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.