Our latest post has been written by Paul Rees, Save Lincolnshire Libraries Campaigner and Head of English at Christ’s Hospital School, Lincoln. Karl McCartney confirms he is happy for this to be published as a non-verbatim account of the meeting. Photo free to use by press and bloggers to report on the campaign, a link back to this post would be appreciated.
As soon as I heard about the Save Lincs Libraries coach trip to lobby parliament for support with the campaign to oppose the County Council’s plans for cutting and re-structuring Lincolnshire’s libraries, I contacted Karl McCartney’s office to see if he would be able to attend the meeting on the Tuesday (April 8). Karl was unable to attend on the day but offered to meet me instead to discuss my concerns as a constituent on Friday (April 11) I am grateful to him for his time and for listening closely to all I had to say.
We began with me talking Karl through the specific questions that people had sent to SaveLincsLibraries and had been forwarded to me. Karl asked for me to forward to him the questions electronically so that he could respond to them fully, and this I have done. His responses will be forwarded to SaveLincsLibaries for dissemination via the Facebook page, Twitter, this blog, and e-mail to those who asked the questions. Julie Harrison’s very specific questions about the effects of the proposed cuts on those living in St Giles, the Ermine Estate and on Birchwood did prompt Karl to say that he did not want to see anyone in his constituency disadvantaged and he admitted to having a some reservations about cutting library services in this way. Clearly, though this is a County Council decision, MPs in the county will see their constituents affected by it and Karl agreed to put Parliamentary Questions about Library provision to both Eric Pickles and to the new Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid on my behalf.
Then, we moved our discussion on with me putting forward my concerns about the short-sighted nature of the council’s plans for libraries and the notion that any budgetary cuts that affected literacy were something of a false economy. I expressed deep concern that the County Council’s response to the challenge of Mr Pickles’s department’s cuts in funding for Lincolnshire too readily singled out library provision as an area for ‘soft’ cuts assuming that figures showing a relatively low percentage of adults in the county as regular library users meant that libraries were not a valued service and resource.
Karl and I then spoke at some length about what it is that makes library provision so important. Karl noted how important library access had been in both his own childhood in the Wirral and as a student in Wales. I expressed concern that the County Council had very quickly settled upon the programme of closures and reductions in mobile library services and pointed out the level of expense that would now be faced by many living in villages if their nearest library branches were to close. My own concerns are primarily connected with access to libraries for children and young families who often need to feed a growing reading habit once the fire has been lit in a child; I worry that pre-school aged children will lose out and one avenue to greater literacy might be closing. I was able to make reference to Sir Edward Leigh’s timely intervention, writing expressing his massive reservations about the route the council has chosen. Karl was quick to state that the council’s likely response would be to throw it straight back at Sir Edward and say that to do differently would require an increase in funding from central government. This led to a discussion of other approaches a local authority could take, such as a co-location of other services in a way that met statutory requirements and did not leave the door open to future cuts by having resources allocated to ‘community hubs’ rather than libraries.
It was at this point that Karl agreed to put forward questions to the Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and to Sajid Javid, the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.
1. Eric Pickles – Why has his department not taken the opportunity to give leadership and guidance to local authorities in innovative ways to manage reduced budgets without making irreversible cuts to services such as libraries which have the potential to add so much in terms of literacy and skills?
2. Sajid Javid – With Local Authorities under pressure to reduce budgets some, like in Lincolnshire, are turning to Library provision as an avenue for cuts. Would his department, as a matter of urgency, constitute an inter-departmental review into library provision to seek efficient ways to protect the valuable community resource that is the library for future generations?
I will correspond further with Karl McCartney about the precise wording of questions to be put to ministers and would urge others of us who live in his constituency to contact him directly to express your concerns and to ask for his support.
