Friday 14 November 2014

Brought to book: Barnet's nonsultation on library cuts

After scraping back into power in May, Barnet's Tory councillors and senior management team, as predicted, gleefully set about targeting even more council services with a range of proposed new 'models of delivery', claiming that radical change was necessary in order to achieve immediate as well as sustainable long term savings.

The truth is, of course, that radical change is necessary only for certain interested parties, in order to create further opportunities for outsourcing, and favoured by our empty headed Tory councillors because they have been persuaded by their senior management, and the cohort of private consultants who feast off public sector privatisation, that there is no alternative, and the savings that such contracts will deliver are 'guaranteed'. 

For Barnet Tories, whose clockwork brains are geared by an ideological mechanism inherited from another era, where anything organised within the public sector is inherently bad, this is an appealing proposal, and the lure of guaranteed savings enough to satisfy any doubts that might occur to anyone with any intelligence, or scruples.

This ready excitement over more and more privatisation encourages the dear little heads of our Tory members to overlook one of the most obvious dangers lying in wait, hidden in the road ahead: the political pitfalls of their policies, once approved. 

We saw this with the parking contract, and now we are seeing it once more with their library proposals. And yet again they are set on a mission to infuriate the middle classes, their own electoral heartland, with a reckless determination, on a course designed by their senior officers, working to an agenda of their own, disinterested in, and indifferent to, the political fallout.

The consultation period for the library proposals has begun, and there is now a survey on the council's website which residents and library users may undertake. It is important that, if you care about the future of Barnet libraries, or even expect to see anything like a library service survive the cull planned by your Tory council, you take part in the consultation process, as well as protest loudly, now, about the atrocious plans lying on the table. But please read on, and consider the clever traps lying in wait in this survey, before taking part.

Just to remind you, here are the three options explained in an easily accessible format, by resident and Libdem activist Alasdair Hill, who has also started a petition you might like to sign, as well as the Labour one - see links to both below.

Option One: 

Only four remaining 'core' libraries, shrink the rest in size by the percentages shown below. Outsource the service. Three of these in traditionally Tory wards, one in an area being 'regenerated'/developed.

Option Two: 

The same lucky four, plus four others, three in traditional Tory wards, one previously Tory that was unexpectedly won by Labour in May. No staff available for 40% of the opening hours. Service outsourced.

Option Three:

The one where Tory plotters think the Labour opposition will be duped into accepting cuts presented as 'community leadership of libraries'. This is a plausible lure, but only for anyone stupid enough to want libraries run by volunteers, outside the public library system, and without professionally qualified staff. Eight libraries open only staffed for 50% of opening hours. Service dumped and outsourced, dressed up as a community initiative.

This is the only option, funnily enough, that preserves some semblance of library provision for staunchly Labour East Finchley, the ward represented by the Labour leader, and situated near the Strawberry Vale estate, the worst area of social deprivation in the entire borough, and only just outside the top ten per cent most deprived areas in the country.

What is clear from all of these options is this: the variations that they present prove the point of the whole exercise is not logical, or based on any independent analysis of need, but designed to be subject to political influence, and pressure from residents.

The flaw in their calculations is that although they have protected their own political core of Chipping, Church End and Hendon from the worst of the destruction, the changes there will be enough to infuriate thousands of their own voters, and elsewhere will be even more successful at losing much needed support.

Throughout the consultation document we read hints that they will not stick to these three definitions, and may end by 'striking a balance' of various proposals contained therein. Let Mrs Angry translate: depending on the level of panic exhibited by nimbyst Tory councillors worried about any closures or loss of service in their own ward, the final plans, presented as a compromise, will be approved - or so they hope, by the council.

Already two Tory councillors have publicly exhibited misgivings about - guess what - their own local libraries being closed or radically affected.

At the CELS meeting at which the proposals were presented, long serving councillor, and self confessed Thatcherite, Helena Hart, member for Edgware, expressed her dismay at the impact on her local library, and for some reason the one in Golders Green. 

At a recent residents' association meeting in Mill Hill, Sury Khatri, who has criticised the One Barnet outsourcing procedure, after agreeing to it, reportedly declared his opposition to the plans for Mill Hill library.

