Category Archives: Surrey County Council

First Victory Declared in Battle to Reverse Councillors’ Pay Hikes


Press Statement from Richard Wilson, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Guildford

First Victory Declared in Battle to Reverse Councillors’ Pay Hikes

15 July 2014 – for immediate release

Labour activists in Surrey are today declaring a victory in their campaign to reverse the massive pay hikes which leading Conservative county councillors voted themselves. In May, the Tory majority group on the council voted to ignore their Independent Remuneration Panel and hike their own Special Responsibility Allowances. Later that month, Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for Guildford, Richard Wilson, started a petition which thousands of residents have signed on Surrey County Council’s own website to reverse the hikes. Today, the council’s Leader, Cllr David Hodge, issued a personal statement at the start of the full council meeting where he complained about the public not understanding his position but agreed to reduce his and his deputy’s allowance to the level recommended by the IRP.

Richard Wilson said, “Thank you to everyone who signed my petition. We have forced Cllr Hodge into this U-turn against his will. We are declaring victory today but our victory is not yet complete so I ask people to continue signing my petition. I aim to reverse all of these pay hikes, not just the Leader’s and Deputy Leader’s 60% hikes.

“Until today, Hodge defended his 60% pay hike as the minimum necessary to do his job. If this is true, then surely he will now resign since his new lower allowance will not be enough. Hodge has been slammed by Conservative MPs, ministers and local parties. The public have spoken with one voice in supporting my campaign to reverse his ill-judged money-grab. His reputation has been irreparably damaged by this and I call on him to consider his position.”

Ends

Note 1. Leader, Cllr Hodge, will now receive an SRA of £35,548pa, up from £27,000 last year but less than the £43,000 he previously said was the minimum he could accept. This is on top of his councillor’s basic allowance of £12,418pa.

Note 2. Richard Wilson’s petition is here: http://petitions.surreycc.gov.uk/moneygrab/

Note 3. Richard Wilson is on 01483 511272

 

 

Richard Wilson

Parliamentary Candidate

Guildford Labour Party

Twitter | Facebook | Blog | Website | YouTube | Donate

 

Promoted by Alex Wilks on behalf of Richard Wilson, both of 9b Martyr Road, Guildford, Surrey GU1 4LF

Surrey County Council “acutely aware” of the crisis they have caused in our schools


The Surrey Advertiser has covered the overcrowding in Surrey’s infant classes which came to light in my recent research:

Surrey Ad 20 June on class sizes

The Tory council say they are “acutely aware” of the problem. They should have been “acutely aware” that this crisis was going to happen years ago and should have done something about it. Surrey’s youngest pupils are suffering due to the council’s neglect of their responsibilities. This probably does not affect many Tory councillors’ families, who will be able to afford private schools for their grandchildren.

By awarding themselves 60% pay hikes, the Tory leadership of Surrey County Council have added insult to injury to the parents and pupils of Surrey.

Tell Surrey County Council to give it back!


Recently Conservative councillors on Surrey County Council voted to ignore an independent remuneration panel and award themselves massive pay rises of up to 60%. The entire independent panel resigned.

The Tory Group have difficulty keeping their councillors loyal and they are riven by infighting. Last year they created four new “Cabinet Associate” positions. These are non-jobs which allow the Conservative leadership to make patronage payments of £10,000 per annum to Tory councillors (on top of all the other payments which councillors receive). This was raised to £12,500, against the independent panel’s recommendation too.

It is staggering that Conservative councillors are so out of touch with Surrey Council Tax payers. Our roads are covered in larger and larger potholes. There is a school place shortage. Families across the county are struggling to make end meet thanks to the Council raising Council Tax by the maximum amount allowed, for the third time in a row.

A few months ago, Labour’s Cllr Robert Evans proposed a motion to Surrey County Council to stop paying poverty pay and ensure all council employees received the Living Wage. The Conservative Group all voted against it. This time they have decided to divert taxpayers’ money straight into their own pockets.

As usual, Conservatives are standing up for the wrong people. However, even here in Surrey we can take a stand against them. Please sign my petition to demand they return the money they have grabbed.

