My many reasons for supporting Save Lincolnshire Libraries – none of them political

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Library user, campaigner, business woman and mother of two Angela Montague

By Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaigner Angela Montague

I am one of the people at the heart of the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign. Martin Hill has now written an open letter (reproduced at the end of this page) attacking me and other campaigners, claiming our actions are political and unnecessary. I must now make it clear I have several motivations for opposing Mr Hill’s plan. None of them are political, and people can judge for themselves if my concerns are well founded.

I am a mother of two. Libraries have allowed me to better my life and it has been a delight to watch libraries and the staff within them work the same magic on my young children.

I am also a business owner. Libraries have contributed the knowledge and intelligence that powers my business, which provides work for me and other people. I believe that a strong and successful enterprise needs certain foundations: people selected on the basis of skills and experience, contracts of employment, ongoing training, and financial rewards to keep people motivated (and frankly most people in this world need a wage). Any enterprise that does not have these foundations in place is relying far too much on luck, and Martin Hill’s plan to replace libraries with around 30 volunteer community hubs is doing just that.

I was also one of the directors on Market Rasen’s Portas Pilot high street regeneration scheme (we were one of 12 towns selected in the UK by central gov, from 371 bids). I can say with absolute certainty that finding enough good volunteers with enough time to spare in a rural location was an Achilles Heel. The volunteer board I was a part of soon became exhausted. Support from additional volunteers for our initiatives was patchy and required much more management than anticipated. Our fall-back position was employed management resource – paid staff. So I have direct experience of volunteer initiatives, and their limitations, behind my opposition to this plan.

I can also say from my conversations with national library campaigners that there is no in-depth research in the UK into volunteer libraries to confirm they are sustainable, with much anecdotal evidence saying they are not.

So, my stance is this: Martin Hill’s plan to close libraries and replace them with volunteer community hubs takes a huge risk with a greatly loved service that is vital to many, especially children, the elderly and unemployed. He has ignored massive and sustained opposition. He was shown how an efficient service provider could make all the cuts he wanted while keeping all the libraries open and fully staffed, and he has ignored that offer too.

For these many reasons I have campaigned against Mr Hill’s plan. I have no need to add political ones to the list. I am not a Labour councillor or a member of the Labour party. My vote has gone to three different parties in my time as I vote for the least annoying candidate; this is not always easy.

Support for the campaing from Michael Morpurgo

Angela’s daughter Natasha, a Lincs library user from the age of six months, helped with several campaign images

If you want to really understand the people supporting this campaign, you must read the 900 comments on our website from those who signed our online petition (www.savelincslibraries.org.uk/nine-hundred-comments/). If you can get through that page without becoming tearful, you have a heart of stone. This is just a snapshot of the tens of thousands of people who support the campaign: good citizens of Lincolnshire who pay their taxes and want a secure library service in return. These are the people Martin Hill is now putting the boot into. Mr Hill’s obsession with other councillors should not be allowed to cover up the massive support this grass roots campaign has gathered.

Sheffield Hallum University (who conducted the first consultation) made this comment about the response from Lincolnshire people: “In over a decade of research work the analysis team at SHU had not experienced any survey (on any topic) generating such a high volume of qualitative data / written comments. In excess of 21,300 comments (779 A4 pages) were read, coded and analysed.” And I challenge Martin Hill to find one comment among the 21,300 that supports his plan.

This SHU report also records 23,000 as signing petitions against the plan. Save Lincolnshire Libraries have recorded support from world famous authors and celebrities, highly respected organisations like The Library Campaign and councillors and MPs of all parties including many high profile Conservatives, who do not want to be associated with Cllr Hill’s library plan. Perhaps they can see the iceberg dead ahead, as I do?

To say Save Lincolnshire Libraries cannot be distinguished from The Labour Party is preposterous. Labour councillors are involved in the campaign but that is their job, they have a duty to be The Opposition.

Any comment by Mr Hill on the matter of wasting taxpayers money is him protesting about the public purse being used to reveal that he and his fellow executives acted unlawfully, the reason they lost the 2014 Judicial Review on two counts.

