Lincolnshire Libraries Consultation #EpicFail

The following statement has been written by a Save Lincolnshire Library campaigner from Birchwood, Lincoln. He has asked to remain anonymous to protect personal contacts who work with the Council. There are many Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaigners who fall into this category, they are among the most passionate about the campaign but sadly they are unable to comment publicly as this could cause trouble for a friend or family member with council connections. Then of course there are the 170 library staff who can say nothing at all in public, but are facing redundancy. If only they could talk…

Lincolnshire Libraries Consultation: The Failings

The proposals were clearly not ‘at a formative stage’ because the plan to cut 30+ libraries was formed back in 2011 if not earlier, in 2010, shortly after the Central Government’s spending review. Formative plans do not include a concurrent bid to run libraries at the same time as the consultation unless the plans are already well advanced enough to put forward a detailed document for each library under threat.

‘Adequate time’ has not been given for consideration and response from the County Council because the Council need the cuts to go through before the 2014/15 budgets are finalised, which means there is absolutely no flexibility in the timescale for the cuts. Not only that but it has been quite clear from the response of, in particular Nick Worth, that the Council has no intention of taking the consultation findings into account in any way, shape or form but that they will go ahead with their plans – plans that were already advanced by the time the consultation was started.

Quite clearly the consultation document was skewed so that certain responses were rendered impossible other than to write them in the additional comments after having been forced to respond in a way that was contradictory to the opinions and reasoning of the person filling in the consultation form.

Nick Worth has also made it quite clear that he has no intention of taking into account any of the consultation or petition responders, on the grounds that the response was poor. Even though the Sheffield Hallam University stated clearly that this was the best and most detailed response they’d had of any consultation they’d been involved in. Furthermore that the number of responders to the Petition alone dwarfed the number of people who voted in May 2013 for the members of the Executive who will make the decision.

Credit: ThomasLife on Flickr
“where a decision may affect substantial numbers of vulnerable persons” Photo Credit: ThomasLife on Flickr

“where a decision may affect substantial numbers of vulnerable persons, the statutory duties as to promoting equality will mean that decision-makers will need rigorous and accurate advice from officers and, of course, this requirement will have to be reflected in the consultation process.”

It is quite clear from the documentation I have seen and from the ludicrous pronouncements of Nick Worth that the Council have completely failed to carry out a full Equalities Impact Assessment. For Nick Worth to respond to queries regarding the difficulty of travelling to the nearest static library with the comment that ‘most people have two or three cars anyway’ is utterly reprehensible. There has been little or no consideration given to how children, the elderly, the disabled and the vulnerable will access the replacement services or gain access to any of the remaining 15 static libraries. The only consideration was made concerning access by public transport, where it is claimed that more than 90% of the public are within 30 minutes by public transport; this is quite clearly a total travesty, as anyone who uses the bus service from Birchwood to the centre of Lincoln knows that it frequently takes longer than 30 minutes and that doesn’t even include the time taken to wait or travel to the bus-stop. The Council don’t appear to have carried out an Equalities Impact Assessment at all, they’ve only carried out a ‘Service Level Assessment’, which is not the same thing.

“In cases involving a substantial reorganization, the authority must give proper consideration to adopting the enhanced consultation process referred to in s.3A of the Local Government Act 1999” Have the County Council done this? No, they have not, they have quite clearly carried out the minimum allowable, and failed to allow enough time for them to assess the situation post-consultation. It is clear that the time scales imposed by the Council have meant that to make the cuts the Executive will have to accept the plans, in direct contradiction of the findings of the consultation and of the petition respondees, and that they will have to carry out the closures and planned redundancies by the end of March 2014.

In summary:

The Council have not carried out the consultation early enough in the planning process. It should have been carried out in 2011 or 2012 when the plans were at an earlier stage and subject to adjustment. The Consultation document itself has made it clear that the consultation is not designed to produce any substantive change in the proposals.

They have failed to consult in a way that enables the public to respond in the way they wish, but forced responses the way they want them. They have also begun a period of consulting and bidding for asset transfer of libraries at the same time as the consultation, which also shows that the consultation was not carried out an an early stage in the planning process.

They have failed to properly carry out an Equalities Impact Assessment.

They failed to inform the public until several months after the May 2013 elections of their plans even though the cuts have been planned since 2010 and the cutting of 30+ static libraries planned by, at least, the end of 2011.