Both Tory councillors voted with their colleagues shortly afterwards when the report was moved to Full Council.

Mrs Angry has written to both councillors to ask why, and will publish any responses that may ensue. They have not replied, so far.

She suggests all readers with Tory members write to them and demand answers from them as to their position on your local libraries: hold them to account.

It is necessary to warn anyone who takes part in the Barnet Libraries' nonsultation to be scrupulously, forensically, careful how you respond to this survey, as a significant number of the questions have been cynically devised to produce data which they will use to endorse their proposals, even if that is not your intention - by offering you a loaded set of options which presupposes your acceptance of their definition of the context of these plans.

Questions 6,7,8,23,25,26,41, for example, need careful negotiation.

They have made the survey as long and as difficult as possible, as well, in the hope, no doubt, of deterring residents from sticking the course and submitting their views.

Please stick the course, and submit your views.

In regard to any dubious questions, the only way to respond, in order to avoid being used as a stooge, in Mrs Angry's view, is to leave them unanswered, and fill up the comment section with your reasons. 

Remember that the purpose of this exercise is to trick you into producing data that they can use to endorse one of their three options. There is an assumption that you accept one of those options, or a combination of the three, is necessary.

That said, you should take part and ignore their proposals: tell them what you think, and what you want.

Before taking part in the survey, you will be asked to read the accompanying consultation document which you can find here - do read it, but wear Mrs Angry's blogger branded x ray specs, which filter out Barnet's interesting representation of the 'facts' and the context in which these devastating proposals are being made.

A recent court ruling on consultation has confirmed that it is unlawful for local authorities to engage in this process without providing proper information, or giving regard to alternative options to the proposals themselves. 

Here we see lip service paid to these requirements, for example, with carefully placed phrases such in support of a 'genuine dialogue' - yeah, right: and in rubbishing the radical idea that a rise in council tax might actually save some of our public services from the depradations of our Tory councillors' slash and burn policies. 

Terrible warnings are given of depending on such a strategy, and baleful predictions, which they have kept quiet before now, of a necessarily huge rise in council tax on the way, the revenue from which is already allocated. 

They do not, of course, explain that their self confessed political 'gestures' in freezing and then cutting council tax pre-election is another cynical act which deprived vital services of funding, and brought us to the point where they now claim such drastic savings are unavoidable, or that there are many areas of extravagant waste and spending, such as on the million pounds consultancy bills, within the budgets they approve which could easily cover the library cuts - if the political will was there.

The Consultation Document begins with a telling admission: 

In the most recent library user customer survey, nearly 90% of users were satisfied.

As we have often observed, this is the first rule of Broken Barnet: something ain't broke, so we are going to destroy it anyway, because there is profit in it, somewhere, for someone.

It is clear, in fact, if you are, as advised, reading this tosh wearing Mrs Angry's x ray One Barnet bullshit glare resistant specs, that the financial argument for what is being presented as an indisputable truth, that the Tory proposals are being forced by the need to make cuts in budget, is absolutely not the real driver for their scabby plans. 

The volume of cuts being imposed on libraries is breathtakingly severe in scope: 60% of total budget

This is not sustainable, in any service, which is why it is being applied - the service, as it stands, must not be allowed to survive.

The real reasons, readers, are twofold. 

One is an obstinate loyalty to the half baked philosophy that lay behind Mike Freer's 'easycouncil' idea, the sort of ill defined, instinctive mistrust of any public service ethos that so easily appeals to the neo thatcherite eejits of the Barnet Tory group. 

Income generation is one thing - and it should be noted that from very early on, Barnet Libraries have always embraced the need for to create revenue, which is what helped it to be one of the best value for money services in the country - but this is never enough to satisfy our Tory masters, who cannot understand any sort of service that does not take place behind a shop front or on a market stall, and think there must be an incremental drive for more and more commercial activities, until the original function of the service is entirely obliterated.

What is curious, however, is that there is no costing for any of the proposed new revenue requirements, or estimations, just as there is no mention of what will surely be substantial need for capital investment, in the name of making 'savings', should many of the truly devastating recommendations be put in place, such as shrinking the size of libraries by 93%, or adapting them for different use - what they refer to as the 'reconfiguration' of buildings.

