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
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Seven questions to ask [243kb – pdf]