The Council’s overall budgets for 2014/15 are totally dependent on the plans going ahead as planned regardless of the findings of the consultation, therefore the consultation has been nothing more than an expensive exercise in paper-shuffling.

There has been no genuine intention to involve local communities impacted by the cuts other than to ask them to make a ‘bid’ for running a Library.

The Council’s press release machinery has been in operation recently to spread the lie that the majority of libraries will be ‘saved’ when that is simply not the case. There has never been any guarantee that the library building is part of the plan for the community library, especially when the quantity of books is as severely limited as it is. The County Council’s plans do not actually create libraries but community book-deposits.

Save Lincolnshire Libraries Campaigner, Birchwood, Lincoln

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Click here to open the PDF of the consultation report where people completely condemn the council’s plans and their consultation: SHU-Libraries-Consultation-Final-Report-31-October-2013 (2). Click here to read: Our response to the consultation findings

The library cuts in Lincolnshire have national implications (read this independent summary here: Lincolnshire Council’s consultation gets into further hot water … and has national implications), so we invite anyone who cares about public libraries in the UK to support us.

Follow us on Twitter @savelincslibs, Tweet your support and we will RT!

If you have more time and a blog, please write a blog post on your support of our campaign and Tweet us the link, again we will share this widely.

A volunteer run library is no library at all

We noticed an excellent comment on the concept of volunteer libraries in Plymouth from librarian and internet consultant Phil Bradley. With Phil’s permission we reproduce this text here as it is also very relevant to the situation in Lincolnshire.

This is of course utterly ridiculous. Volunteers, however well meaning, are entirely unable to do the work of a professionally qualified librarian. A library is more – much more than giving out books. It’s about providing information to an entire community – helping people back into work, finding information about legal issues, sometimes quite complex and personal information on medical conditions. Professionally qualified librarians have a moral and ethical code that they work to; are people going to be happy to give personal information to a volunteer who could be just about anyone? I doubt it. Volunteers would need to get a CRB check – I doubt parents would be happy with the idea of leaving their children to look at books in the company of almost literally anyone. Volunteers would need to be trained – which comes at a price. Volunteers cannot be relied upon – no more should they, which means that a library could be closed at just about any time.

Visitors to a library often have complex queries regarding all sorts of different things – from which social media resources to use, to what eReader to purchase and so on. And contrary to what a lot of people say, it’s NOT all on Google. Any competent librarian will have the knowledge and access of hundreds of databases and search engines in order to answer a query, let alone the knowledge of which reference books are best to answer a question.

I have no issue with libraries working closely with a community – that’s what they’re there for after all, but once you see a library being reduced to a glorified post office, it ceases to be a library. And besides, if a library is going to start doing work such as dealing with complaints and taking payments – are volunteers really the right people to be doing this? I think not.

Let’s be clear on this – people are ALREADY paying for their library service from their taxes. However, it seems that they are going to be made to pay twice, and the blame put on them if as volunteers they are unable to keep the library running. The local government has a legal responsibility and obligation to run a comprehensive library service, and this is just an attempt to weasel out of this requirement.

People often say that why should a library remain open when hospitals etc are put under pressure. Well I’ll tell you. This country is losing billions of pounds a year through illiteracy. Libraries help not only children but adults to learn to read more effectively. The government is decreasing access to printed materials, and putting much of it online, and for many people who do not have access to the internet, a library is the only place to get that information. A library is a safe place for people to research, to educate themselves. No wonder politicians don’t like them! Libraries are increasingly used by the medical profession to get people to take out books so that they can learn about their condition or illness. A library is in fact one of the ways in which a community remains healthy.

A library is not a book swap. It’s far, far more than that – it’s a key element in a community. It is a valuable safe place for a community to come together – to share, to learn, to better themselves. This cannot be achieved by downgrading it to be run by volunteers – and indeed other volunteer run libraries often report that they are simply not capable of doing this effectively.

A volunteer run library is no library at all. It is a sad shadow of a proper, vibrant service for a community. An attack on a library is an attack on everyone, and is a dangerous sign that a local council really doesn’t care about its community. Do not accept a voluntary ‘book swap’. You have paid for a professional library service, you are entitled to a professional library service and your community needs a professional library service!”

Click here to find out how you can help the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign, nationally and locally.

Original article this comment is from is here Plan for YOU to run Plymouth’s libraries

Consultation or Con?

The people behind the Save Lincolnshire Libraries Campaign report that they are delighted with the outcome of the consultation into the proposed cuts to the library service in Lincolnshire.

