Our fears have been confirmed; the officer in charge of executing the library cuts has been involved in unpublicised meetings with parish council leaders and the Mayor of Bawtry, in which demands have been made by DMBC for parish councils and community groups to make arrangements to take over the running of the library service by June or have the library service completely removed. This is completely unacceptable for many reasons, some of which are:
- The Mayor, councillors and officers responsible for the library budget agreed through the overview and scrutiny process to conduct proper and robust consultation with communities and stakeholders, to ensure that the council was fully informed about community capacity and whether communities would be able to sustain a library service themselves. The overview and scrutiny committee also identified that no information had been collected about levels of deprivation across Doncaster. These information collecting processes have still not occurred. The council therefore has no evidence with which it can justify removing the statutory library provision from the 14 areas under threat. The fact remains that the council has no idea whether communities would be able to take responsibility for the library service and how this would be implemented.
- The Mayor admitted that the 12 of the 14 libraries that were chosen to be closed (or at the very least lose their council funding and buildings) were picked arbitrarily. The council has failed to provide evidence that any work was done to reassess which libraries they had selected, despite claiming they had done so using a points system. A Freedom of Information request was made and the council refused to provide the documents they claimed existed – they now claim they do not exist and never did. This is pending an internal review which the council has a legal duty to conduct. Despite admitting that they failed to use accurate information to choose the library closures, they are still threatening the same branches.
- The Mayor will seek to justify library closures by claiming that there was no “appetite” for a library service in those areas when communities fail to step forward to run the service. This is a spurious claim. The council has a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. It also has a duty to promote the service to encourage people to use it. Doncaster has completely failed to provide a good service or promote the service for several years. As a result, many people in Doncaster are unaware of what libraries have to offer and do not know how libraries can be of use. There is therefore a diminished “appetite” for libraries and it is the council’s fault. It is morally reprehensible to run down a service to the point that it does not meet the needs of communities, then blame them for this and threaten to remove the service to which they have a legal right unless they step forward to run it. Communities have extremely limited knowledge and understanding of the library service, and this is the fault of the council.
- Enough money has been found to maintain the service as it is for twelve months. The officers responsible are pressuring communities to make quick decisions, manipulating them through threats. The council has enough time to properly investigate alternatives to closures and community-run libraries, but is refusing to do so. This suggests that the closures are at best a manifestation of council ineptitude, and at worst, ideologically driven and a symbol of the council’s refusal to serve its electorate.
- These discussions are happening behind the backs of ward councillors, communities, unions and campaign groups. It is vital for the process to be transparent in order to ensure that everyone involved understands the implications of the decisions being made. Without the involvement of those who understand communties – the public and ward councillors – and those who understand library services – the public, Doncaster’s library staff, and qualified librarians – and those who understand the legal implications of staff redundancies – the unions – the discussions are meaningless and counterproductive. There is no point wasting time and effort by investigating impossible or impractical options. This continued lack of communication with the public demonstrates how incapable and unwilling the council are to work with Doncaster residents, as does their failure to schedule a public debate, which the council is obliged to do now that 15,000+ people have put their names to a petition in opposition to the cuts. Remember, Mayor Davies, just as you’ve said many times…“The council is the servant of the public.”
From Jennifer Worthington, Clerk to Bawtry Town Council:
“We would like to point out that there have been no secret meetings on this issue, or indeed on any others. Whilst some meetings are not necessarily public meetings, ie for which public notices have to be displayed, all parishes have informal meetings with representatives of various bodies from time to time. It is absolutely illegal to hold secret meetings and I am sure no parish/town council would ever do so. Our minutes (deposited on our website and delivered to the library for residents’ inspection) refer to the fact that we were to meet informally with Julie Grant in order to try and achieve the best way forwarded to keep the library open.”