Monday, 18 August 2014

My perspective on the mobile library cuts

My column in last week’s Cornish Guardian gave my perspective on the decision of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet to slash the mobile library service. It was as follows:  

At the present time, Cornwall Council runs four mobile libraries as well as the Clay Bus (mobile library and information service) in the China Clay Area.

But on 30th July, the ten-strong ruling Cabinet at Cornwall Council voted to reduce the mobile library service to a single van, which would visit a reduced number of stops on a monthly basis. It did however commit the Council to the development of a number of volunteer-run micro-libraries and the expansion of the “home library service.”

I did not agree with the decision and I was also disappointed with the manner in which this issue was handled.

It all kicked off last year when the Council agreed its budget for 2014/2015, which included a £730,000 “saving” from its “Customer Access Review.”

Many councillors – myself included – were very shocked when the Liberal Democrat / Independent administration interpreted this “saving” to include the halving of the mobile library budget from £310,000 to £155,000.

The Council then undertook what it described as one of the “most comprehensive consultation exercises” it had ever staged to find out the views of local people – which it then did not actually act upon!

There was then a meeting of the Partnerships Portfolio Advisory Committee (PAC) in July. Three options were presented, based around the retention of (i) 2 mobile library vans, or (ii) a single mobile library van, or (iii) the cessation of all mobile vans and their replacement with alternative “targeted service provision.”

And even though the principal underlying problem is the cuts from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government, it all got very political for the Coalition partners.

The PAC voted – by a single vote – to recommend the option to “cease all mobile vans.” This option was supported by the leaders of the Conservative and UKIP groups, with the Tory Leader later describing the retention of a single mobile library as an “exercise in tokenism.”

And the Lib Dems, campaigning in a council by-election (Mabe, Perranworthal and St Gluvias) throughout July, actually had the temerity to claim in their election leaflets that the “Tories and UKIP councillors had joined forces to axe the local mobile library service.”

At the Cabinet meeting, the recommendation from the PAC was ignored and the press release duly went out with the positive message: “Council’s Cabinet votes to retain mobile library service in Cornwall.”

I prefer the interpretation of an independent councillor who pointed out: “Unfortunately, because of a typographical error, two words were missing from the headline. It should have read: ‘Council’s Cabinet votes to retain 12% of mobile library service in Cornwall’ … currently, the mobile library service makes 665 stops fortnightly. In future, it will make 172 stops monthly … hopefully, we will not make the same error in future press releases when we cut services by over 80%.”

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