Latest thoughts from key campaigner and independent Cllr. Steve Palmer
Thursday the 13th of August saw the official opening of the Sutton on Sea Community Hub and Library, formerly Sutton on Sea Library. Changing from professionally run and County Council maintained, to a volunteer run and managed service to the community.
As the good ship SS County Council steams off into the distance it throws a couple of life rafts in the form of a 4 year part finance package and a one off capital expense package. Completely ignoring the one hundred plus jobs that have sunk without a trace and the sharks circulating around a once proud Lincolnshire Library service that boasted 45 proper libraries that all people in the county could access with ease.
What are we now left with? 15 statutory professional libraries in bigger towns and then a post code lottery of community hubs and a reduced mobile service. The Executive at County will tell you it was to save £2 million pounds a year. It’s actually £1.73 million but what’s a quarter of a million eh? By the time you take out redundancy payments and other organisation change costs, the payments to community hub groups, the cost of two legal challenges, two consultations and lots of other on costs, was it all worth it?
It will be years before the tax payer sees any benefit in real terms and for what? A political ideal, The Big Society? After saying all that if I truly thought that the only way forward to save money and try to keep libraries open was the Executives plan I would support it, however it was not. It has been shown that an alternative, fully costed proposal could have saved the required amount but keep all libraries professional and encourage more community involvement on a truly volunteer support partnership if they wanted it, rather than hold heads under the water until people desperate to keep libraries open for their communities come forward.
We are lucky in Sutton on Sea because we have a high percentage of retired people, we have good people able to devote time and effort to volunteer and manage a library, not all communities will be that lucky. Also we had a head start as we already had a volunteer element in our library, opening an extra day a week to expand the offer of opening hours. It is interesting that 3 years ago when we started we had talks with the staff saying we would not threaten their jobs!
I wonder what the then staff think now? Most of the original volunteers in the group of that time have left because of the loss of staff, others through illness or other commitments. Alford lost all its volunteers en mass over an issue and most of them are now volunteering in other fields maybe less stressful roles? God bless volunteers, I am one, have been for years and despite all my hatred of what is happening to our libraries, community comes before politics so I will continue to do my bit in keeping ours open as long as there is a need, which at this time there is a proven one. How many executive councillors will be volunteering for their community hub leading from the front?
So the future of libraries? Time will tell. In the short term it will be very interesting to see how many community hubs actually open and to see how much effort County Council put into trying to encourage them, maybe even financially doing little deals here and there, I could not say? After all, it’s a post code lottery now and open for communities to negotiate the best deal they can get. In the long term it will be interesting to see how many do stay open past the 4 years when the payments are due to stop, when possibly rent for the buildings may start to apply and when pressures on volunteers may prove to much?
Much has been said about the legal challenges to the Executives decision to go down the chosen route and how it has held things up and how it has cost tax payers so much money. My answer to that is, we are all proud to live in a democracy, even though in my opinion it is an illusion of a democracy, people have died in world wars to uphold that. If people or groups of people care so much about an issue that they wish to challenge it and they see that 9 or 10 Executive Councillors all from the same administration have decided unilaterally over riding massive opposition to plough on with a hated plan, in their minds that will destroy a statutory service, what else could they do? Don’t forget although the last Judicial Review failed the first one did not, which proves something was not right with the process at County Hall in a judges opinion.
As to the expense to tax payers. I would be more convinced on this argument that revolves around legal aid being given to fund the challenge, if the Executives had paid for the defence of their decision themselves rather than the tax payer. You can’t have your cake and eat it, well maybe you can?
Not one single person supported the plan outside of the Administration Councillors and believe me for all opposition parties to vote against something is rare. In the consultation over 21,000 responses were all against and comments from Sheffield Hallam and the Judge reflected this. Sheffield Hallam noting no one was in favour at all. So we have seen the launch of the good ship Community Hub will it be a Titanic and sink on the first trip or a Queen Mary and give years of service? I for one would not buy a ticket to sail until it’s thoroughly tested and on calm waters.
One last question will HMS Government come steaming to the rescue with Captain Ed Vaizey at the helm? Unlikely, so don’t hold your breath, you will just prolong the agony. S.O.S. s.o.s. ……..
Cllr. Steve Palmer
Lincolnshire Independent spokesman for Libraries
Alford and Sutton Division