The report (by Sheffield Hallam University) now makes it a matter of public record that 23,000 people in Lincolnshire signed various petitions against the cuts (1) ; almost certainly the largest petition figure of its kind in the UK since the austerity programme began, by a sizeable margin. Campaigners are seeing this as a major achievement, especially set against the figure of only 9,757 people turning out for the nine Executive Members in the 2013 county election. (2)

“In other words,” commented campaigner and author William Hussey, “over 13,000 more people signed the petition rejecting the council’s proposals than voted for the entire executive body combined. The mandate for those rejecting cuts is therefore stronger than that of the councillors deciding the issue and their democratically stronger voices must be heard.”

Campaigners have sought a national opinion on the achievements of the Lincolnshire petition from a leading name when it comes to library news, Ian Anstice, who catalogues all UK public library news and articles on a daily basis in his website Public Library News (publiclibrariesnews.com). Mr Anstice told Lincolnshire campaigners: “I have been studying library protests since the start of the austerity programme and this is by far the largest petition I have ever seen. The people of Lincolnshire have spoken loud and clear about how they feel about public libraries and the only way that the councillors are not hearing them is if they are deliberately being deaf.”

Campaigner and copywriter Angela Montague also added: “The Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaigners managed to engage 23,000 people on a shoestring budget of about £1,500, which was funding from Unison to cover costs like postage and printing that individual campaigners could not be expected to pay for – especially considering that those same campaigners have already effectively paid for the council’s own, ineffective consultation through the council tax system!”

Save Lincolnshire Libraries

One of the big questions the campaigners now have is how the council’s consultation activities (covering a questionnaire and several events) only managed to engage 8,000 people, despite their massive budget of at least £50,000, with final costs not yet published

Campaigners have felt for a long time that the council consultation made it very hard for people to express their views, and now the clear difference between the ability of the campaign group and the council to engage the public raises worrying questions about how fit for purpose this consultation really was..

Specifically, Save Lincolnshire Libraries feels that the consultation strongly and repeatedly deterred people from taking part, especially those who did not agree with the proposed cuts.

Campaigner Maurice Nauta added: “The Service Level Agreement for all local libraries subject to closure has now been scrapped by the County Council as �?not fit for purpose’, yet this was sent to Parish Councils months ago with an urgency for Parish Councils to put together Expressions of Interest to run local libraries . Another fine mess. Also the Consultation Institute, which is considering whether or not to endorse the County Council’s Consultation process, appears to have thought it was a satisfactory process to go ahead with, despite it being of limited scope.”

Campaigner and independent councillor Steve Palmer commented: “Out of 30,000 paper surveys that went out 16% were returned. They were placed in limited locations, 26,000 went to Libraries, 2,500 to schools, 1,500 to job centres and 500 to CAB … I know, this does not add up! Compare that to the consultation survey of the County News asking people’s views on the new look of the newsletter. This publication go to every home in the county, delivered by Royal Mail so approximately 323,000 addresses. Only 800 responded to this, even with a bribe of a prize of £50 shopping vouchers so that’s a 0.25% response. So Nick Worth should be delighted with the response to the library consultation but as the teacher said, ‘could have done better’.”

“It certainly looks like this library consultation was engineered to fail,” added campaigner William Hussey, “Either that or it was put together by people who are wholly incompetent.”

So the campaign group now asks the council to reassure them that the consultation did genuinely set out to engage all the people of Lincolnshire, and make best use of taxpayers’ £50, 000, by answering these fundamental questions:

