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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.

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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!

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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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The long wait for Surrey County Council’s library plans to be held up to scrutiny is coming to an end. The campaign to halt the Council’s controversial plans to force “volunteers” to take over statutory library service provision in 10 Surrey communities is over a year old.

The Council has given an ultimatum to local residents: “volunteer” to run your library or we will close it! The Council has not consulted local residents or library users over what they refer to themselves as a “radical” plan. SCC has not listened to sensible alternatives that will actually save money AND improve the service. Instead, they have ploughed on regardless with a policy that is unwanted, diminishes a service that consistently ranks the highest in satisfaction surveys of all Council provided services, and has cost more money to implement than it claims to save.

And let us not forget that the claimed savings amount to just 1/10,000th of the Council’s Budget in any case (and yes, I have counted the zeros properly). That’s like a person on a salary of £25,000 needing to save the price of a cup of coffee from their annual spending.  You really have to ask whether it was worth the Council letting this go all the way to the High Court, with its attendant cost and effort, rather than just drop the plan or make suitable and sensible adjustments.

It is regrettable that the only way that Surrey residents can hold their Council to account and have a say on the library plans is through the High Court. If only the Council had consulted with residents and library users, and done so in an open-minded and collaborative way, then all this may have been avoided.

The Judicial Review will take place on Monday and Tuesday at the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand in London. The case will be put before Mr Justice Wilkie in Court 19 starting at 10.30am. All are welcome to attend.

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S.L.A.M. has had a number of meetings over the past couple of months. From these meetings a range of plans and actions have been formulated.

This includes encouraging local people to write to MPs (list here), councillors (list here) and all other relevant people and organisations about the proposed changes to the public library service in Surrey.

A website, Facebook and Twitter account have been set up to encourage more people to get involved in the campaign and to keep everyone up to date with what is going on.

Details of what has happened over the past year in regard to the changes to the library service are being compiled by the group.

A local petition has been set up asking the county council to withdraw their current proposals and undertake a full public consultation.

Local campaigners have spoken to councillors and have submitted Freedom of Information requests regarding the council’s plans.

UNISON are key players in the campaign and have raised a motion highlighting their concerns about Surrey County Council’s proposals. Nationally UNISON have set up the “Love your libraries” campaign, in defence of public libraries.

The Women’s Institute are currently focusing on their “Love your libraries” campaign and are planning a range of high profile activities, including “W.I. Birthday Library Action Day” on 16 September 2011 and a national petition in defence of public libraries. As part of this “The Surrey Federation on W.I.s” are also involved in the Surrey campaign.

The campaign is also planning a number of events over the next couple of months to highlight the situation in Surrey.

If you want to get involved, the next meeting is on 6th September.

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The next S.L.A.M. meeting will be held on Tuesday 23rd August at 8pm.

Venue: St. Mary’s Centre, Stream Close, Byfleet, West Byfleet, Surrey, KT14 7LZ

The meeting will discuss the latest plans for the campaign and all are welcome to attend – even if your local library is not one of the eleven threatened libraries in Surrey.

Come along.

Get involved.

Save our libraries!

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