As for the new ideas for sources of revenue:

The document suggests 'meeting room hire, renting parking spaces, providing collection points such as Amazon Lockers, advertising and some increases to fees and charges'.

Libraries already hire out rooms, in fact, but renting out parking spaces? Providing any libraries are left at all, have you thought through the equalities impact on removing the few spaces there are already for those residents with mobility problems? Nope. Didn't think so.

Don't have a problem with sponsorship or advertising, if they promise to drop the rest of the idiotic plans. Something tasteful. Wonga. William Hill. British American Tobacco. Would residents squeak a bit about that, do you think, Cllr Tom Davey?

Amazon lockers? Yeah, whatever: a company selling books, rather than lending them, and paying minimal taxes, would seem the appropriate installation to have in a Tory Barnet library, wouldn't it?

Jesus: to think we complained about the last lot of library proposals. Come back, Robert Rams, you and your invisible flagship libraries - all is forgiven. 

Or maybe not.

Here is another odd claim, hidden away: that an in house solution has no additional savings potential. This is absolute nonsense, a creative approach to such things as sponsorship, or finding alternative forms of funding is perfectly possible - and does not require any reduction in staffing, or any other deeply damaging assault on the standard of service provision.

One new source of income generation is commendable, however: the idea that substantial levels of revenue can be screwed out of fines for children who - wait for it - bring their library books back late. Yes, really. See Question 15.

Mrs Angry remembers the fine box in Edgware library, when she was a child, glass topped, and sunk into the wooden counter, with a slot and a brass chute down which your coins would have to roll, making a satisfying chink, as they dropped inside. Sadly, because the infant Mrs Angry was a prodigious reader, and would usually have read all the three books borrowed on Saturday morning by Sunday afternoon, so did not have any overdue books, she never had the chance to try out the fine box herself, and was obliged to watch other, more naughty children perform this shameful ritual, with a secret envy.

In our new age of austerity, of course, the children of Broken Barnet must be put to the wheel, and have applied to them the same merciless programme of punishment as their errant mums and dads, who so wilfully incur parking fines by daring to park their cars in what turn out to be the wrong places, at the wrong times, caught by a warden short of his targets for the day, which do not exist, but must be met.

Quite right that the children of our borough should be targeted too, little cash cows of the future, groomed for a life of exploitation in the profiteering paradise of Capitaville. 

Mrs Angry warmly approves of this sort of initiative, naturally, and has suggested in her response that Capita's  bailiff company, Equita, could be instructed to pursue these juvenile delinquents, in the case of non payment of library fines, visiting their homes, and shouting through the letter box threats to confiscate their toys, should they refuse to cough up. 

Oh, yes, and: hidden away in the consultation is a reference to possible optional charges, subscriptions: the two tier service that 'easycouncil' was all about. No doubt that will apply to the proposed 'open', DIY libraries. 

There won't be much inside them, of course, as the book stock will have been decimated by then, but still: here is a smart card to let you in - £2o charge to let you out, after losing your mind talking to a holographic librarian, and searching the shelves in vain for something to f*cking read, in the virtual outsourced, hollowed out, cleaned out libraries of Broken Barnet.

The other motive for the new proposals, the second reason is - pure speculative greed. The library service is being ripped apart by a fatal budget cut of 60%, because it must be outsourced, and because the buildings are an asset waiting to be stripped, laid bare, and used for capital gain. Don't be distracted by all the crap about the need for  'new models of delivery' and 'savings': yes, they like the sound of that, but the real motive is pretty clear.

There are numerous references to the redevelopment of library sites. This idea is casually used in the context of possibly providing income for whatever is left to provide a service, once the Tory councillors have destroyed most of it, by whichever option they finally choose. The development of closed libraries, of course, is not spelt out, but coyly included, obliquely, and no commitment made at all that any capital made from the sale of such properties will return in any degree to the library service, for example: 

 'Alternatively income might be secured by redeveloping the current library site ... '

Might be. 

New libraries might be provided in the same areas, or nearby. 

