The following is a press release from Lincolnshire’s Labour party, published unedited:
NEWS FROM LABOUR AT LINCOLNSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
Damning Audit Report shows Lincolnshire Conservatives plotted to close libraries while making empty election promises to ‘improve opening hours’
A damning report out today (Monday) reveals how Lincolnshire Conservatives were secretly planning to slash library opening hours – at the same time as making county-wide election promises to “improve library opening hours”.
The official internal audit report shows that they put off public consultation on their draconian plan to close 30 libraries until after the County Council elections in May 2013.
The shocking report concludes:
- The decision to delay the consultation in 2012 was taken following an officer’s briefing to the Conservative group of councillors and a ‘strong political steer’.
- The delay – until a month after the county council elections in May 2013 – led to a squeezed consultation timetable and mistakes which eventually resulted in a High Court judge overturning the council’s Executive decision to press ahead.
- Councillors were given wrong information on an alternative offer to run libraries across the county.
The report will be discussed today (Monday) by the council’s Audit Committee – 24 hours before the controversial libraries plan is back in the spotlight at a Scrutiny meeting tomorrow (Tuesday).
Labour’s Shadow Executive Member for Libraries Cllr Phil Dilks (Deeping St James) said:
“This devastating report exposes the disgraceful con-trick the Conservatives played on the people of Lincolnshire at the elections in May 2013.
“In their county-wide election manifesto (link below) Lincolnshire Conservatives promised to ‘improve library opening hours’. The truth is now out – it was an empty promise they had no intention of keeping. At the same time, they were secretly plotting to slash opening hours – and withdraw £1.9 million funding for more than 30 libraries across the county.
“Had they been honest and revealed their draconian plan before the elections, they know they would not have been able to cling on to power.
“At the same time as publishing their manifesto promise to improve access to libraries and opening hours, they were delaying publication of their plan to close 30 fulltime libraries unless voluntary groups agreed to keep them open for at least six hours a week
“Just weeks after the elections, the plan was revealed and then opening hours were slashed across the county. Even the Central Library serving the university city of Lincoln had its hours cut to fewer than libraries in small market towns like Worksop and Retford in neighbouring Nottinghamshire.
“This Report exposes the utter contempt for proper scrutiny– I welcome for example the critical comments on expcting elected councillors to make a judgement on an important 200 page report which they were only allowed to see just 15 minutes before a crucial meeting.
“The Great Tory Library Betrayal was only stopped in its tracks by a High Court Judge.
“But now it is back on the table – tomorrow (Tuesday) councillors will be asked to approve exactly the same plan that was quashed by the High Court.
NOTE TO EDITORS:
- The Internal Audit Report into what led to the County Council losing a Judicial Review will be considered today (Monday) at a meeting of the Audit Committee starting at 10am at County Offices, Newland, Lincoln.
- The full Internal Audit Report is Item 4 in the agenda papers which at:
- in the attached document. Extracts are shown below, with highlights emboldened.
- On page 7 (Stronger Communities) of their Manifesto for the May 2013 county council elections, launched by county council Leader Cllr Martin Hill, Lincolnshire Conservatives state:
“We promise to continue a countywide library network with better access and opening hours”
- A demonstration against the library cuts plan will be held at County Offices, Newland, Lincoln from 9.15am tomorrow (Tuesday) ahead of a meeting of the Council’s Communities and Public Safety Scrutiny Committee starting at 10am. All who value libraries welcome.
EXTRACTS FROM THE INTERNAL AUDIT REPORT – Libraries Project
(particular highlights shown in bold)
3.6 Looking back at the reshaping of library services prior to the Core Offer in 2011 we can see that the potential closure of static libraries was not a new concept…The Core Offer, approved in February 2011, placed more emphasis on savings than in the earlier Library Review. The savings target was based on reducing the number of static libraries to 13.
3.9 . ..the progress made on developing the Library Needs Assessment…was presented to the Scrutiny Committee on two occasions (December 2011 and June 2012). The Committee noted the progress and provided comments on strategy, such as….
- Need to retain professional library staff
- Support the principle of volunteers but reservations about replacing staff
3.10 Informal Executive considered one paper early on in the development of the Library Needs Assessment (October 2011). The steer from this meeting was around:
- Timing of the consultation (to be handled carefully)
- Libraries to be a catalyst for the Big Society
- An alternative option of reducing staffing hours and making up with community volunteers.
