Secretary of State declines to launch an Inquiry into Lincolnshire’s Library service

FOR SALE - This was the library in Washingborough

FOR SALE – This was the library in Washingborough. Three Lincs libraries are now closed for good with no volunteer hub on offer.

Read a PDF copy of the reply by clicking this link Ed Vaizey Reply re Lincolnshire Libraries

A year after library campaigner Maurice Nauta wrote to the Secretary of State with further evidence as to why the Secretary of State should launch an Inquiry into Lincolnshire’s Library Service, Mr Nauta has been notified, along with nine other local residents, that the Secretary of State will not do so.

“I am very disappointed with the response received, but not at all surprised. Despite my sending a great deal of evidence, Mr Ed Vaizey, M.P. has indicated that there will be no Inquiry.  This is despite the fact that he has used no standards to measure what a Comprehensive and Efficient Service would look like. The letter fails to address how the Secretary of State concluded that there will be a comprehensive and efficient service after reducing the core libraries to just 15. (read Mr Nauta’s letter on this page)

For example he states: page 8 “A reduction in book stock does not automatically mean that the stock is no longer comprehensive.” There is nothing to indicate what does make up a “comprehensive stock”.

He adds “a comprehensive service cannot mean that everyone in an area must live close to a library.” The Council’s own plan insists that people can get adequate access to the library service if they are no more than 30 minutes travel time from one of the larger “core” libraries. This in effect rules out 25% of residents in Lincolnshire. This is far from comprehensive or efficient.

Mr. Vaizey maintains that the volunteer run libraries are not relevant and not part of the statutory service.  It is likely that libraries outside the statutory service will close completely once Council funding runs out. Three communities have already lost their libraries (Washingborough, Coningsby / Tattershall and Skellingthorpe) and this is shameful.

Tweet from the Cherry Tree Class from Washingborough Academy, before the library was closed

Tweet from the Cherry Tree Class from Washingborough Academy (Feb 2015)  enjoying the library that’s now closed – link

It does seem that the Government is not willing to invest in the future of libraries. Throughout the country, libraries are going through the same process as we have been through here, with varied answers to library provision being considered. The Secretary of State has only agreed to intervene with an Inquiry once, as far as I am aware.

Finally, the letter is clear that it is for the local authority to make judgements about the library service in the first place. This Council sent out its manifesto four years ago (see pic below) proclaiming that it would protect frontline services. As the Minister rightly reminds us, it is the Council which “has direct accountability to the local population”. The next local elections are due in 2017.

Lincs Conservative manifesto 2013

Lincs Conservative manifesto 2013, see second to last bullet point

RESPONSE FROM PAULINE PALMER

Author of the alternative ‘Palmer Proposal’ for libraries, a summary of which can be read at this link.

Response to the letter from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to Maurice Nauta’s Complaint

My personal response to the Secretary of State’s decision not to intervene is that it must be a political one. He is saying that he will not intervene, yet the only 2 enquiries that have been undertaken at all have been to Labour controlled councils. One was the Wirral some years ago when Jeremy Hunt was the SOS (the details of which I compared with Lincolnshire in my own representation and it showed that Lincolnshire was making far worse cuts) the local authority was subsequently required to make changes. The second has only just been declared and is the Carnegie library in Lambeth.

Throughout his response he keeps repeating the sentence ‘It is for LCC to decide’ but surely the whole point of the request for an enquiry is because members of the public believe that LCC have made political decisions and not decisions based on the requirements of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service?

For instance under Whether LCC appears to be acting in a careless or unreasonable way he says:

‘The Secretary of State considers that it is for LCC to ensure they have in place appropriate processes and governance structures to enable robust and well considered decisions to be taken and that such arrangements are within the proper bounds of LCCs discretion.’

I personally actually overheard conservative members of the scrutiny committee declare that they had to vote in favour of the changes. This surely means they were whipped. If they were then it makes a mockery of scrutiny. Therefore, he should intervene because the decision was not made fairly or democratically.

Then under the heading Whether LCC has failed to explain, analyse or properly justify its proposals he says:

‘The Secretary of State considers that the needs assessment made clear LCC’s rationale for using a 30 minute travel time criteria. It is for LCC, as the democratically accountable local representatives, to make the required value judgements with regard to the needs assessment for its library services and this is within the proper bounds of LCC’s discretion.’

Again if he were to order an enquiry the truth would emerge about the effect of a random ’30 minute travel time’.

‘Whilst book stock is clearly a key element of any library service, the precise level and nature of book stock is considered to be a matter for LCC to determine. A reduction in book stock does not automatically mean that the stock is no longer comprehensive.’

The fact is that the fewer books there are, the less choice there is and the result is a decline in users because they’ve read all the books in their particular genre. I know this happens because people have told me.

And then we come to the crunch heading Whether there is any serious doubt or uncertainty as to whether LCC is (or may cease to be) complying with its legal obligation to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service and his response includes:

‘The Secretary of State considers that staffing arrangements for the core statutory libraries is a matter for LCC and notes that volunteers are not replacing professional full time staff in these libraries. The fact that the community hubs are to be staffed by volunteers is not relevant to his consideration of whether the revised statutory service is comprehensive and efficient.’

Finally, the decision that has been made was expected but is not right and I still believe that there should have been an enquiry and it should have been brought some time ago before any of the changes took place.

Pauline Palmer

 

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2 thoughts on “Secretary of State declines to launch an Inquiry into Lincolnshire’s Library service

  1. I agree with the SofS that a reduction in book stock does not in itself mean the remaining stock is not comprehensive. If one book is withdrawn from library stock and 34,338 remain, it would be hard to argue the stock is less comprehensive. However, if 34,338 books are withdrawn and 1 book remains, it would be ludicrous to suggest that one book constitutes a comprehensively stocked library. Vaizey and those above him who call the tune must acknowledge this and come up with a more cogent argument (e.g., by proving that the remaining stock covers all the subject areas and genres known to be of interest to users, at all levels of their interest and ability, in all formats required by them and suitable for all users’ ages). Similar tests should apply to the provision of branch libraries: can they be shown to provide the services desired by the residents and workers and students of the area, or are they too far away or with too limited opening hours or with insufficiently expert staff to provide those services? I don’t believe it’s hard to address these questions; for example, people in rural areas know they will have to travel a certain distance to do their shopping but they should not have to travel further than the nearest shopping centre in order to visit a library.

    The Vaizey and his superiors are frankly taking the piss by not engaging with these issues and I wish somebody had the ability to take them to court for dereliction of their statutory duty.

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