Or they might not

Which do you think might be more likely, readers? Is there a degree of certainty comparable, say, to the promise of an invisible library, in North Finchley, which necessitated the closure of Friern Barnet library? Is a broken promise, in Broken Barnet, more likely than not? If so, how reliable is a 'might be', a possibility left trailing in the air, with no promise at all?

And how much do you think our Tory council secretly has already estimated it can make by the sale of so many of our library buildings? 

We will never know exactly, because such information will be redacted on the grounds of commercial sensitivity.

Library buildings will, if we allow these plans to go forward, be shut, the book stock removed and dumped, the staff made redundant, the properties put up for sale. 

In some cases, no doubt, developers already have their eyes on sites that just might provide some much needed unaffordable luxury housing, which will get the seal of approval from the same set of Tory councillors who sold off the site in the first case. 

And the people of this borough will be left with a handful of libraries, no professional library service - and some bookshelves in the corner of a community centre, stuffed with a few yellowing secondhand paperbacks.

If you don't like the sound of that, and you want to retain the wonderful library service we have now, make sure you fight for it, and make your voice heard. 

Take part in the consultation - carefully. 

Sign the two petitions

Email your local councillor. 

Email your MP. 

Write to the local press. 

Write to the national press. 

Join other residents, of all backgrounds and all political persuasions who are united in determination to oppose these terrible proposals, and fight back, to save Barnet Libraries.

There is a meeting on 26th November which any residents interested in fighting for their local libraries are urged to attend:

It's now or never. 

Here lies a dilemma for our Tory councillors. 

Support the destruction of our library service, and commit political suicide, on the brink of a general election, hanging as they are within one by election of losing control of the council - and another long drawn out, bloody battle such as you would expect, in Broken Barnet where there is a pride in our heritage, historical, cultural, and literal, however much the Tories try to stamp it out, or sell it off, and a tradition of organised resistance, determination - and defiance.

Labour's petition

Updated Sunday: 

Here are dates of 'consultation' events at your local libraries: if you care about the future of Barnet libraries - that there will be a future for Barnet Libraries, then please make the effort to attend, and voice your opinions. 

You will note that in typical fashion, your council has arranged many of these events to take place at times when the majority of working residents will not be able to attend -  but try to come anyway.
Location Date Time
Mill Hill Tuesday 18th November 2014 2-5pm
Burnt Oak Thursday 20th November 2014 5-8pm
Mobile library route Friday 21st November 2014 All day
Chipping Barnet Saturday 22nd November 2014 2-5pm
Hendon Monday 24th November 2014 2-5pm
East Finchley Wednesday 26th November 2014 5-8pm
Mobile library route Thursday 27th November 2014 All day
East Barnet Friday 28th November 2014 10am-1pm
Edgware Sunday 30th November 2014 2-5pm
Grahame Park Tuesday 2nd December 2014 5-8pm
Mobile library route Wednesday 3rd December 2014 All day
Golders Green Thursday 4th December 2014 10am-1pm
South Friern Saturday 6th December 2014 10am-1pm
Church End Monday 8th December 2014 5-8pm
Mobile library route Tuesday 9th December 2014 All day
Childs Hill Wednesday 10th December 2014 10am-1pm
Osidge Friday 12th December 2014 2-5pm
North Finchley Saturday 13th December 2014 10am-1pm


Liron Velleman said...

Question 6 is also incredibly leading. All days of the week are important for a library. The question is a great example of divide and rule. Some days are busier with children, some with older people, some with students. By saying the day you use only seeks to cause friction with other groups in the borough

Mrs Angry said...

Yes, Liron: I would not respond to those questions, as any data produced will be used to justify cuts in hours and days of opening.

JVK said...

This makes me angry. I will have to consider later.

My first thought is that closing libraries rather proves there are no savings from One Barnet, otherwise they would not have to do this.

My second thought is that there must be an option to keep the libraries added to the survey, otherwise it is unrepresentative and meaningless.

Unknown said...

Excellent post for a very good campaign. Just signed the petition.

Enough of attacking community services which serve Barnet's least privileged residents.

Polly Napper said...

