On 20th January, Save Doncaster Libraries requested to see the second and third versions of the library review score sheet which had been mentioned several times in communication with the Mayor and his officers. We thought it strange that the original spreadsheet had been pulled from the Cabinet meeting on 12th January, along with all the other library-related documents, and then never reappeared in subsequent meetings, including the Cabinet meeting on 4th February when the decision to close 14 libraries was passed.
This may no longer seem relevant, because the Mayor has decided to fund the libraries for up to a year so that proper consultation can take place. However, this is still extremely relevant, because in the statement issued to the press and the public, the Mayor stated that:
“The alternative service model for the 14 libraries across the borough will be implemented as and when convincing and appropriate ways forward are agreed with local communities.”
The same 14 libraries are still earmarked for closure/being delivered using an ‘alternative service model’ in a year’s time (despite the consultancy report categorically stating that Doncaster libraries are in no fit state for this). This does not make sense – it was accepted that the original score sheet was “totally arbitrary” (Mayor’s words at the Bawtry meeting on 2nd February), and we have never seen any further versions of the score sheet. The method is completely flawed and inaccurate, and no promises have been made to review which libraries should be ‘volunteer-run’.
We received a response to our Freedom of Information request on 17th February:
Dear Ms Smith,
Thank you for your Freedom of Information request dated 20th January 2011 for an electronic copy of the revised library score sheet – the original of which is Appendix 3 and 4 of the library service review on the cabinet meeting 12/01/10 agenda.
The previous library review papers including the criteria were pulled from the 12th January 2011 cabinet meeting for further consultation with elected members. The outcome of this further consultation with cabinet and elected members was that noone [sp] was happy with the criteria or scores unless a Council-run library was to remain in an area. Therefore it was decided that due to the spread of the borough and the current locations, the geographic location had to be the primary consideration although the usage, condition of building and community need still needed to underpin the outcome.
The further consultation exercise which is planned to begin immediately will further access [sp] community need before any further actions are taken.
I hope that this information is useful to you.
Assistant Director Customer Strategy & Development
This is all a bit suspect – before what “further actions are taken”? There is still no mention of a reassessment of which libraries might be able to cope with some form of alternative governance model – and this is because none of them are. In the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee meeting in Friday 18th February, the committee members asked the officers responsible why they were insistent on ignoring the consultancy report that the council had commissioned due to a lack of in-house knowledge and understanding of library services. They asked why the decision was made to run 14 libraries using methods of alternative governance, which is categorically stated in the consultancy report as being an impossibility.
This is not to say that volunteers cannot be of support to the library service. It is to say that volunteers cannot run the libraries because in Doncaster, the library service is on its knees and has been for several years. It is unclear to what extent the council plans to involve volunteers, but this response from Ms. Grant would suggest that they view volunteer involvement as the opposite to “Council-run”. This, in addition to a lack of mention about reassessing which libraries to close, is of deep concern.
It all seems like quite the stitch-up.