Gloucestershire and Doncaster Libraries Scrutiny

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It was a strange week last week. The two library campaigns I’ve followed since before Voices for The Library was set up went to Scrutiny Committee in their respective areas – Gloucestershire and Doncaster. These committees were used to question whether the decision that had previously been agreed to cut their library service budgets were justified.

Doncaster libraries were given a reprieve for a year, where a proper consultation, involving ‘experts’ would be carried out to determine what would happen to the libraries. From the notes I saw there was tremendous support from local councillors and petitions were signed by at least 15,000 people. This is great news and the chance of a proper consultation could get Doncaster libraries back on track to providing a service local users need. Lauren Smith and the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign members should be very proud of the role they played in achieving this and hopefully they will be able to influence the outcome of the consultation.

Gloucestershire libraries however didn’t have a happy ending, even though intervention by central Government agencies and ministers was asked for by campaigners. A large number of libraries will be closed or reduced to token hours that can not really claim to be a comprehensive library service and mobile services will be removed. This is despite the hard work by Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaign group, the 15,000+ signatures that were collected for their save libraries petition, the national media attention the campaign has received, and the local people who turned out to show their support on 5th February and meetings and other protests. I wonder how ignoring this massive support for libraries is democracy? It isn’t really, is it.

I’ll admit, I’m particularly upset about Gloucestershire – I have seen the campaign grow since the first day Johanna Anderson (Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries) highlighted the plans that had been announced on the This Is Gloucestershire site (August 2010, I think) and I have seen the many of the ups and downs. In fact, seeing what was going on in Gloucestershire played an important part in my joining Voices For The Library.

I know this is no consolation for Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries campaigners and all involved, but I have great admiration for all they have tried to do. They deserved so much better than this result.

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4 thoughts on “Gloucestershire and Doncaster Libraries Scrutiny

  1. Lauren

    So much of what we’ve been doing in Doncaster has taken its cue from Johanna and everyone else in Gloucestershire, and they’ve been so supportive, for which I’m incredibly grateful.

    I think it’s very telling that two campaigns that are similar in a number of ways have had such different outcomes, which must have a lot to do with our local councils. Of course political parties have a role here – Gloucestershire has a Conservative majority whereas Doncaster has a Labour majority – but it’s also down to council chiefs, their power and the structure of councils – we have an English Democrat elected Mayor, which is problematic in so many ways! It’s almost a relief that our council has been so poor historically – I do worry that if Doncaster wasn’t in ‘special measures’ due to its failure and the Audit Commission’s involvement, that the outcome would have been very similar to what’s happened in Gloucestershire.

    I have no doubt that if it weren’t for the attention of the national media, the 15,000+ signatures on our petition would have been ignored – and as we’re still waiting for a final count-up and to find out what the council intend to do in response, there’s still a chance it will. Local democracy is in a mess across the country – and it manifests itself in the kind of travesty that’s happening in Gloucestershire.

    • Thanks Lauren. I hope Doncaster do take note of the petition. It’s an insult to dismiss that sort of support for libraries as having no bearing on the situation.

      The similarities of the campaigns and the different results makes me wonder how a level playing field can ever be achieved if councils play the situation in different ways, especially as central Government authorities like MLA/DCMS/Ed Vaizey don’t seem to be prepared to step in and question them… despite requests for them to do so.

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