Cabinet to discuss Library Service Review: “we messed up; now libraries must pay”.

An Extraordinary Meeting of the Cabinet is to be held on Wednesday 23rd March at 4:30pm, to make a key decision on the Library Service Review. You can view the report that will be presented by Cllr Ransome here:

“Following the Cabinet decision taken on 4th February and the subsequent call-in considered at the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee (OSMC) on 18th February, this report includes the recommendations made by the committee (Appendix A), the response from the Mayor (Appendix B) and asks the Cabinet to reconsider taking into account those recommendations and the outcome of the discussion over a related petition at Council on 9th March 2011.

The key recommendations from OSMC are:

  • That an inclusive, rigorous and robust consultation exercise is undertaken in the localities affected.
  • An overall review of the pattern of provisions in the borough is undertaken at the same time as the locality based reviews.
  • A review of the Council’s consultation process and protocol be undertaken.
  • The issues raised by the members triggering the call-in detailed in the appendices are taken into account.

This report also informs of current progress and the planned next steps.”

An interesting point to note is that the officer for libraries has recommended “A further consultation process with effected [sic] communities will be completed after purdah [pre-election peridod]”. This will cost “between £15,010 and £32,160 depending upon the delivery method of the questionnaire”. These costs will come directly out of the Library budget: “all costs will be incurred in 2011/12 and will be funded from within the Libraries resources”. This is completely unreasonable – the Mayor and his Cabinet have made a giant mess of the library review, have failed to consult appropriately in the first place, and now propose to punish the already struggling library service which they have acknowledged cannot afford to run the service it has a legal duty to provide. These costs should not be taken out of the library budget.

  • £22,000 will keep Bessacarr Library running for a year (including staff)
  • £30,500 will keep Warmsworth Library running for a year (including staff)
  • £32,000 will keep Wheatley Library running for a year (including staff)

All of these libraries are under threat of closure. How can the council justify charging the library service for the consultation it is legally obliged to conduct, after failing so spectacularly and wasting so much time, money and resources the first time round? The taxpayers of Doncaster do not pay £18 each a year to be consulted on whether the council can justify removing their library service; they pay to have a comprehensive and efficient library service provided within a reasonable distance of their home.

The punishment for the council’s failure won’t necessarily stop there. The council has to conduct an equalities impact assessment. Overview and Scrutiny writes: “Members were pleased at the news that there would be a full Equalities Impact Assessment produced during the next consultation phase”.

This is a legal requirement, but the Cabinet doesn’t seem to appreciate that. Instead, Cllr Ransome writes:

Unless the consultation undertaken meets the relevant statutory requirements an equalities impact assessment should be carried out in accordance with the relevant legislation to determine the impact of any proposed reduction in service.”

However, Mayor Davies seems to think that an EIA will definitely happen: “now we know exactly what proposals we are consulting upon, a very comprehensive equalities impact assessment will be one of the outcomes.” Seems like a case of left-hand-right-hand…

It is highly unlikely that a consultation with the public will successfully determine the impact of the cuts, and the council has a legal duty to conduct an EIA. Will the council decide to charge the libraries for the cost of this too?

As an aside – the Mayor has responded to Cllr Mounsey’s request for a further meeting of the Cabinet with regard to the OSMC, in Appendix B. The ex-teacher still denies that libraries have any impact on literacy, stating:

“With only 12% of the borough regularly using libraries the level to which they contribute to literacy levels are unknown. The libraries strategy is all about increasing use of our libraries with key deliverables such as a plan focused around customers, a marketing strategy and to ensure improving literacy is the greatest priority”.

This is completely wrong-headed. Evidence from reputable sources exists to demonstrate that library use has a significant impact on literacy levels. We’ll say it again, slowly, Mayor Davies: A low proportion of the Doncaster population use the libraries because they are run badly and do not meet community needs. Doncaster has very low literacy levels (see map). If more people use libraries, literacy levels will improve. It’s time to stop denying this and provide enough resources to the libraries (including specialist staff who can support  children’s, young people’s and adult literacy) to enable the people of Doncaster to succeed and enable the library service to thrive.

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