And what recourse did people have but to take this to the highest court? The people of Lincolnshire do not like being dictated to (God bless them) and Martin Hill’s first unlawful consultation did just that. If he had let people truly have their say on the future of the library service they are paying for, the outcome would have been so different. If he had got round the table with campaigners (the offer was made many times) he could also have avoided this costly battle.

It is wholly inaccurate for Mr Hill to claim his decision has now been vindicated by the high court in his letter, rushed out before the judge has made her reasoning known, for goodness sake. Mr Hill knows full well the judge can only rule if the process which underpinned the decision was legal, not judge the political decision itself. The Court had no jurisdiction over the rights or wrongs of the service changes contemplated, so these played no part in Mrs Justice McGowan’s deliberations. Her judgment related only to matters of procedure, rather than to the substantive issue of whether there is evidence of a breach by the council of the Section 7 duty under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, etc. It is the Secretary of State who bears responsibility for deciding whether the changes contemplated by the council comply with legislation; no-one else, and campaigners are patiently awaiting a reply from the him in this matter.

And of course, as the Judge in the 2014 Judicial Review noted, voters can judge how their councillors acted on this matter at the ballot box soon enough.

Martin Hill also says he wants to thank volunteers. In reality many of the main players in this campaign are the people who are volunteering to take on his community hubs (but with great reluctance and as a last resort, of course) so Mr Hill has both attacked and thanked the same people with this comment.

Martin Hill also thanks library staff in his open letter. Because of their contacts of employment (such helpful things, aren’t they?) staff cannot say what they think of being clutched to Martin Hill’s bosom in this way, or of the campaign. But in reality the nub of Mr Hill’s library plan is: sack staff, replace with volunteers. And I have received many private messages of support and thanks from staff and their families for the actions of Save Lincolnshire Libraries in attempting to save their jobs and ensure a sustainable service for users.

So it now looks likely that 30 libraries will close and Martin Hill’s community hubs are going to replace them. His plan now sits before the ultimate judge: time. I hope the hubs thrive for the sake of the volunteers and the communities, and by ‘thrive’ I mean all of them providing years of dedicated service, not just those in wealthier areas and not just for a honeymoon period. That is the standard set by the library service they supplant. But if they do not thrive, I urge people to place no blame on the volunteers but look to the people that bulldozed the plan through, Martin Hill and the nine others on the council executive.

And finally, who is monitoring the progress of the hubs, so everyone knows the outcome and lessons can be learnt? It is now vital that other UK councils know how Martin Hill’s plan works in reality, so they do not blindly follow the same path.

==================================

Martin Hill’s open letter

From: News [mailto:News@lincolnshire.gov.uk]

Sent: 29 July 2015 10:00

Subject: Letter from the Leader of Lincolnshire County Council, Cllr Martin Hill

I am very pleased to hear the good news that the county council’s decision to modernise the library service, encourage volunteering and save money has been vindicated in the High Court.

The unnecessary and politically-inspired legal challenge has been dismissed on all grounds.

What is disappointing is that over £350k of taxpayers’ money has been wasted, voluntary groups frustrated and at least one library lost as a result of this action.

We have also been forced to put the service out to tender.

Our opponents have done their best to convince people that we are trying to close libraries. In fact, we are hoping to increase the number.

The only obstacle has been the ironically-named Save Lincolnshire Libraries group and the Labour Party (not that anyone can tell the difference between the two!).

Their actions have been a costly political exercise in making matters worse for library users, volunteers and staff.

Disgracefully, they have used legal aid to pursue their agenda at taxpayers’ expense and, even more shockingly, a firm of lawyers who, in the past have donated back to the Labour Party. They have pushed the boundaries of ethical behaviour.

And they have done this with complete disregard to the impact it has had on volunteers and staff, who I would like to thank for their patience and commitment through a difficult time.

Hopefully, we can now draw a line under this matter and focus on providing a library that is both more sustainable and more appropriate for the 21st century.

