Our latest post is from independent councillor Stephen Palmer.
I have just received an answer to my open letter to my MP Sir Peter Tapsell. He says he had a meeting on the 1st of November last year with all Lincolnshire County Councillors (this is news to me and some of my fellow Lincolnshire Independents I have asked) and urged that Libraries not be closed. So from this I deduce that the Father of the House, a Conservative of long standing, plea to keep libraries open has fallen on deaf ears, or at least that is my interpretation. I would at least thank Sir Peter for “having a word” even if we are in the ridiculous situation of having the people of Lincolnshire to take their County Council to Judicial Review. Whatever that outcome of the review it puts a large part of the people and in particular those who are most of need of libraries in a position that they do not trust our elected politicians, especially those in the ruling group to do the right thing and stand by promises made in election leaflets to protect front-line services.
STEPHEN’S ORIGINAL OPEN LETTER
Open letter to: my MP
Sir Peter Tapsell
Dear Sir Peter,
My name is Steve Palmer I am a councillor at Town, District and County levels of local authority in Sutton on Sea. I stand in elections as an independent because I firmly believe that local politicians should speak for their community not for a national party of any colour.
I imagine that as a Tory leading figure and father of the house with so many years of experience you have stood up for local people even against the whip. Probably not often enough for my liking but Westminster is a different kettle of fish to local authorities. However my feeling is that councillors in local authorities who are members of national parties do not stand for their communities if the political line says otherwise. This is why I firmly believe there is a disconnect with voters, that and all the scandals, sex, bungs or expense fiddling. Politicians have the creditability of the same levels as bankers and 1980s estate agents.
The library fiasco in Lincolnshire is a prime example. On election to county I found out that the controlling conservative group had put through a proposed 2 million cut to the service before the election, I believe because as Eddie Pole (then executive for culture) has been quoted as saying it is political suicide to cut libraries so waited until after the elections to put forward the plans. 2 million which is one third of the frontline budget for libraries equated to a cut of 30 libraries out of 45. Of course the answer was to put the pressure on local communities by telling them to take up the responsibility of taking over your libraries or lose them. Then the infamous consultation. If there is one thing that has less respect than politicians it’s consultations. A done deal was the cry that went up from people interested in the libraries and it turned out in my opinion to be correct. Oh yes little tweaks were made but the over riding scream that went out from the public not to do this fell on deaf ears, not part of the consultation, why?
The other thing that has been highlighted to the horror of some is that councils do not really run democratically. People are under an illusion that when they vote in a councillor that the councillor will be able to vote on issues and in particular those that are really important to communities such as libraries. Of course it does not work like that in reality does it. On the Library issue, people expected all 77 councillors to have a vote on libraries but of course it does not work that way does it? No, what happens at Lincolnshire County Council, all above board and in the constitution of course, is that it goes to scrutiny then to executive who make the decision. So 9 executive councillors, not politically balanced of course made the choice. Trouble is the Scrutiny committee is mute if the decision does not go the way the executive want it to go. This is what happened in this case. The scrutiny committee wanted to stop the process on a 5 to 3 vote. Scrutiny is politically balanced but of course is weighted by the ruling group who have most councillors or those who have gone into coalition with them. However something went wrong that day, maybe the whip took his eye off the ball, but the opposition of Lincolnshire Independents, Labour and UKIP united against this appalling attack on our libraries outvoted the controlling group. What happened? Executive overruled the decision and carried on regardless. The next time the scrutiny looked at it after the consultation the whip and leader sorted the numbers and of course it went through. Calls for a full vote in council were dismissed because the constitution says we have a scrutiny system and it’s down to the executive to make the final call. This may all be correct but you try telling the public that their councillor had no say in it.
So the lack of transparent democracy and lack of faith in consultations have left many feeling that this whole issue has been flawed and why did the Secretary of State not step in? She had the power to do so but did not. Was it because she, Maria Miller, had her eye off the ball because of her impending expenses scandal. It is no wonder this is now gone to judicial review but whatever the result of that in many peoples minds Lincolnshire County Council has a black mark against its reputation and the people know who is responsible, the conservatives and those who have joined in the coalition to give them the control. I know you are not standing next election but someone from your party will be and this situation with libraries will be used against that person.
Lastly the whole thing started because of cuts that the government are passing down to councils and perceived need by the executive of the council to save the much published 2 million however they have even failed in that. The officers have only been able to save 1.73 million and because of the costs associated with the process of handing over to volunteers and legal fees, consultation costs and costs that I am sure we don’t even know about yet the tax payer of Lincolnshire won’t even save one penny until 2017/18. (My estimate). Was it all worth it?
Councillor Steve Palmer
Alford and Sutton Division
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A fund has been set up by campaigners to help Lincoln resident Simon Draper in his challenge of Lincolnshire County Council’s proposals to cut the library service by £2 million. The challenge will take place with a Judicial Review in the High Court in London on July 8 and 9.
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