3.12 During 2011various iterations of the Library Needs Assessment were presented to the FSR Board proposing comprehensive and phased consultation plans…These plans were changed following the steer from the Informal Executive in October 2011 regarding consultation timing.
3.13 Throughout 2011 and 2012 the project team were supporting a number of community library ‘pilots’ – this resulted in 6 Council libraries becoming community libraries with partnership or volunteer arrangements…
3.15 In March 2012 the FSR Board considered a paper…The key components of the proposal put forward were…reducing the number of static libraries to 13.
The FSR Board minutes record the need to keep elected members, including local members, up to date on developments.
3.20. The draft Executive decision paper was considered by the FSR Board in December 2012 and it was agreed that the paper did not need to go to the Informal Executive in January 2013. The minutes (of the FSR Board) stated that the Conservative Group would receive a briefing.
3.22 On 26 June 2013 Communities and Public Safety Scrutiny Committee considered the Library Needs Assessment document, prior to the Executive Decision on 2 July 2013. The Committee raised many concerns about the proposals, including issues around the volunteer commitment and a view that it was not the right consultation to take to the public.
3.23 The Scrutiny Committee did not support the recommendation to Executive…
3.33 The Communities and Public Safety Scrutiny Committee…on 2 December 2013…some members did have reservations and felt the proposal would be open to legal challenge and would not deliver a comprehensive service. Some also felt the consultation was fundamentally flawed and that the high dependency on volunteers would mean a significant loss of staff.
4.3 Option appraisal is a key feature of robust local government decision making and something which should be routinely evidenced in the Council’s Executive Decision Papers. In the case of the review of Library Services, this did not happen and was, in our opinion, a missed opportunity. An option appraisal would have helped determine the most appropriate deployment of the Council investment and provide evidence of a rigorous analysis of various options,including their projected risks and impacts…
4.4 Early intentions to look at, and consult widely on, different options and delivery models were lost…
4.5 Early in the Libraries Project, the Council’s Legal advisors raised the importance of the consultation process, the need to demonstrate an open mind…the lack of legal input into the consultation document was a significant omission”
4.8 In September and October 2011, Officers requested a political steer around the timing of the consultations. Minutes show that concerns were raised by members around the timing of this and it was…suggested that this should be handled carefully.
4.9 The compressed timeframe (July to December 2013) placed significant pressures on all officers, advisors and organisations involved in the libraries consultation and subsequent reporting…it also affected the quality and robustness of analysis, advice and officer decision making…
4.11 …the consultation documents contained errors…”
4.12 We believe the effect of running the expression of interest process at the same time (as the consultation process) was to increase public perception that it was a ‘done deal’.
4.16 …the strong political steer…influenced the officer response and actions.
4.17 The most significant missed opportunity was not exploring the two service-wide expressions of interest… Putting back the decision making would not only have enabled more time for analysis and reporting of the consultation results but would have also permitted appropriate examination of the alternative proposals and more time for advisors (including Legal) to support the decision making process.
4.19 . ..we note that councillors…believed, from the officer briefing, that GLL’s proposal removed the mobile libraries…the briefing may have caused member misunderstanding which could also have potentially influenced their steer…this matter has been referred to the Chief Executive for consideration.
4.20 Although in 2011 there was some early recognition of the potential implications of the Localism Act and Open Public Services, this became lost in the development of the Library Needs Assessment and preferred model. The Council applied the Localism ethos at the lowest level – community volunteers – as this fulfilled the political vision…and the pursuit of the ‘Big Society’.
…the Council was not as open at it might have been…
4.21. …the (Executive) saw this approach as a catalyst for the ‘Big Society’
4.27 The deferred decision making timetable…was a consequence of the political drivers and the financial timescales resulted in the ‘what’ and ‘how’ around the library services being formally considered at the same time.
We believe a phased approach and consultation (as originally planned by officers via the ‘Big Library Conversation’) may have improved scrutiny, decision making and overall outcome.
4.32 Members only given access to 205 page report 15 minutes prior to meeting…
4.33 Members generally have five working days to reflect on the papers in advance of meetings – in our opinion Councillors would benefit from more time to consider the bigger issues.
4.34 We found little effective scrutiny contribution to the Library Needs Assessment., preferred delivery model and Executive decision making. Scruitiny over the option appraisal would have…increased the level of transparency and openness.
4.35 We believe it would have been better had the Scrutiny Committee been engaged at an earlier stage…