Letter from campaigner Robert Harrison to the latest Secretary of State. Robert says: “Having responded to Ed Vaisey’s request for further comments on his reluctance to intervene in LCC’s plans for the library service and having not had any kind of acknowledgement or response, I am writing again. This time it is a second copy to Ed Vaisey with a covering letter and also a covering letter (and a copy of the original) to John Whittingdale, the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.”
4th July 2015
Dear Mr. Whittingdale,
Shortly before your recent appointment as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, I wrote to the minister, Mr Ed Vaisey MP. Concerning Lincolnshire County Council’s plans to close and hand the running of thirty libraries to be funded and run by volunteers with only limited support. This was prompted by Mr. Vaisey inviting further representations as to his proposed decision not to intervene in the Lincolnshire County Council Executive’s destructive plans for the Library service in the county.
Having not received an acknowledgement, probably due to the pressure of the election, I consideredit appropriate to to send a second copy to Mr Vaisey and a copy to yourself in order to make youboth aware of the situation as seen at a local level and point out the problems which on closeinspection, make the council’s plans far less desirable than they would have you believe.
I am pleased Mr Vaisey highly values the library service and agree some form of change needs to take place but this must be carefully managed, offer a professional, sustainable service which is of benefit to the community and not overly relying on volunteers for its future sustainability.
I was saddened to hear Mr. Vaisey’s address made during the council debate at Westminster Hall on the 9th of June this year. Despite expressing his belief in the value of libraries, he appears to be using similar dismissive phrases that I have heard from others who see any alternative argument against library closures as not relevant or worth serious consideration.
He spoke of “mood music by some library campaigners” or of closures, “not on such a great scale as most library campaigners would have you believe ”
I suggest politicians consider visiting areas other than London to gain a better insight as to what is actually happening in the country and visit smaller local libraries in areas of deprivation, not what are hailed as newly built city libraries such as Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester (which are already drastically cutting back and unable to operate as intended).
In Lincolnshire County Council meetings, the ruling Conservative majority scoff at anyone who opposes their preferred option, slighting organisations such as Save Lincolnshire Libraries as “Labour lefties.” Some Conservative councillors brag that they haven’t visited a library for over 30years and assume others don’t need to.
If your elected representatives don’t respect the views of the electorate, belittle them, or are blinkered to the value of libraries then it is very discouraging, which is something I believe they intend to be.
Mr. Vaisey praises the work of the task group, set up as the result of the Sieghart Report but locally we have seen no helpful improvements yet and for Lincolnshire’s libraries anything other than your department’s intervention will be too late, resulting in the closure, yes closure of over 30 statutory libraries.
Even William Sieghart made it clear that “handing libraries over to volunteers would be a disaster” and yet this is what will happen in Lincolnshire. Does Mr. Vaisey’s view of “engagement with the community” include threatening to close their library unless they submit a business plan and volunteer to fund and run a Community Hub which is no longer covered by 1964 Act?
Certainly LCC have done this and the support for his plans Cllr. Hill boasts of is as a result of what can only be called “blackmail and coercion.” He also boasts he is not closing any libraries but this is obviously not the truth as to remove so many libraries from the protection of the 1964 Act, they must be closed. Community Hubs will no longer be covered by the 1964 Act and are not libraries in anything like the same form having a reduced number of books and reference material. When the council ceases to fund them in four years time, many Community Hubs face a very uncertain future. I have nothing against volunteers giving time to help in and support local libraries but to find funding, administer and run them when no longer statutory libraries, creates a system which will become unsustainable – a postcode lottery at best.
Even one of the experimental Community Libraries in Lincolnshire, featured as an example by the Arts Council in its document Envisioning the Library of the Future – 2013 is experiencing great difficulties in maintaining sufficient volunteers to provide a satisfactory service and aspects of it have to be heavily subsidised by the Local Parish Council to maintain opening hours and adequate library supervision. Everything is not as successful as we are being led to believe.
On 26th March 2015, in a letter to Cllr. Hill the leader of Lincolnshire County Council, (Ref:CMS264190/asg) Mr. Vaisey requested further comments from interested parties on why The Secretary of State should intervene and enquire into Lincolnshire’s plans for volunteer run libraries. I sent a letter to your department, outlining some of my major concerns and having had no acknowledgement, I enclose a copy once again to draw the matter to your attention post election. I also propose to send a further copy to Mr. Vaisey in an attempt to emphasise the seriousness of the situation.
I trust you and Mr. Vaisey may be concerned enough to look beyond the seemingly plausible rhetoric of the proposals submitted by Lincolnshire County Council and to investigate through gathering local knowledge, what the reality of accessing and maintaining Lincolnshire’s Library service would really become for those living in a rural county.
R. K. Harrison.
You can read Mr Harrison’s initial letter to Ed Vaisey here: