We have finally received a letter from DMBC in response to our questions sent on 25th May. Our original questions are in bold, DMBC responses are plain. You will see that very few of our questions are answered, and certainly not in a satisfactory fashion. Many answers directly contradict other answers, and some responses indicate a shocking level of negligence. We are also very concerned that the council chose to respond to our questions as an FOI due to length, yet did not acknowledge our letter or let us know that this was the case. We will be publishing a post about our response and complaint to the Information Commissioner very soon:
Dear Ms. Coppendale,
Please find the following response to your questions received in my office 26th May. Due to the amount of information requested, your correspondence has been treated as a freedom of information request therefore, has been responded to within 20 working days and not fourteen days from the date of your letter requested.
1. Why are the same 14 libraries under threat of closure when the Mayor admitted in both the Bawtry public meeting and Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee that the selection process was severely flawed and resulted in the selection of 14 arbitrary branches?
1. The 14 libraries are not under threat of closure, the council has made the decision to seek alternative provision library services do not rely upon one physical building. This decision was made by the cabinet within a public arena and any comments made by the Mayor was also referring to the former criteria being used.
2. Why are only communities within the vicinity of the 14 threatened libraries being consulted when any reductions of provision will inevitably have an impact on the whole Doncaster population? We understand that it is particularly important to assess the needs of the directly affected areas, but it is vital to gain a wider understanding of the impact of library cuts across the borough.
2. The current consultation exercise is to assess the impact the changes will have in the directly affected areas and to guage [sic] interest and capacity to be involved. The rest of the borough will be consulted with the new community engagement model we proposed to put in place for all our libraries so the services are tailored around customer need, this will be anything from choice of book stock to opening hours and activities.
3. Why are people who work within these threatened areas not being consulted when the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 states clearly that the council has a duty to provide a library service to “those whose residence or place of work is within the library area of the authority or who are undergoing full-time education within that area”? There are a number of people who work in the affected areas who live outside of the borough. It is therefore impossible for Doncaster Council to control the opening hours of these individuals’ local libraries, yet Doncaster Council has a legal duty to make library provision available to these individuals.
3. We have chosen not to consult with these people within the current consultation exercise because they do not live in the area. However, if the outcome is that any area does not wish to retain a library, we will identify who these people are from our records and consult with them at that stage. As previously stated, the intention is still to retain a service wherever possible.
4. Why are local school pupils and staff, businesses and community groups not being directly consulted, when they make use of these facilities?
4. Local school pupils who live in the area are being consulted, the questionnaires represent the whole household. Community groups and businesses are being consulted separately.
5. a) Why have library support groups, who have asked for full and frank accounting details and anticipated costs not been provided with these? Information of this nature is fundamental to their ability to make informed decisions about their capacity to run the library in their area.
a) Anyone who has asked for information has been provided with it. This includes costs.
b) Please provide the following figures:
- Lease costs
- Ongoing building and maintenance costs
- Insurance and public liability costs
- Training costs
- Council support
- ICT costs
- Stock provision
b) The information requested is enclosed and is based on the last financial year.
6. Why is the questionnaire not being made available in formats other than posted to households, and in inclusive formats such as Braille, languages other than English or with clearly provided support for those with learning disabilities?
6. This was an error made by the designers of the questionnaire for which we apologise. If we are contacted, we will make these available.
7. Why does the covering letter from Mayor Davies imply that any non-return of the questionnaire will skew the results such that they will be assumed to mean people do not need/want a library service? “If we do not hear from you, we will take the view that you do not require access to a library service in your community” – last line of the covering letter.
7. This statement was intended to encourage residents to respond only.
8. Why has an Equalities Impact Assessment still not been conducted, this is a legal requirement?
8. The equalities impact assessment has to be completed before the changes are made and that is one of the reasons for the consultation.
9. Why have deprivation indices of all areas within Doncaster not been considered when deciding on which communities should bear the brunt of the cuts?
9. Lots of factors have been considered throughout this exercise and are still being considered. The question around level of income within the questionnaire relates to this issue. It will also be considered when looking at the capacity of communities to be involved.
10. What security measures will be in place to safeguard the personal information of library members when the library management system would be accessible by myriad people not employed by the Council?
10. The council takes its responsibilities around data protection very seriously and will be working to ensure this is adhered to within any solution.
11. How will stock selection within the proposed library service, and consequently stock circulation, be managed?
11. Stock selection and circulation will be managed as it is across the whole service, however this will be an improved service.
12. What decision making process was undertaken that has resulted in this current consultation being funded by the current Library Service?
12. All consultations are funded by the relevant service area.
13. The Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee key recommendations require:
“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.”
In the light of these recommendations, what is the Council’s consultation plan? We request to see any documents relating to the plans for the library consultation including timescales, responsibilities and accountable owners, details of data collection and analysis methods.
13. The council and its partners are currently developing a Community Involvement Strategy and enclosed is the consultation plan for the libraries.
Finally, I would just like to add an invitation for yourself to meet with me and discuss any further concerns you may have.
Assistant Director Customer Services and ICT