Your signature only counts once you click on the link which is automatically emailed to you. If you don’t receive it straight away check your Junk folder.

Tory Surrey County Council is happy to pay poverty wages to its employees, allow our roads to crumble and hike our Council Tax. It is an insult to the people of Surrey that they are grabbing our money too.

Sign here to put an end to this money-grab.

Surrey’s Small Libraries Are Under Threat


I attended the Communities Select Committee of Surrey County Council today. The agenda included a progress report on their so-called Community Partnered Library policy whereby paid staff are replaced totally by volunteers. I filed the following written public question:

What is the percentage change in the public’s usage of libraries, ie number of books borrowed per month, which have become Community Partnered Libraries since they became CPLs? How does this change compare with the other libraries in the network which have not become CPLs?

Here is the answer I received. Public question – Mr Wilson

I was allowed to ask one supplementary question and this is what I asked:

Thank you for answering my question. I would like to ask a supplementary question. I note that after becoming Community Partnered Libraries, the six CPLs’ issuing of books has declined at twice the rate of other comparable libraries. Your answer says that “low and declining use” was the reason for choosing the first 10 CPLs. Is it actually the case that 5 of the 10 had rising  usage?

This included Bagshot, my local library, which seems to be the least advanced towards CPL status of the 10. Will the last be the first? Will Bagshot Library be the first to close? Your policy includes closing libraries where volunteers cannot be found. The Friends of Bagshot Library, a group of 40 to 50 volunteers, set up Bagshot Community Library Limited and were ready to take over the library. Item 9 Annex 1 on this meeting’s documents says that they have expressed concern about their capacity to undertake the task. What is the source of this statement? Isn’t it actually the case that they do have the capacity but are concerned about the draft contract and have been cut off by the lack of communication from this council and undermined by Windlesham Parish Council?

How many firm commitments have Windlesham Parish Council received from volunteers? Finally, how would the members of this committee feel if Bagshot Library closes due to your policy? Will you feel it like a bereavement as many local library users would? Would you resign if that were to happen? Or is that the objective of your policy?

Addressing (not answering!) my questions were council officers, Cllr Helyn Clack (the cabinet member responsible), Cllr Denise Saliagopoulos (chair of the committee and former cabinet member responsible until she was sacked after allegations of financial misconduct), and Cllr Mike Goodman (Con, Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham and chair of Windlesham Parish Council).

Firstly, they did not deny that some of the 10 hitlisted libraries were increasing usage when they were targeted for this treatment. Nobody would say that Bagshot Library will not close or even that if it did they would care. Cllr Goodman would not reveal how many volunteers they had found so far (I hear it’s fewer than 10) but he did say a poster had gone up. Don’t laugh, that’s quite an achievement for our parish council, it was probably the result of many long meetings and brain-storming sessions.

It is so sad that Bagshot Library is suffering because of political manoeuvring by Conservative Windlesham Parish Council. I asked that Bagshot be removed from the CPL programme and returned to the supported network of libraries. It is obviously not going to work as a CPL and this is the only way to save it.

Disturbingly, they could not rule out adding to the number of small libraries under threat by the CPL scheme, including Lightwater, Frimley Green and Ash. This policy could devastate library users across Surrey Heath and Surrey as a whole.

The committee meeting was several hours long with many other interesting points. Please view these clips for a taster:

 

Strange times for Bagshot Library


Tonight I attended a public meeting about the future of Bagshot Library. Here is the well-hidden announcement of the meeting. I saw a fleeting reference to a meeting about Bagshot Library in some Windlesham Parish Council (WPC) minutes weeks ago but my enquiries drew a blank until I googled it up eventually. This was the first thing I didn’t understand: why call a public meeting and not publicise it?

The background to this issue is important, so if you are not familiar with it please read this first.

