Time is running out to have your say in the library consultation…

A reminder that the library consultation closes on the 8th April at 17:00. Make sure you have your say. I strongly advise reading this article before you complete the survey if you haven’t already done so and are unsure what to put in your answers. You can find my responses below:

Having read Kent County Council’s mission for the future of its Libraries, Registration and Archives, which of the following statements best describes your thoughts?

Strongly Disagree

If there are any other services you would like to suggest or anything you would like to see Libraries, Registration and Archive deliver that it doesn’t at present please tell us here:

Supporting citizens in the use of government services more extensively, particularly through teaching citizens how to conduct freedom of information requests as well as how they can use the internet safely and securely. Better support of housebound users, particularly providing support in the access of ebooks and other online services.

Having read Kent County Council’s proposal to establish a charitable trust, which of the following statements best describes your thoughts?

Strongly Disagree

Please let us know the reasons for your choice in the box below:

A charitable trust will make the library service less accountable to the people who use the service (ie the people who “own” libraries through taxation) – such a move will have potential implications with respect to the Freedom of Information Act. It’s not financially sustainable as a model as has been demonstrated in Glasgow where a Trust has had difficulties paying the bills. Because of its limitations, it may result in poorly paid staff, resulting in demotivated and demoralised staff, as well as potential redundancies. A move to a trust model will likely lead to a serious weakening of employee terms and conditions, as UNISON have previously pointed out. Furthermore, such a move could result in the service costing more money as it may well lead to a loss in any economies of scale gained by being part of larger council.

Which of the following statements best describes the impact you feel the proposed charitable trust model will have on you/your organisation:

The proposed changes will have a significant impact on me/my organisation

If you feel that the proposed changes to the Library, Registration and Archive service will have some or a significant impact on you/ your organisation, whether positive or negative, or you have any other comments you wish to make, please provide details below:

It will result in a poorer service, affecting my children and the community due to the reasons given above. I want a service that I can hold to account. The proposals mean I cannot effectively hold the service to account and it will result in a more inefficient service for me, my family and the local community. 

If you have any alternative ideas of how we should deliver the Library, Registration and Archive service please tell us here:

It should be retained by the council to ensure the most efficient, cost-effective and transparent library service possible. Furthermore, cuts to library services will put greater pressure on other social services as a vital service to assist the most vulnerable is depleted. The council has a responsibility to ensure support for the most vulnerable and the best way of achieving this is partly through a publicly run library service.

We have completed an Equality Impact Assessment and we welcome your views on the assumptions we have made. To view the document, go to kent.gov.uk/lraconsultation. Please write your comments here:

A move to a Trust model, with the concerns highlighted above, will obviously hurt the most vulnerable which will therefore ensure the council does not meet its requirements under Equalities legislation.

Kent’s flawed library consultation

We are happy to share the following press release received this week in relation to the consultation currently being run by Kent County Council with respect to our public libraries.

Kent residents are being urged to dig deeply before responding to KCC’s proposal for the future of Kent’s library service; and all KCC councillors are being alerted that they are asking for the views of their constituents on the basis of a flawed consultation document.

Local library campaigners will gather outside The Beaney in Canterbury from 2pm on Thursday 12th March – and again outside Herne Bay Library from 10am on Saturday 14th March – to coincide with a Kent County Council’s ‘Library Consultation Roadshow’ being held at each of those venues. These are the latest in a series of roadshows being held across the county during February and March.

People attending the roadshows are being encouraged to ask seven penetrating questions (see below) about KCC’s consultation document ‘Shaping the future of library, registration and archive services in Kent’ so that they are better informed before deciding whether the proposal to transfer Kent’s 99 libraries to a Trust gets their support – which KCC is seeking.

Those attending as well as passers by will also be invited to sign the ‘Save our public libraries’  paper petition (which is being offered in several areas of the county) and, most importantly, online which is attracting signatures across Kent.
The petition highlights public concerns about the proposed transfer to a Trust and aims to ensure that there is a  full council debate before any decision is made on the plan for libraries, rather than it being nodded through on officer/Cabinet recommendation.

Whitstable resident, Jane Darling, who posted the petition on KCC’s website said:

It is vital that every KCC councillor takes responsibility for the future of Kent’s libraries and is involved in the debate. Any threat to this much-loved service affects every one of their constituents, all across the county and from early years to senior citizenship. What has become apparent, as people have had time to examine KCC’s proposal, is that the consultation document is seriously deficient in not setting out the risks to the service that an experimental and unaccountable trust would bring.   For example, there is no consideration of what would happen if the trust fails and/or can’t deliver on its contract. Kent’s residents are being asked to support a proposal without the full social and financial consequences being spelled out.”.