 Cllr Martin Hill

Leader of Lincolnshire County Council

OTHER REFERENCES

Market Rasen Portas Pilot Report http://marketrasenguide.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/2569_MR_SINGLES.pdf
SHU Consultation Report https://savelincslibraries.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/shu-libraries-consultation-final-report-31-october-2013-2.pdf

Angela Montague is a business owner and mother of two school age children. She acknowledges the huge role of libraries in her success as a businesswoman and in the ongoing growth of her children. Her company is Push Creativity Studios, Lincolnshire

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8 thoughts on “My many reasons for supporting Save Lincolnshire Libraries – none of them political

  1. You are a brave woman and a true friend of democracy. Kudos to you and shame on those who destroy learning and literacy. We here in Barnet in London are facing a similar issue. 97% of the people oppose the plans for closures which are only on the table due to 1% council tax cut that makes no difference to the average person annually but rips the heart out of our children’s futures: the libraries threatened with closure are experiencing a 20% increase in kids’ fiction borrowing despite stocks being run down over the last five years

    A fortnight ago the DCMS published that 11-15 year olds are going to the library in increasing numbers. The UK creative economy is worth £8bn and employs 1.7m people directly and book properties (like Harry Potter, James Bond and Paddington the Bear) are all key to that and, guess what: libraries are the number one way children discover books. So even if you don’t like learning, literacy or community but you like a robust economy, libraries are good for business. No Tory worth his/her salt wants to reduce access to a key market and threaten one of the UK’s biggest export industries for less than it costs each year to subsidise 100 acres of farm land…Seeing as destroying libraries doesn’t make any economic sense to big or small business – the CBI and Chambers of Commerce up and down the country echo your points about business needing skilled people who are in short supply – one really has to wonder what the vehemence against libraries is?

    On May 10, 1933 in Berlin, 20,000 books were thrown into a fire. I can tell you that in this corner of north London the Council is looking casually to remove 5 times that number every year from children alone. Seeing as it’s bad for business and the economy to do that and libraries are SOOOO cheap compared to other services and costs, one really does have to wonder what stories such members of the government were – or were not – read as children for there to be such short-sightedness, at best, and such extreme hatred, at worst, in their hearts.

    For everyone who values learning, we appreciate your efforts. Thank you.

    • Ladolcemar – thank you for your very kind and detailed comment, all power to your cause in Barnet. I wish Ed Vaizey or the Secretary of State would wake up to this disaster and intervene, so many council’s are hell bent on destroying libraries beyond repair no matter what opposition or alternatives.

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  4. Angela – A really excellent response to Cllr Hill’s letter which in my opinion was unworthy of a Council leader.

    An important point that I think undermines Cllr Hill’s statements is that the 30 proposed community libraries are not going to be part of the Lincolnshire statutory library service. Therefore there is no need for the Council to support the libraries in the future. The Council can thus say in a few years time “we already provide a statutory library service we don’t need to support these community libraries”. Similarly if volunteers dry up and the libraries close the Council can say “that is a local matter its nothing to do with us”.

    • Thank you Libraries Matter, I think this is an excellent addition to the case against this plan. Ian Anstice of Public Lib News did some very helpful analysis of this cull of statuary libraries recently: “[Minister for Culture] Mr Vaizey has again decided not to intervene in a library service that is severely reducing its number of branches and budget. In his letter saying he is “minded not to intervene” in Lincolnshire, he makes it clear that 15 static libraries, online provision and a housebound book delivery service meet the statutory requirement for provision. It accepts that the other 30 branches can be closed or passed to volunteers but, crucially, does not include them in making its final judgement – they are therefore effectively entirely optional and the council can do with them as it pleases, electorate willing. The county council of Lincolnshire accounts for around 682,500 people so that raises the bar to 45,500 people per branch library being an acceptable figure. So those who think that one should have a library in anything smaller than a middle to large town should consider writing to the minister before 24th April. It’s worth bearing in mind, by the way, that that ratio would mean the secretary of state would be happy with less than one thousand libraries in all of England: 1800 – or two-thirds – fewer than now. It is also worth noting that Lincoln, which has a population of 94600 would only have one branch under the council’s proposals. One of the reasons for this acceptance appears to be that housebound library services are a “replacement” for those who cannot get into a local library, which is a scary thing where someone delivering the books to an incapacitated person in their own home can be used as an excuse to close down a vital service.”

  5. Cllr Hill says in his letter…

    “We have also been forced to put the service out to tender.”