The meeting was chaired by new county councillor Mike Goodman. Two senior Surrey County Council (SCC) officers were there: Peter Milton and Rose Wilson. In the audience were other officers from SCC and WPC. There were about 25-30 people there in total. I recognised about half of them. There were community activists from Bagshot, parish and borough councillors and some members of the public. So far so good, although I don’t know why my stalker, Tory councillor for Mytchett and Deepcut, Paul Deach was there. He plodded about the room pointing his pistol-shaped microphone in people’s faces. He does this sort of thing during council meetings too. I think having a dressed-down troll getting in everyone’s way does not help. I know he needs to make a living and the income he gets from his Tory propaganda website (which publishes abuse about me) is probably useful, but meetings should have a certain decorum.

The meeting started with a long introduction by Cllr Goodman. It was obvious that the audience contained people with different levels of awareness about the Community Partnered Library (CPL) scheme and varying degrees of support or opposition to it. A ten minute speech extolling the virtues of the CPL policy in a very one-sided way seemed to serve to wind up those opposed to it and confuse those with little knowledge of it. This, along with the first couple of answers from officers to written questions, appeared to be very defensive. I thought the general mood of the audience was ready to be persuaded, but in need of information and reassurance. The impression we got was that there was something to hide or that was going to be inflicted on us.

Peter Milton said, “Surrey County Council has made a decision.” referring to the CPL policy. Fair enough. I knew that, but did everyone? He said, “The objective is to keep Bagshot Library open.” OK, I’ll believe that for the time being, for the purposes of this discussion. I still didn’t know why we were having this meeting, however. Were they consulting us? Didn’t feel like it. Were they informing us? Not so far.

I asked if there was any way paid staff could be retained and whether they agreed that libraries need librarians. I hoped they would use this opportunity to explain the CPL model to the audience because I thought many didn’t understand how fundamental it is. Actually, I got an interesting answer I didn’t expect instead. It is possible for paid staff to be retained, Warlingham Library have done this by getting their parish council to fund it. Bagshot staff costs are about £12,000 pa so this could easily be done by Windlesham Parish Council.

The chair was keeping a very tight rein on questions and supplementary questions, which eventually proved counter-productive. The dam of discontent broke when representatives of the Friends of Bagshot Library took over the floor to make their case. They already have 45 volunteers on their books (who already help at the library) and SCC haven’t taken up their offer to take over the library. This was not adequately defended by the officers and the tension between the groups was obvious. It seems inevitable that this would blow up during the meeting and explained the previous defensiveness. So why were we there? Couldn’t they have discussed and negotiated between themselves? Even now, I don’t understand.

I then asked about how vulnerable groups will be catered for. This was the crux of the judicial review which SCC lost to SLAM. The answer was that SCC will provide initial and recurrent training to volunteers and some training would be ‘cascaded’. Of course, this expense would not be necessary if paid staff were retained.

Lightwater Library was mentioned too. It is on the second list of libraries to be targeted, along with nearby Frimley Green and Ash Libraries. I use both Bagshot and Lightwater Libraries. Lightwater’s building is much nicer and they have the same librarian, rather than a rotating one, and no self-service machine. The self-service machines are awful. They are more complicated and less intuitive than Airbuses. Someone asked about what happens when they break, the self-service machines not Airbuses. Good question.

So what was it all about? Have SCC decided to form a new steering group and cut the Friends of Bagshot Library out of the equation? Has a “decision been taken” to close Bagshot Library and this was intended to soften us up? Did they hope we would all sign up as volunteers there and then? Did they hope to persuade and inspire us about the future of the library? Perhaps they did. Perhaps they’re not used to persuading or inspiring people. To be fair, they don’t have to do it very much. This is a safe Tory area and they don’t need to try to talk people round to their point of view very often. Maybe that is why it wasn’t effective, I didn’t even realise I was being wooed.

Maybe I’m being too cynical. The stated aim was to find a way forward for Bagshot Library. I found one: since SCC have “taken a decision” to stop running the library, the parish council should take it over. The Friends of Bagshot Library should run it. WPC should provide funding for paid staff and recoup the money from SCC in lieu of the reduced training costs. The volunteers should work alongside paid staff and also fundraise to improve the building and offer more services. This would take leadership and commitment to achieve. People would have to be persuaded and inspired. If this plan is chosen, I will be fully available to provide any help I can to get it working.

Would I volunteer in a library without paid staff? No. I would never work for free so that a paid worker can be done out of their job. The CPL plan is ideological and I have my ideological limits too.

