Column for Lincolnshire Echo From Phil Dilks, Labour’s Shadow Executive Member for Libraries at Lincolnshire County Council
Truth finally exposed on The Great Tory Library Betrayal
The long-running farce that is The Great Tory Library Betrayal took a disturbing new twist this week which should gravely concern anyone who values democracy and accountability by those elected to serve us.
On Monday, an official auditor’s report exposed a catalogue of errors which led to Lincolnshire being under the national spotlight for the wrong reasons.
The refusal to listen to alternative ways of saving money and a deeply flawed consultation resulted in a humiliating High Court ruling that their library cuts decision was unlawful.
The Judge noted that slashing library funding is a political decision which voters can ponder at the next elections.
But what happened before the last county elections was the focus of the damning auditor’s report.
It turns out the Tories had been plotting to close libraries since 2007. They’d given officers ‘a strong political steer’ and saw handing libraries to volunteers as their vision of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.
The report tells us that in 2012, the Conservative group of councillors were given a briefing on the vision.
But concerns around ‘the need for careful timing’ led to a deliberate decision to delay public consultation until after the May 2013 elections.
The scandalous deception that followed is sadly reminiscent of events under a previous Lincolnshire Tory Leader – Jim Speechley – who went to prison for abuse of office.
In May 2013, the current Leader of the Council – Martin Hill – launched the manifesto on which all Lincolnshire Conservatives stood for election.
Cllr Hill pledged to ‘protect and enhance’ services.
Under the headline ‘Stronger Communities’, the manifesto reads:
‘We promise to continue a countywide library network with better access and opening hours.’
In the elections that followed, the Conservatives lost seats. But Cllr Hill clung to power by stitching a coalition with the LibDems and a few so-called Independents.
Those people have serious questions to answer about whether they knew the Conservatives they now support had been elected on an empty promise they had no intention of delivering.
A month after the elections, in June 2013, the draconian library cuts plan was finally revealed to the public:
Thirty libraries to close unless ‘volunteers’ agree to take them over and open for at least six hours a week. all professional staff withdrawn, funding chopped, and statutory status scrapped.
Then opening hours in almost every library across the county were slashed.
Anyone elected on a clear promise to improve access and opening hours while plotting to do precisely the opposite surely should never be trusted to make decisions which affect our daily lives.
That’s why Cllr Hill and every Tory elected under false pretences in May 2013 should hang their heads in shame – and apologise to the people of Lincolnshire for The Great Tory Library Betrayal.