An open letter sent to several parliamentary candidates in Lincolnshire by Councillor Stephen Palmer (list to follow of names)
I know you are not from around here in Lincolnshire but as a parliamentary candidate for Louth and Horncastle I hope you are aware of the long running battle in Lincolnshire County Council over the plans that will make the Library service in Lincolnshire a post code lottery by altering the statutory element of the service.
Their plan to ruin our library service involves palming off the smaller community libraries to volunteers who have been threatened to come forward to fund and run their library or lose it, 30 in total. Alford and Sutton on Sea are two in your prospective constituency that are under this cloud. The plan was passed by the 9 executive members back in December 2013. The Executive were made up of 8 Conservative and 1 Liberal Democrat.
This issue did one thing, it united all the opposition against this attack on the Library Service. Ukip, Labour, Independence from Europe and the Lincolnshire Independents parties. Well done to the ruling group for that hard achievement.
It also achieved one other thing. It united people from all parts of the County and indeed support from outside the county and led to the people of Lincolnshire to take their County Council to the High Court in London in a judicial review which they won and stopped the process and quashed the decision.
This happened after thousands of people signed a petition which sparked a debate in Full Council, which as a side issue the Conservative leading group (the party you wish to be elected under) have now stopped that from happening again by railroading a last minute change to the constitution and as a consequence driving another nail into the coffin of democracy of our beloved county. That is a side issue but an important one.
Thousands signed the petition, including the Leader Cllr Martin Hill although afterwards claimed he did not understand the full meaning of the petition, hundreds gathered and marched through Lincoln in peaceful protest, many protests were staged at libraries and a Save Lincolnshire Libraries action group came into being.
The council after the High Court decision decided to do a second consultation with the public inviting alternative proposals. The first consultation received no support for the proposed volunteer model, not a single one, on the contrary the received replies were mostly scathing and supported a professional run Library Service. The resulting replies to the second consultation received three main proposals and hundreds of ideas.
After all this what does the recommendation to be put to scrutiny say?
Carry on Regardless.
You could not make this up.
Sid James, Terry Scott, Frankie Howard, Kenneth Williams and the cast of the Carry On films if still alive could play the parts of the executive but with less comic effect.
This all came about because a cut in Library Frontline services was sneaked through before County elections in May 2013. The conservatives managed to hold onto power with the help of three independents and three Liberal Democrats but do not hold a majority anymore. As for scrutiny when it was first looked at scrutiny rejected the proposals way back in the summer of 2013 but the Executive (remember, nearly all Tories) decided in their wisdom to overrule that and press on with the process and set off the consultation. Come the second scrutiny it was made sure that the ruling body had the numbers to move the process on again and end up with the action of the people taking the council to Court after the Executive, eight Conservative and one Liberal Democrat continued to put the volunteer proposal into action. The court not only found on the side of the people it awarded all costs against the council.
This is where the full tragedy of this fiasco comes out. It was supposed to have saved the people of Lincolnshire 1.9 million a year. That dropped to a target of 1.73 million when the officers could not meet that amount. The cost of two consultations, redundancy payments of staff, legal fees, officer time, changes to library software to allow volunteers access, payments to the volunteer groups if they take on the libraries, grant money to the volunteer groups if they take on the libraries and a host of other costs that only the council know means that I estimate the tax payer would have been better off if the ruling group had allowed the Libraries to continue as they were until 2018/19. In other words they have failed the people of Lincolnshire on many different levels on this issue.
In the meantime it has demoralised the library staff, those that remain, lowered the opening hours of the libraries, confused the volunteers and the public who use the libraries.
The volunteers that have come forward to run the libraries if this goes through have done so mostly because they found themselves between a rock and a hard place. They were told if you don’t “volunteer” you will end up with a closed library and an inadequate mobile van service. So when is a volunteer not a volunteer, Victoria? When they are press ganged.
Sustainability of volunteer libraries is a big factor in all this. For the first four years the County will provide £5167 per year. How far that will go will depend on the individual library as they are all different with different running costs and overheads but after four years the volunteers if still functioning will cease to get that help so it is predicted that will be when the model falls over if it has not done so already from other factors such as volunteer overload. Not very sustainable?
Postcode lottery of volunteer libraries. Some libraries may do well if they get a lot of support from community and that community is willing to fund it but others in poorer areas may well struggle and of course the irony is that the poorer areas of deprivation are the very ones that need a library. So as a consequence the coverage of libraries in a few years time could be very patchy.
Job loss. Lincolnshire needs all the jobs it can get and yet the council is getting rid of over one hundred jobs in libraries.
Alternatives. There are alternative models that have been put into the County Council but for the most part rejected in favour of this entrenched idea of volunteers running the libraries. Why, your guess is as good as mine but I think pure dogged reluctance to admit they got it wrong.
Impact. The council have stated they want a library service that can be relied upon for six years. Why only six years? In my estimation the model chosen will not last six years in its entirety and why be so limited as to only expect six years.
Effect on you. The timing of this is very bad. You are standing in a safe Tory seat but is it? Also conservative District councillors are standing for reelection in May as well. What effect will this have on conservative candidates all over Lincolnshire, not good that’s for sure but that does not worry me, as a Lincolnshire Independent who has seen to many times when national party politics gets in the way of good local decisions at local authorities the Library issue just enforces this opinion.
If you succeed in getting elected will you stand up for the people of your region and Lincolnshire in general? Will you put pressure on the Secretary of State for Libraries to get their finger out and do their job and sort out the countries library system that has been allowed to erode under local authority control in a piecemeal fashion. Finally what has Pubs and Libraries got in common? Both are closing at alarming rates.
Councillor Steve Palmer
Alford and Sutton Division