It was a strange evening and I’ll readily admit I’m not sure that my analysis is correct. If anyone has any other theories, particularly if you were there, please post them below.

 

Election Pledge 2: Save Bagshot Library


Conservative Surrey County Council doesn’t like libraries. For over 30 years they have been trying to close them down. Their latest scheme to close libraries is called the Community Partnered Library (CPL) scheme. I covered this folly here.

Windlesham and Chobham were the first to lose out when the mobile library was scrapped. This is from SCC’s Cabinet meeting of 1 February 2011:

SCC Cabinet 1 Feb 11a

Then on 27 September 2011, the Cabinet agreed with these two cuttings:

SCC Cabinet 27 Sep 11a

SCC Cabinet 27 Sep 11b

This shows that SCC were planning to blackmail communities into taking over the running of their libraries on pain of closure.

At that time they drew up a second hitlist of libraries to suffer the same fate a year later:

SCC Cabinet 27 Sep 11c

I worked with the excellent pressure group, SLAM, Surrey Libraries Action Movement to oppose these closures. SLAM took SCC to a judicial review and won. Later SCC admitted that the CPL scheme wouldn’t actually save any money at all. This is from the Cabinet meeting of 24 July 2012:

SCC Cabinet 24 Jul 12

It was a poorly conceived policy and SCC missed every opportunity to consult properly with communities and find a solution. They decided to press on with the CPL scheme rather than lose face.

I visited Bagshot Library today to collect a library book I ordered and took a last look round because if another Conservative is elected to SCC from this area, its days are numbered.

Bagshot Library - soon to be history?

Bagshot Library – soon to be history?

Saving Bagshot Library

If elected on 2 May, my first task will be to save Bagshot Library. I will work with other county councillors who oppose the library’s closure. This could include the chairman of SLAM, Lee Godfrey, who is standing for election too, in Chertsey. 

In other counties, parish councils have taken over libraries from the county council, and the funding that goes with it. I would like to see Windlesham Parish Council do this in Bagshot. It would need to become a ‘Quality Council’ first and I’ll help them achieve this. This could secure the paid librarians who could work alongside volunteers. 

The building which Bagshot Library uses belongs to Surrey Heath Borough Council and is in a poor condition. There are many empty shop fronts on Bagshot High Street. I would help Bagshot Library negotiate a lower rent either from SHBC or from a landlord of a vacant shop in an even better location in Bagshot. 

Vote Labour on 2 May 

This is my second pledge: I will be a true ‘partner’ of Bagshot Library. I won’t allow the Tories to shut it down.

Richard Wilson

Labour Candidate for Surrey County Council 2 May 2013

Election Pledge 1: Supporting Families in Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham


Families are under pressure. Household bills are rising fast and salaries are not keeping up. Schools are being squeezed and parents are concerned about their children’s education. Activities for young people of all ages are difficult to access in our area.

If elected on 2 May, I will be a champion for hard-pressed families.

School Uniforms

Local parents tell me that they worry about the cost of school uniforms. I will work with local schools and retailers to help reduce this. Schools can choose to use generic garments for most of their uniforms, which can be supplied cheaply because of economies of scale across the country. School specific items, such as blazer badges and ties, should be as inexpensive as possible.

I would like to see local retailers, such as the proposed new Waitrose store in Bagshot, help to keep school uniform costs down for parents. By working together with schools and businesses, I will make reducing the cost of new school uniforms and sports kit a priority as your county councillor.

Also, as pupils move through the education system, their previous items of school uniform should be available to the next generation. I will support schools in setting up pre-owned uniform exchanges. The prospect of finding the money for new school uniforms every summer is hugely stressful for many families. I want to end this major drain on household finances.

Play Areas

Children’s play areas are provided by either parish or borough councils. Parents in Chobham tell me that they are not impressed by the play area at the rec ground. One mother even said she feels forced to drive her children to Sunningdale to play.

Chobham Parish Council told me they are aware that it needs improvement and I believe that they take the issue seriously. However, play areas are usually funded by mandatory contributions from property developers and because Chobham is in the Green Belt the parish council does not receive much money this way.

