County council recommends proposal for volunteer-run library services

News.
News.

A controversial recommendation for library services to be run by volunteers was made at today’s library scrutiny meeting.

As protests took place outside Lincolnshire County Council’s HQ - its scrutiny committee recommended the executive accepts the proposal to adopt the service involving volunteers and put that out to tender. The decision will be made next week.

Under the proposals, the council would continue to provide 15 major libraries - including Boston – along with online services, mobile libraries and specialist support for those unable to reach their nearest library.

These would be complemented by up to 40 community hubs, including library services, developed in partnership with local community groups.

The council says groups would get professional support and be given more than £5,000 per year towards their running costs and access to a one-off grant of up to £15,000 for changes to buildings or equipment.

Following today’s meeting, Coun Nick Worth, executive member for libraries, said: “There was a lively debate at the scrutiny committee with a range of different opinions shared.

“I believe the model we have for these services going forward is a good one, both keeping libraries open and saving money, and I welcome the views of the committee on the proposals.

“I look forward to the discussion at the executive meeting next week, and I’m sure all the views that have been expressed will be taken into consideration in making a decision.

He added: “And I’m confident that the ultimate outcome will be a comprehensive and efficient service that meets the needs of residents.”

At the meeting, Coun Jackie Brockway read out a letter on behalf of Maurice Nauta, resident, campaigner and former librarian.

The letter, in full, is as follows:

Listen to me. Please listen.

I listened to my wife last Friday. She said:

”The council need to save money. The library budget will be cut by one third. That will lead to the loss of staff and reduced opening hours.

The council want volunteers to run libraries or they will be closed.

However, there are two ideas which would keep libraries open, retain paid staff and provide a decent library service within the budget.

So, what’s the problem? The council saves money, keeps the libraries open, staff keep jobs, residents keep the service they want. Everyone would be happy. ”

Will Councillors listen today? Listen to each other; listen to what taxpayers and local residents are saying. Don’t meekly follow party lines, whichever party you are in. Think about the decision you will make very carefully and support what you believe your local communities want and deserve. Not what YOU think is best for them. They elected you. Do not let them down. If you are told to follow the party line, go back into your communities and tell them that, so that they can appreciate your position and give you support.

If you need an example for this, here is Sir Edward Leigh, my local MP who in August 2013 branded the library plans as ‘completely unacceptable’ adding ‘our libraries are an absolutely fundamental and irreplaceable part of our way of life here in Lincolnshire’. Just last week I had letters of support from him for residents’ continued resistance to the plans. He is still listening.

Or what about David Cameron, who said after the Judicial Review last July: “One of the great things in our democracy is that governments have to act under the law and respond to public opinion and pressure, and that is what is happening in Lincolnshire.” Do you think this council responds positively to public opinion and pressure?

Compare these examples with that of the leader of this council. I wrote to Coun Hill a week after the June 2013 Scrutiny Committee which considered the library proposals. I pointed out that the paper showed a closed mind and suggested he should ‘go to the public open-handed and have faith in a proper consultation process. I would have been happy to give my time to help with this. He did not reply at all. He did not listen.

Think also about the current library staff and those who have already lost their jobs. I believe they are not allowed to speak to the media or anyone else about their plight and what is happening to our libraries. I want to assure them that I, and the residents of Lincolnshire, will be eternally grateful for the service they have given and continue to give, despite great stress and low morale. It is telling that there have been no apologies from the Executive to those staff and no thanks to them either. People reveal their true natures in the way they treat those unable to fight back. But perhaps someone will listen.

Thank you for listening.

Maurice Nauta