In East Finchley we had over 80 people turn out to a meeting last week to kick off our campaign. Absolutely no appetite a the community run library. Overwhelming feeling was 'none of the above'.

Any brilliant ideas for how we can express this effectively on the consultation document gratefully appreciated!

Mrs Angry said...

Brilliant news, thanks Polly: have to declare an interest here, my son works there on Saturdays! And I know how important the library is to East Finchley: relieved too to hear no one is foolish enough to think the so called 'community run' library is acceptable.

In regard to the consultation be very careful to avoid the loaded question, leave them blank and fill up all the opportunities to comment with support for maintaining the status quo. There are alternative sources of funding, if the political will is there.

And please come to the Nov 26th meeting, where hopefully those of us who are determined to fight the library plans will be able to discuss how best to work together.

Alan Wylie said...

Having just found the time to have a proper look at this consutation i can honestly say it's one of the most loaded i've ever seen and i've seen hundreds!
I agree with Mrs Angry leave them blank and make sure you let them know why you are doing this.
They are not cutting the service for fiscal reasons it's an ideological attack on a crucial statutory public service, the last thing they want are literate, questioning and empowered communities that might find them out!
Alan Wylie

John Brace said...

I draw people's attention to local council's responsibilities under s.7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964:

If local councils are seen to be possibly failing in this duty the relevant minister can request a public inquiry as they did here in Wirral in 2009. There are separate regulations determining what happens if that stage is reached, however here is what s.7 states (hopefully this helps):

"(1)It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof, . . .

Provided that although a library authority shall have power to make facilities for the borrowing of books and other materials available to any persons it shall not by virtue of this subsection be under a duty to make such facilities available to persons other than 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.

(2) In fulfilling its duty under the preceding subsection, a library authority shall in particular have regard to the desirability—

(a) of securing, by the keeping of adequate stocks, by arrangements with other library authorities, and by any other appropriate means, that facilities are available for the borrowing of, or reference to, books and other printed matter, and pictures, gramophone records, films and other materials, sufficient in number, range and quality to meet the general requirements and any special requirements both of adults and children; and

(b) of encouraging both adults and children to make full use of the library service, and of providing advice as to its use and of making available such bibliographical and other information as may be required by persons using it; and

(c) of securing, in relation to any matter concerning the functions both of the library authority as such and any other authority whose functions are exercisable within the library area, that there is full co-operation between the persons engaged in carrying out those functions."

P.S. Do Barnet libraries allow people to borrow gramophone records or has the gramophone gone out of fashion in Barnet?

Partygirl said...

I went to the Mill Hill Library "consultation" on Tuesday. There were a lot of people there including for the first "session" "Cllrs" Duschinsky and Hart. Hart told me "I speak three languages madam" - wtf??? But they couldnt stay for the second session as they had another very important meeting to go to! We all gave our opinions as to why no libraries should close and alternatives and why libraries should be staffed by trained librarians in the same way hospitals should be staffed by trained doctors and trained nurses not volunteers. Will it help? I doubt it.....

Cllr Philip Cohen said...

I went to the East Barnet consultation event which was attended by over 40 people, which was good considering it was held on a weekday morning when many people would be at work or with childcare duties. The overwhelming view was to keep the library service as it is and promote it better, letting out rooms to raise revenue and having a Friends of EB Library scheme that people pay a small fee for. Many felt their library was a friendly place where they could go and look at books, read papers or use the computer. 'You can't put a money figure on that experience,'one said. Older people suffer from loneliness and look forward to chatting to libarians - how will an unstaffed service with swipe cards deal with that social issue? The other pernicious effect of these proposals is to set one library against another trying to persuade people to close one in another area because it doesn't affect them. Let's trust the people of Barnet who want to keep their libraries and have great ideas to improve them and raise money that way, rather than uncaring Tories who only listen to accountants.

Mrs Angry said...

Thanks, Phil: and well said. Your experience at E Barnet appears to be typical of the reaction from residents at these 'consultation' events. I am sure that even now Barnet officers are charged with the task of taking the feedback given to the consultants who ran the events, and sprinkling it with One Barnet fairy dust, to turn it into evidence in support of their nefarious proposals. But we shall watch their every step, and counter their dark magic ...