Families in Chobham shouldn’t suffer poor facilities because of lack of developers’ funds. County councillors receive “members’ allocations” which they can use to help fund small local projects. I would use such funds to improve the Chobham play area so parents don’t have to drive their children elsewhere. This would reduce traffic and help local retailers since many families would walk down Chobham High Street to reach the play area.

In Windlesham and Bagshot there is more property development so the parish council there has access to funding for play areas. However, they have chosen to spend this money on hanging basket stands, but not hanging baskets, and a “bus shelter” which is more accurately called a “shelter” because buses won’t stop there! They also bought a new council noticeboard.

In the absence of support from the parish council, I would encourage local businesses to help set up and improve play areas in Bagshot and Windlesham.

Windlesham Field of Remembrance

The planned new pavilion at the Field of Remembrance would provide an ideal venue for youth groups such as the Scouts and Guides. It would be a good central location in Windlesham for a nursery too. Improved changing facilities would increase participation in football and cricket by young people. As I have stated before, I’m strongly in favour of this project.

I would support the fundraising for the new pavilion by asking county council staff to help me approach bodies such as the National Lottery and central government departments to obtain grants. Local philanthropists and businesses could be assured of the project’s potential by it having the full backing of the local county councillor, if I am elected.

Surrey County Council has a health scrutiny role and I would use this to lobby the new NHS Commissioning Board to bring back GP provision to Windlesham. Initially, this could be part-time in a room in the new pavilion. The rent would provide another regular source of income for the Field and help sustain it financially.

Making Activities Accessible to Young People

I recently addressed the borough council’s planning committee to obtain planning permission for the Terri Jayne School of Dance to set up in Lightwater. As county councillor, I will prioritise making activities like this accessible to young people and families in our area. I have also been involved in lobbying Education Secretary Michael Gove to stop selling off school playing fields, which I talk about in this film.

I am a long-time campaigner for sustainable transport. This includes creating safe cycle routes so that young people can get around without relying on their parents to drive them. The school run blights some roads at certain times of the day and I would like to see an alternative offered.

Labour: Standing Up For Families

A Labour vote in Bagshot, Windlesham and Chobham on 2 May 2013 is a vote for supporting families. Nowadays families and young people are under more pressure than ever. If you vote for me, you can trust me to be on the side of families.

Richard Wilson

Labour Candidate for Surrey County Council 2 May 2013

The 500 Bus: Full Disclosure


I’ve had a lot of interesting information from Surrey County Council about bus services and the number 500 bus service in particular. I thought it would be useful to publish it all for passengers and bus enthusiasts to read. I’m going to editorialise as little as possible as an experiment.

Most recently, I asked about unexpected service cancellations and I can’t really disagree with:

Further to your recent query, all bus companies do have occasion when a journey fails to operate, usually for circumstances beyond their control, such as compound delays caused by traffic congestion or a road traffic accident. Occasionally, a failure may be down to a mechanical problem with the vehicle and rarer still, lack of a driver. This represents a very small percentage out of total mileage operated.

I also asked how people can find out whether the bus they are waiting for is delayed or cancelled:

Advising people that a journey is not running, whilst they are waiting at stops, is obviously a challenge. A few stops in Surrey Heath, for example, do have Real Time Information electronic screens and if used effectively by a bus company, they could show a message. As such technology becomes cheaper and more robust we do aim to increase the number of such screens, but it is a slower than ideal process, governed by funding availability; the locations have to be strictly prioritised.

Encouraging people to use public transport is vital and this Real Time Information system must be rolled out everywhere as soon as possible. Inevitably, funding pressures are mentioned but, as I suggested before, there may be ways round this.

What about the 500 bus at the moment? What should passengers do?:

The number of occasions when a route 500 journey is cancelled is extremely small. Usually, it is caused by compound delays due to unforeseen congestion in the A30 corridor – a small incident can have prolonged knock-on effect. Mr Dickson usually telephones our office to advise of the situation and any likely impact on the service, in case customers phone the Council for information, but in general instructs the drivers to cover the journey, however late they have become. The impression received is that the general reliability of the 500 is very good and negligible adverse comment is received.

