the good fight for libraries and librarians. Give the price of a book: a fine cause http://t.co/BTBet2wv
17/02/2012 08:42

This is, of course, wonderful news for us and would ask that you follow Stephen’s sage advice in donating, if you can. Please use the button on the right of this page to donate or click on the “Legal Action and Fundraising” tab for alternative ways to donate.

Stephen Fry now joins local resident, Brian Blessed, and former Surrey resident, Sue Perkins in getting behind SLAM’s campaign to protect and improve Surrey libraries.

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SLAM is hosting an open meeting as follows:

SLAM Open Meeting
8pm, Tuesday 7th February 2012
St Mary’s Community Centre
Stream Close
Byfleet
KT14  7LZ

All welcome. Please bring friends, ideas, and a commitment to libraries, librarians and the very many benefits they provide us all!

Fundraising

SLAM is a group of library volunteers, library users and library supporters. We are supporting the Claimant, Lucy, in her battle to protect 10 community libraries in Surrey and we must therefore raise the “community contribution” to the costs of the case that the Legal Services Commission will require. We have set up a new tab on this website, “Legal Action and Fundraising”, to provide updates on the legal case and to collect donations to the “fighting fund”. If you can help in any way, please let us know, or make a donation if you can possibly afford to. Many thanks!

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SLAM has initiated legal action against Surrey County Council over its plans for the mobile and static library service.

Public Interest Lawyers, who represented Gloucestershire and Somerset library campaigners in their successful legal challenge, sent a pre action protocol letter yesterday, on our behalf, to SCC’s CEO David McNulty for the purposes of a judicial review.

The letter  asks that the Council reverses its decisions made over the course of 2011 in relation to the library service. SCC has until the 10th January 2012 to provide a full substantive response.

In short, we are challenging SCC’s decision-making process and their lack of scrutiny, both of which we believe to be inadequate and unlawful.

We have taken this action with great reluctance, having exhausted all other means of trying to hold SCC to account  over their library  plans.

We have also become exasperated at SCC’s avoidance of any discussion or consultation with Surrey residents on the library plans, and also the Council’s increasing hostility towards legitimate protest (blocking SLAM’s emails, and witholding information in relation to Freedom of Information requests, to name just two examples).

We believe we have been given no other choice than to hold SCC to account by pursuing legal action.

Funding of the case

We have already incurred costs in initiating this action and continue to do so. We have set up a “fighting fund” to help pay for the case and ask anybody that can help to make a donation to the account below:

Lloyds TSB
Account Title: SLAM
Account Number 48371668
Sort Code: 30-99-80.

If you are kind enough to do so, please also email to let us know at slamtreasurer12@gmail.com  so that we can return any money in excess of what is needed.

Happy New Year!

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