In addition to seeking to better inform those residents attending roadshows (or otherwise responding to the consultation document) an email is being sent to every KCC councillor alerting them to the deficiencies of the consultation document, and in some cases misrepresentation within it, to which their constituents are being asked to respond.

In particular, the consultation document:

  • fails to acknowledge the risks of closures of smaller libraries, the mobile and other specialist services, and over-dependence on volunteer staff that must come with control by an “independent” trust – both on evidence from trusts elsewhere (such as the Luton Trust which was one of KCC’s exemplar cases) and on the basis of Cllr Mike Hill’s comment on the launch of the consultation that “it will be a matter for the trust whether to maintain Kent’s 99 libraries”;
  • claims that ‘significant’ changes will have to be approved by KCC when such a tampering with the trust’s ‘independence’ would jeopardise it obtaining the charitable status it says the trust will have;
  • fails to spell out the considerable costs of establishing and running a trust – which would all come out of the libraries budget – including set up costs/marketing and branding/salaries of managerial, fund-raising and legal staff or consultants/loss of economies of scale and interdepartmental collaboration currently available to KCC/and the new cost of KCC retaining a team of administrators not to run libraries but to monitor targets set for the trust and ensure compliance to the contract;
  • misleads by claiming that a trust would give residents “more input and influence over future decisions” (how this would be delivered or guaranteed is unexplained) whilst totally disregarding that we would lose the meaningful democratic accountability of the library service that we currently have which includes the right to complain via an elected KCC representative in every community in Kent, consultations open to everyone such as the current library one and the budget consultation that preceded it; and
  • gives readers a false sense that this is a relatively minor organisational change – despite the statutory regulator saying that handing 99 libraries spread across 3,736 square KMs “would represent an innovative way of working” (ie untested, unprecedented) – when what is being put at risk is a free, integrated, universal and shared benefit which has been paid for by the residents of Kent over many generations and is (as the consultation document says) “low cost”, “efficient and cost effective” and a “richer and more varied service” than it has ever been.

All these points are being drawn to the attention of every KCC councillor by email.

Richard Stainton, also a Whitstable resident who has discussed the KCC proposal with a considerable number of Kent residents said:

“No KCC councillor can want constituents to be put in the position of supporting this momentous change to our library service when the risks associated with a trust are so incompletely explained in the consultation document. Any positive responses to the consultation will be far less reliable  because the document doesn’t give sufficient detail to the possible consequences. Surprisingly, perhaps, this threat to a highly-beneficial, county-wide service has not yet received the media scrutiny that would help residents have a fuller understanding of what  is at risk and what they are being asked to support. In my view, handing the libraries to a trust will be the thin end of the wedge. The costs of a trust will vastly outweigh any savings the document optimistically says it might benefit from – leading to far greater cuts and a worse service. Such a change would be irreversible and once a trust is in control we will have no representatives to complain to if we don’t like what it is doing”.

Richard Stainton & Jane Darling, Whitstable

On behalf of ‘Save our Public Libraries’ Campaign

Sign up to the Facebook Page here.

Seven questions to ask [243kb – pdf]

Laughable “public consultation” to commence on Monday

After months of silence, it appears that a 12 week “public consultation” will be taking place starting next Monday (12th January). Of course, we fully expect this to be a fair consultation with absolutely no loaded questions and no attempt whatsoever to force people into accepting the council’s preferred option of charitable status. We have full confidence that the council will in no way suggest it is charitable status or closures or volunteers and expect that the council will also offer at the very least to maintain public libraries at their current level of funding. After all, as the report points out, Mike Hill has said that no firm decision has yet been taken.

Obviously, we must forget the fact that a job advert went up in June last year asking for candidates who can “ensure the implementation and delivery of a trust model for Kent Libraries, Registration and Archives” because, of course, that is simply a figment of our imaginations and will have no bearing whatsoever on the entirely fair process that Kent County Council is about to embark on.

We have full confidence that, unlike Lincolnshire County Council, the consultation will be entirely above board because, unlike Lincolnshire, Kent clearly haven’t already made their decision before launching the consultation. Apart from the fact an advert went out seeking to recruit someone to ensure a particular course of action. Apart from that, we see no reason to suggest that Kent have already made their decision with regards to libraries across the county or that this public consultation isn’t a complete sham. Absolutely not. Not a chance in hell.

Maybe.

Let’s see what the consultation document looks like next week. We won’t be holding our breaths.