A while ago I made a Freedom of Information request to find out some basic facts about the 500 bus service. Here is what SCC told me about the cost of the contract (I asked if any other council part-funds the service):

Dickson Travel only receives support from Surrey County Council. The contract is “package-priced ” with another service – the 48 from Frimley to Woking. The annual contract payment for routes 48 (one bus) and 500 (two buses) in 2012/13 is £197,854. A copy of the contract specification as issued to bidders when last tendered is attached, together with the generic Conditions of Contract applicable to all our contracted bus services.

The “Service Specification” is here.

The contract is here.

 

I asked about the passenger numbers on each day of the week and at different times of day:

The total number of passenger journeys made on the 500 for 2011/12 was in the region of 50,000. Disaggregated data may be obtainable from Mr Dickson. The vehicles have 25 – 27 seats.

I asked about the fares and who pays them:

The number of passenger journeys made by holders of Senior Citizen/Disabled Person passes is part of a dataset that is regarded as commercially confidential and likely to be exempt under FOI Act 2000. The amount of revenue collected may be available from Mr Dickson, if he chooses to share it, although he may well also regard that as commercially sensitive. Such information can also be exempt under FOI 2000. Free travel is received by holders of Over 60s/Disabled Persons permits and students under 16 years who are statutorily-eligible for free home to school transport. Discounted travel is received by children under 16, students aged 16-19 in full time education and resident in Surrey if they apply for and purchase a Student Fare Card and those who may purchase a period ticket from the operator.

Of course, the “Service Specification” above estimates that £300pw is received in fares.

I asked if they had ever considered making the service free:

No study has been carried out regarding making this service or any other, free to all. Universal free travel is simply unaffordable as the Council would be unable to find the additional subsidy to recompense for revenue forgone.

They provided some additional information:

Bus service 500 is not a commercially-viable proposition to any bus company. For that reason, Windlesham’s buses are specified, contracted and funded by Surrey County Council, as a socially necessary service. The service is procured by competitive tender, with the successful bidder being effectively subsidised for the difference between the cost of provision and the revenue generated. The operator retains the on-bus fares revenue and the Concessionary Fare re-imbursement.

Interestingly, they acknowledged that the closure of Windlesham branch GP surgery makes public transport more important:

The Council is always keen to promote further usage of any bus service. It currently has plans to raise awareness of, for example, the link by 500 bus to Sunningdale station, where car parking is now expensive and limited by capacity. It is also aware of and is considering the more recent requirement to travel to Lightwater for the surgery. However, the cost to the Council of adding, say, one additional bus on a service like the 500, to make it more frequent, could be in the region of £90,000 – £110,000 per year, as the likelihood of recouping the cost from extra revenue is slim. The Council is keen to explore the enhancement of services, but this must be affordable within a significantly reducing budget and must represent reasonable value for money to the taxpayer. To put this into context, a three year Bus Review has just concluded, with a requirement to reduce annual bus support expenditure countywide by £4m.

I’m glad that they are keen to enhance bus services. Hopefully with new energy and initiative at SCC we can achieve this. Next election here: 2 May 2013.

Surrey’s Libraries Under Threat


“Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” -Walter Cronkite

Conservative Surrey County Council has been trying to close libraries for 30 years or more and now they want to use “austerity” as an excuse to do it. It’s the same excuse that David Cameron is using to privatise the NHS, cut the police, slash employment rights, remove support for the disabled, and all the other policies they got into politics to achieve. Previous Tory governments used “inflation” as an excuse to transfer wealth from the poor to the rich. Today it’s “austerity” but the aim is the same.

 

New Model Army

To disguise their motive, Surrey County Council (SCC) claimed that small libraries would be able to stay open if groups of volunteers could be found to replace paid staff. They claimed this would save money and we live in straitened times. This was all Tory councillors needed to hear to support the policy. A sense of financial emergency was induced to encourage volunteers to come forward. The Big Society’s volunteer new model army was on the march!