Who planned the consultation and who signed off those plans?
Why didn’t the consultation use the existing email database of thousands of library users to invite people to take part?
Why wasn’t a letter and questionnaire inserted into the County News, which goes to every county home?
Why wasn’t the plan clearly presented in every library, with posters listing libraries and mobile stops facing closure?
The questionnaire was widely reported to be confusing and background papers difficult to track down. With so much money available for designing it, why did it fail on this fundamental level?
Why were so many consultation events held in the daytime, excluding working people?
Why were consultation events held in towns where the library was not under threat? For example the most convenient meeting for North Hykeham & Birchwood libraries and the many villages and communities they serve was at Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln in an evening. Public transport links to uphill Lincoln from North Hykeham are challenging at the best of times for non-drivers, and even more so in the evenings. The report by Sheffield Hallam University mentioned that minority groups (the elderly etc.) would be disproportionately affected by the cuts, which only makes this point more salient.
At the consultation meetings, why was the majority of the time taken up with a presentation on the plans, leaving very little time for the public to take part in the consultation, i.e. to be consulted?
Why did people have to register to attend the consultation meetings? A public meeting about a public service should be completely open.
Why consult in the Summer holidays when many people are away and schools (children are key library users) could not take part as a group?
Why publicise the CoOp’s offer halfway through the consultation? This confused people at best, and led some people to believe their libraries were safe, thus demotivating them from taking part in any campaign, or consultation activities.
Why run an �?expression of interest’ campaign alongside the consultation when (as quoted by Cllr Nick Worth in the media on numerous occasions) no decisions had at that stage been made, other than to make people panic and feel that if they protested at their library closure they would miss the opportunity to save it?
Finally, why did the questionnaire not give the option for �?no change’ to the library service, a view 23,000 people in Lincolnshire clearly hold? Could this be why many did not bother to complete it as their views were not accounted for?
Nick Worth (executive member for libraries and Lincolnshire County Council) quoted in The Lincolnite
source: The Lincolnite

Sources for Figures

1 Sheffield Hallam Report: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B9r-dNr4kPL0am5sT3dUZTBXRkE/edit?usp=sharing

2 Election Results: http://www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/ElectionsResultsAll.aspx].

Press Links

Lincolnshire Echo – Lincolnshire Libraries Consultation Slammed as ‘Waste of Time’

Lincolnite – Lincolnshire people strongly opposed to library cuts, survey finds

Response to Lincolnshire Library Consultation from Independent Councillor

The following response to the Lincolnshire Library Consultation comes from Councillor Steve Palmer, County councillor of Alford and Sutton on Sea, East Lindsey District Councillor Sutton on Sea North, Town Councillor Mablethorpe Trusthorpe and Sutton on Sea.

On Wednesday the 30th the results of the library consultation were revealed at the community and public safety scrutiny meeting. The consultation carried out by Sheffield Hallam University showed from those who responded that there was many who are angry and upset about the proposals. Many participants found the survey and consultation events unsuitable or inadequate. There was fundamental disagreement with the proposals. There were thousands of communications highlighting the value and importance of libraries and the function of the libraries amounted to much more than the consultation referred to.

Young people in their own consultation also opposed the plans.

It was recognised that members of the public and councillor’s had developed campaigns and led action against the proposals.
Key messages from the consultation were, the enjoyment libraries bring, positive impacts on quality of life and wellbeing, the quality of staff and facilities.

Well over 60% said changes would effect them personally and impact on their community. Impacts would be damaging to community particularly the elderly, children and job seekers. Rural communities felt the effects would be more serious than impacts on urban communities. The cuts to library service were viewed as highly unfair and short sighted that would result in permanent damage to the county with the impact on young people a key concern. Also was the fear that community run libraries may not materialise or close when difficulties were encountered.

A major criticism of the consultation was there was no option to state they wanted to leave the service as it is.

My own opinion is this consultation result has just shown what those against the proposals have been saying all along and the executive of the council by ignoring the recommendation of the scrutiny committee, earlier in the year not to proceed with this consultation, have wasted at least £50,000 the total amount with officer time etc is undeclared at this time.

The executive must now man up and admit that these proposals are wrong. It was wrong to cut 1.9 million from a 6 million budget before developing a full understanding of what consequences such a swathing cut would do to this statutory duty. By doing this the wrong way round we now have a tail wagging the dog situation.

They were wrong in running an expression of interest campaign at the same time as the consultation, again doing things the wrong way. Communities have been frightened into trying to come up with volunteers to take over their libraries because they don’t want a inadequate mobile service which was their only other option. Worse still the information packs which list the premises costings of the libraries are not the same as the library service officers are using as revealed at the meeting, they are between 16 and 22% too low.

Worries on how to raise thousands of pounds a year to run the two libraries in my division, Alford and Sutton on Sea, is why the current volunteers have shied away from an expression of interest plus they value the professional staff.

We must not also forget the loss of mobile stops at places such as Huttoft and Bilsby where their communities have had no options at all just ceasing of the service.

I would say to the nine executives of the council, made up of eight conservatives and one liberal who will not let your elected members have a free vote on this issue but hang onto their right to decide the fate of libraries on their own, that this is far more important than libraries this is about showing the electorate that consultations are not rubber stamping exercises as critics say, this is about reconnecting with the voters, this is about transparency, this is about being seen to do the right thing by the people who put you in power, this is about your election promises to protect frontline services, this is about democracy.