Save Doncaster Libraries is proud to add its signature to the Open Letter to Ed Vaizey, MP, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries. We (and thousands around the country) believe he is neglecting his responsibility to superintend the UK’s library service. Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries provide a comprehensive report of his failings here, including detail about the role of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and equalities issues.
5. DCMS monitoring of Gloucestershire County Council’s library strategy
Over the last year Mr Vaizey, you sent letters to library authorities (including Gloucestershire County Council) with the following advice which specifically highlighted factors for consideration from the Wirral report.
In your letter dated 3 December 2010, you recommended that authorities should:
“Provide a thorough analysis of local needs, including the general and specific needs of adults and children who live, work and study in Gloucestershire.”
“Provide a detailed description of how the service will be delivered and how the plans will take fully into account both the demography and the different needs of adults and children in different areas (both in general and specific terms)”
You also quoted the Charteris report to DCMS on the breach of statutory responsibilities by the council in the Wirral. This included the following-
“The Secretary of State (should) require the Council to evidence how it will meet the needs of all groups and communities (in all cases).”
“The Council (should give) due regard to the general requirements of children.”
The council should demonstrate “a clear understanding of the extent and range of services currently being provided in the libraries, including those which are ‘core’ to the service and those which are ancillary.”
The Council should demonstrate “an adequate plan for and commitment to a comprehensive outreach service.”
The council should demonstrate its commitment “to adults and children with specific needs in line with the most recent equalities legislation e.g. older people, children, people with disabilities, unemployed people, people in residential homes, and housebound people.”
Save Doncaster Libraries must once again point out that DMBC cannot ignore the findings of the Equalities Impact Assessment they conducted regarding the impact on the 12 threatened branches. In the Judicial Review recently conducted into Gloucestershire County Council’s plans to cut libraries and give a number to volunteers to run, Judge McKenna ruled:
“the decisions under challenge failed to give effect to the public sector equality duties and were not merely unlawful decisions but were, in substance, as Ms Mountfield submits, amounted to bad government. It is important to the rule of law to give due respect to these issues of equality. The breach of the equality duties is a substantive and not merely a technical or procedural defect.”
Furthermore, there is no renewed timetable informing Doncaster residents of the anticipated closure dates or dates libraries will become community-run, other than the news that Carcroft Library will close at 6pm on 20th December, to be replaced by a Mobile/Outreach service, with Denaby following the next day at 5pm – news that reached residents through an article in the Doncaster Free Press.
Carcroft and Denaby, two of Doncaster’s most deprived areas, are to lose the only free access to information, professional reading support, advice, learning materials, and their only opportunity to engage with local democracy and their communities, without the council having due regard to the impact this will have on individuals within the community. Consultation on this issue has been woefully inadequate and misleading. These decisions were made before consultation even occurred. The council have paid no attention to local people’s needs, or recommendations from national government.
We have repeatedly warned DMBC about the dangers of their plans. We have provided a petition of over 16,000 signatures against the council’s plans. We have protested at individual libraries and within each and every relevant March in Doncaster since June 2010. We have written to the Mayor, his Cabinet and Councillors requesting information and sharing concerns and requests for proper conduct. We have warned of potential consequences to their actions. We have supported two call-ins to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee regarding the flaws and potentially disastrous consequences of the Cabinet’s plans. We have tried to find evidence of the consultations they state have been completed with local groups, to no avail. We have tried to find out who the much fêted community groups are, which the Mayor states are poised ready to take over. We can find nothing other than yet more lack of information provision.
It would seem the 12 Libraries set to become community-run are, in fact, being set up to fail.
The Mayor and his Cabinet have not budged an inch. They have remained firmly glued to their wholesale destruction of Doncaster’s Libraries for more than a year (talks were occurring with Intake Community Enterprise as far back as October 2010 according to the minutes of the 10/11/11 Second Overview and Scrutiny committee meeting, yet they were not added to the list of 14 until January 2011).
One can only imagine the Mayor and his Cabinet sitting in their offices with their eyes shut, hands over their ears, just hoping we will give up and go away. We won’t, and aren’t. The situation is currently in the hands of legal advisors and we are investigating potential action. Whilst we still hope this will not become necessary and that the Council will finally engage with us, discuss realistic non-destructive options, and Save Doncaster Libraries. However, past history gives us little faith in the abilities of the Mayor and his Cabinet. They have led the council perilously close to costly legal action, largely because of the ignorance and close-mindedness of their leader. It’s time to listen your citizens, Mayor Davies.