Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Council Speech


25 November 2014

Libraries are a vital service however they are often seen as a soft target because, when you get down to it, what will happen if libraries close? If you were to close hospital branches or fire stations, people might die. If you closed schools, we won’t get educated. But if you close libraries, what would happen? As Michael Morpurgo said, our great problem is bringing children to books and books to children. Lots of us can afford to buy books but there are millions that can’t or won’t or both – for these people and for many other people libraries are key to their future. Yes we can download books and lessons instead of going to school but we would miss out on contact – contact with humans and contact with a book. Some 8,000 people have signed this petition and that speaks for itself - the sheer number of unhappy people. This is what closing libraries causes.

The Council will show you statistics that book loans per annum are down year on year but what the stats don’t show are that people use the library for things other than books. From the thousand or so people I interacted with whilst collecting signatures, they use libraries for computers, meeting people, bringing kids to story time, taking shelter from the rain and so on. But I have been astounded by some of the other reasons, such as it’s a place to sit other than home as they have been made redundant, a pensioner with money difficulties who uses their bus pass to visit other libraries and interact with new people, for on-prescription reading books and homeless people needing somewhere warm.

I spoke to young adults who work unsociable hours and can no longer use it after work and Parents rushing in with their kids before the Saturday 1.00pm closing time to complete their Summer Reading Challenge charts - incidentally there was a 3.6% increase on the Summer Reading Challenge compared to last year - given the reduced opening hours, what does that say to you?

There has been no consultation with the public about the future of libraries and they are still not listening because today the Council is going to recommend that the petition is rejected. 

Adam Paynter said there are no plans to close libraries and he has been looking for other ways to keep libraries open for longer. However, when the Council is now looking to make further library cuts of £1.8 million by 2017 how on earth will libraries survive? How can devolving responsibility to Town and Parish Councils with half the budget and no mechanism for governance and sharing of best practice possibly be the solution?   ‘Pub in a hub,’ shelves in private spaces, library delivery service  – has anyone looked at the success rates? How will inter library loans work with all the libraries separated? And wouldn’t the public rely heavily on the goodwill of proprietors and volunteers?

To say there are no Safeguarding issues save volunteers being made to understand safeguarding responsibilities, I know that my mum would not allow me to go to a pub in a hub! 

The council says there is no viable option to reverse the cut in hours because the money would need to be found from other initiatives – but as Sarah Newton MP said, Whilst she is aware of the financial challenges the Council faces, these are challenges faced by every Local Authority in the country but it is worth noting that many authorities have managed to maintain, or in some cases even extend, library opening hours since 2010. 

The Council’s definition of ‘small paired sites’ is not the same as mine – I know I can walk to my library but I can’t get to the paired site without the help of an adult. What about those with mobility issues?  I’m not sure how keeping a One Stop Shop open on the day a library is closed is of benefit to anyone wishing to use a library. All I know is, why is the library closed every time I go to use it?

We believe there was a breach when the Council decided to consult only with library staff and not the public concerning the cut in library opening hours – when faced with severe reduction in their hours and pay, why would library staff then elect to work unsociable hours (i.e. after 5.00pm and on Saturday)? Without proper public consultation, you are in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and may cost the ratepayer if this is challenged.

The Library IS a vital service which we, the petitioners, are asking you to preserve – even though you are debating this on the day you make your final decision, I hope you seriously consider my list of demands:

  1. All further budget cuts to the libraries are halted with immediate effect to allow for meaningful public consultation.
  2. Reverse decision to cut library hours – at a minimum, restore all day opening on Saturdays, and at least one late night per week
  3. Any proposal to devolve responsibility to Town and Parish Councils is reviewed by a strategy group of experts.
  4. If volunteers are needed, then recruitment is done properly with clearly defined roles and money set aside for training.
  5. Review how the cuts to the mobile library service will meet the needs of people in remote areas.
  6. Any move of One Stops Shops into Library buildings is halted immediately.  One Stop Shops are only to be moved if it is not at the expense of library space, staff and if the capital money in this case goes to libraries also.

Look at what libraries mean to the community - the amount of feeling for libraries out there is very strong, and they are more important than commonly thought. Although I am young and can’t vote, there are many people out there who would certainly vote to keep libraries active – my petition is the proof of that. Libraries are very important for the community, and I believe that if I hadn’t done it first, someone else would have started a petition, because I don’t think anyone would let libraries go without a fight.

This paper was written following hours of research and my meetings and discusions with Adam Paynter, Hannah Tomms, Fiona Ferguson, Simon Rix, Alex Folkes, Derek Toyne, Dr Bridget Woodman, Lee Moscato, Michael Morpurgo, Liz Fenwick, library staff, the public and the staff at 38 Degrees. My mum advised me on policy & HR and my dad is an author.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant speech and brilliant campaigning Leon. Puts many of our present politicians to shame that one of the best, most coherent and passionate defences of public libraries came from yourself. Keep up the pressure.