Collated questions from those involved in the Parliamentary lobby visit on Tuesday 8th
• Stephen Palmer asks about whether the Lincs CC programme of cuts and expansion of volunteer provided services contravenes the agreement reached by the TUC and the coalition over the deployment of volunteers
• Stephen Palmer also contends that Nick Worth’s predecessor, Eddie Poll, spoke to volunteers of cutting the number of libraries to 15 long before the consultation took place
• William Hussey (author, Skegness) asks if LCC are aware that Oxfam and the WI argue that the volunteering model is unsustainable for Library provision
• Lindsey Slapp asks for Karl’s help in approaching Eric Pickles about an interdepartmental review of library provision in the light of “…the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof…”
• Julie Harrison, former Head Teacher of Chad Varah Primary, asks “How does Karl see the following people being able to access library provision: –
- families who live on the Ermine, St Giles, Birchwood estates?
- young isolated unemployed people in rural areas?
- school children who can currently walk to a library but who are too young to go into the centre of towns or the city independently?
- secondary school children who need the internet for research but who do not have internet access at home?
- people in small rural towns who do not have a car?
- mothers with pre-school children who currently attend story time and activities but who will not be able to post closure.
How does Karl feel he can assist us in our campaign?”
• Leah Warriner-Wood (North Hykeham, University Lecturer & business owner) would like to add people with mental health issues to Julie’s list.
• Ros Jackson asks about whether the cuts in librarians amounts to another bar to women in the workforce?
• Maurice Nauta (senior manager in the library service and several other frontline services in the county, from 1988 to 2002) asks:
- What does Karl feel about the prospect of libraries in some of the most deprived areas of Lincoln and the UK not having a properly staffed and managed library service available within easy reach?
- What does he think about the fact that, since 2009/10, budgets for libraries across England have been reduced by 30%?
- Does he feel that the County Council are the right organisation to manage the library service, or would it be better managed at District Council level, where there is a closer relationship with residents and more dialogue? (The County Council’s role could be one of providing support services only.)
• Angela Montague (business owner and mother of two, Market Rasen) asks:
- Does Karl think the amounts of money LCC are willing to contribute to the running of the community hubs is appropriate? (With the initial grant of 15k when LCC are going to charge 11k before vat for one self service machine!)
- Does Karl agree that the legality of the leases to the library buildings being set outside the usual legal packages is questionable?
- Why does the business plan pack seem to actively dissuade groups from hiring professional staff to maintain these services?
The rest of the country is watching Lincolnshire on this issue; I am concerned that central government and what was then Maria Miller’s department in particular, have abdicated responsibility on this issue. By declaring it to be a local issue how cuts in budgets should be delivered, it appears that Mr Pickles has sidestepped an opportunity to show some leadership and guidance. Perhaps Sajid Javid would be prepared to conduct an interdepartmental review into library provision so other counties can avoid the mess and embarrassment of a Judicial review? Could such a review look at the possibilities for co-location of services and models of library provision that help communities move forward and better prepare themselves for the future?
Would Karl be prepared to help me word and then put PQs to Sajid Javid and Eric Pickles about searching for ways to lead County Councils to think about avenues of library provision that avoid slashing budgets by a third in one year and leave Lincolnshire’s provision so threadbare?
Other Major News from the Lincolnshire Campaign:
(1) #Lobby4Libraries click here to read about our day in Westminster and visit to No 10 Downing Street.
(2) FULL JUDICIAL REVIEW TO GO AHEAD [CLICK LINK TO READ] Lincolnshire: Full Judicial Review of Library Service to go ahead The judge did not restrict the grounds of challenge, and therefore the 4 grounds will be considered by the High Court when the case is heard.
(3) LETTER TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE [CLICK LINK TO READ] A former Assistant Director at Lincolnshire County Council has written to The Rt. Hon Maria Miller MP, former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to formally request that she intervene and order an urgent inquiry into the changes being made by the County Council to the Lincolnshire library service.
(4) Click here to read about the day when Helen Goodman MP (Shadow Minister for Libraries) visited campaigners at Ermine Library, 15 April.
(5) Click here to read extensive press coverage of our #BigLibraryMarch in September 2013
(6) Our growing page of comments from communities taking the volunteer library route https://savelincslibraries.org.uk/2014/02/10/community-groups-give-real-reason-for-saving-libraries/