    And yet on the County Council web site here.

    http://www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/news/high-court-rejects-legal-challenge-over-library-service-in-lincolnshire/126728.article

    they say…

    “This follows an approach by Greenwich Leisure Limited, a not-for-profit organisation interested in running local libraries.”

    Now which is it? Forced or approached?

    Cllr Hill says the council was forced. And he is using that as a tactical, negative point against the protesters in his letter.

    
Now if the opposite were to be true, i.e the council was approached, as seems to be indicated from the council’s own web site, then Cllr Hill could be seen as obfuscating at best. And if so, it must throw doubt on other statements of ‘fact’ contained in Cllr Hill’s letter.

    
In the past the council has signed off hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of expenditure on a PR Guru as a consultant. One Mark Fletcher a.k.a. Mark Fletcher-Brown presumably to teach the council just how to pull off just this type of perfectly legal manipulation. And of course we, the council tax payers shelled out for that.

    We are in the curious position therefore of having paid, or are still paying, people, Mark Fletcher being just one, the large and uncut comms team being another example, to ensure we are blindfold at best and mislead at worst.

    There is an element of irony therefore when the council accuses the protesters of wasting money.

    As to the comment about the politics of the protesters… Every decision the council makes is political surely?

    And the decision to close libraries is a political decision isn’t it?

    Why then should Cllr Hill be so affronted by people in the opposition being involved in the protest, if indeed they are? That’s their job isn’t it?



    As to carping about the protesters getting legal aid; my observation of legal aid is the system is there to ensure a level playing field so the wealthy or powerful , and that describes the council, can’t just steamroller through using expensive lawyers and bully boy tactics without some funded push back from the other side.

    Of course you have to ask why this legal process was required in the first place. Who was it that provided the causation for this eruption into the law courts? Just asking.

    
Lastly. I fully apologies to all for a prior post. A draft was mis-posted in error.

    I sincerely apologise to all concerned for the stupidity of that error and for the clumsiness of that post. It was a draft. Also I apologise for any misunderstanding or embarrassment it may have caused anybody in the unlikely event it may have been seen that is- as it was removed PDQ.

    Peter Barton
    Former Head of Web and Information Governance
    Left the Council’s employ late 2010

  6. A reply to Cllr Hill (published here with permission) by Christopher Pipe
    Library Research & consultancy

    [email reply to Cllr Hill 14 Aug 15]

    I was frankly astonished to read your letter of 29 July (made public by the Save Lincolnshire Libraries group).

    1. You are a local politician, so it is hardly fair to use the word “political” as though it were an insult. Nor does it help when you harp on about the Labour Party: no doubt the campaigners include many supporters of the Labour Party, but that is completely irrelevant to their argument. You are required as a library authority to provide the service for all residents/workers/students who wish to make use of the libraries (Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, para. 7(1)), not just those who agree with your own political views.

    2. The people who disagree with you seek the continued provision of a statutory service which is highly valued. I am sure they are just as disappointed as you are that £350,000 of taxpayers’ money has been frittered away on legal challenges, instead of being invested in the service. Surely you should not be berating them as though it’s all their fault, when all they want is for the service to be continued and to be included in the planning instead of (as they feel) ignored? Could you really not have found ways of involving them in the planning, rather than presenting them with your own plans for getting rid of professional and other paid staff in libraries?

    3. You say you have been “forced to put the service out to tender”, as if that is something you didn’t want to do. Well, if you draw up tender documents properly you might be able to get the service run by an organisation that will do it more effectively than the Council. But even if you do delegate, remember you as a Council will still be legally responsible for ensuring the provision of a comprehensive and efficient library service (para. 7(1) and especially 7(2)(c) concerning cooperation), with advice as to its use (para. 7(2)(b), which I would normally expect to mean having expert staff) and appropriate encouragement for both adults and children to make use of the service (para. 7(2)(b)). If you do delegate the service as a whole (to an external organisation) and/or individual libraries within it (to volunteers, maybe), I shall be interested to know who exactly will be expected to provide the advice and information referred to in the Act.

    I look forward to hearing how you make sure that Lincolnshire’s library services are in a strong position to move forward in the 21st century.

    Christopher Pipe
    Library Research & consultancy

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