Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Reprieve - for now.

Tuesday 22nd February

I spent the day at County Hall today, in order to attend a meeting of the 'Safer & Stronger Communities' committee, who had convened to discuss among other matters the recent call-in of the Cabinet's Library decision.

In brief, Cabinet decisions can be 'called in' by a member of the relevant committee for further discussion, after which the committee can choose to refer the subject back to the cabinet for further review, and/or make recommendations in the same respect.
In this case the meeting was very well attended by Council members, Community Groups and concerned residents, many of whom the Chairman - the magnificent Mrs Sealy - allowed to address the committee.

Here's what I had to say:

"As you will know, we recently met the Deputy Leader, David Hodge, to discuss the issues in respect of this call-in and more particularly the future of Bagshot Library.
I should like to make clear at this point that my attendence at this forum is 'without prejudice' to that meeting, and that should this committee decide to uphold the cabinet decision as it stands, that I shall continue along with the residents of Bagshot to ensure that the future of the library remains sustainable.

I am here to make two points on behalf of the residents of my division, both of which concern consultation; i.e. Member Consultation and Library Consultation.

The first point concerns the lack of member consultation regards some of the criteria omitted from the PVR.
Lamentably, while the statistic show usage data, they do not paint the entire picture. For example, they do not show extra usage by schools - indeed one of my own preschool sons' first taste of a library was in crocodile fashion led from one of the local pre-schools.
Similarly, there appears to be no consideration of what a potential closure might do to the existing community in a village already suffering from the recent loss of it's last bank and a legion of empty shops and offices.
And clearly, such statistical analysis cannot take account of factors such as the new development in Bagshot of almost 200 houses, planned to take advantage of such facilities, which may no longer survive.
Such factors as these can only be brought to the attention of the PVR and Cabinet by way of 'pre-decision' member consultation, of which there appears to have been none.

My second point refers to the lack of consultation with the libraries themselves. While no-one can deny the incredible burden currently upon the CC to cut costs; we find ourselves in a desperate position financially and in the unenviable position of having to make difficult and pertinent decisions, and for the most part, the CChas my full support. However, even with the acute timing pressures, I cannot comprehend why we have not consulted with all 52 libraries across the county in order to determine which libraries do not actually require our continued support, rather than to simply propose cuts to the elements of the service which probably require our support the most.

It is this point members that I should like to re-iterate.
Let us consult first and then make the difficult decisions regards which of the 52 libraries no longer require the same level of assistance".

Once all representations had been made, including an address by Margaret Williams from the 'Friends of Bagshot Library', a lengthy debate then ensued with a great deal of discussion centring around the subject of consultation and the provision of long term support for the Library service. This debate resulted in a vote, where it was carried to refer the matter back to Cabinet and to recommend that the Cabinet abandon the policy of community partnerships regards until there is further consultation.

This does not mean that the policy will be abandoned, but rather that the
Cabinet will have to revisit the policy as decided.

It most likely means that we shall have consultation ahead of any further
decision made in this regard, so since the future remains uncertain, I would suggest that all efforts - as I have discussed most recently with local residents, local community groups and the 'Friends of Bagshot Library' - to devise a community action plan, remain.

Next up, buses...

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