Or was it? Time passed and the SCC cabinet member for libraries was fired and placed under investigation. The new cabinet member took office and admitted that this so-called Community Partnered Libraries scheme actually wouldn’t save any money. She said it was about getting more use from the libraries but the threat of closure still hangs over them, for some reason.

 

“Cutting libraries in recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague”― Eleanor Crumblehulme

Why Are We Doing This Again?

So there was no financial emergency in the new version of history from SCC. They still wanted to sack the librarians though. Librarians are not highly paid fat cats raking in huge bonuses. They are people who love books and their calling is to introduce as many people as possible to reading and open their minds. You can see why Conservative councillors want rid of them.

It is estimated that between 80 and 120 volunteers will be required to replace one librarian. This allows for natural wastage and the amount of time people are usually prepared to put in. Librarians are trained in data protection and how to deal with vulnerable groups. For volunteers to replace them completely they would need that training, which would have to be kept up to date and properly documented.

SCC decided to get round the data protection problem by removing certain IT capability from volunteer run libraries. Removing it costs money and the resulting service to customers is worse. Books often have to be moved from one library to another just to be entered onto a computer now. They have increased the cost and reduced the service.

Dealing with vulnerable groups is something that SCC doesn’t prioritise. They thought equalities training could be a box-ticking exercise. They were wrong. The pressure group SLAM, Surrey Libraries Action Movement, warned them that they would be breaking the law but SCC didn’t listen. SLAM was forced to take SCC to the High Court and won a judicial review. SCC were SLAM-dunked!

 

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the free public library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” –Andrew Carnegie

Not Listening!

After their victory in court, SLAM and other residents’ groups presented proposals to SCC for how volunteers could work alongside paid staff. This would save the training costs and mean the computer links could stay. SCC refused to listen again.

Unfortunately our local county councillors all toed the party line to protect their political careers instead of voting for what their electorate wanted. Cllr Stuart MacLeod (Con, Bagshot, Windlesham & Lightwater East) was on the Communities Select Committee and voted for the Tory plan. If one Tory had broken ranks it would have been sent back for further consideration. MacLeod was replaced on the committee after he was convicted of a drink-driving offence. His replacement, hard right-winger, Cllr Denis Fuller (Con, Camberley West), also voted for his party’s plan. They both betrayed their electorate very badly. The next county council election is 2 May 2013.

 

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

–Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Hitlists

There were ten small libraries on the first hitlist, including Bagshot, and a further nine on the second, including Lightwater, Ash and Frimley Green, which was planned for a year after the first. Only three of the first list are now being run by volunteers. SCC found Tory Party activists who would give up their time to promote the policy. Once all 19 libraries have been handed over to volunteers (or closed) they can drift away with the reward of a job well done and over the subsequent years the remaining libraries will no doubt close, one by one.

Why do I think this will happen? It’s true there are many motivated library volunteers who are not Tory Party activists. Many of them will give up their time to save their local library from closure. Will they keep doing it, forever? Will they be prepared to take over legal liability for what happens in the building, like accidents? SCC are demanding this. Will they remain motivated when they realise that their volunteering has led to their librarian being sacked? When they become unable to volunteer who will recruit the next generation of free library workers?

 

Me at the "Love your library" rally, Bagshot, Oct 2011.

Me at the “Love your library” rally, Bagshot, Oct 2011.

 

Libraries Need Librarians

There is a reason why libraries have librarians. I walked through the snow today to Lightwater Library which was open and inviting as usual. The enthusiastic friendly librarian was at work, despite the weather. She was there to advise people about books but also on how to use the computers and the internet. Without a knowledgeable librarian some people will be cut off from online services like banking, shopping and communicating with friends and family.

If volunteers worked alongside paid librarians, they could increase and improve the libraries’ services and create a supportive social atmosphere for the community which would encourage people into the library. It is what residents want too. SCC won’t allow it, even though it won’t cost any more, because it would secure the future of the small libraries and make it more difficult to close them, which is their ideological aim.

 

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” -Andrew Carnegie

Village Family

Libraries provide a vital function, particularly in villages. When the Tories scrapped the mobile library last year, its loss was felt like a bereavement by many in Windlesham. One day a week it had connected people who are now more isolated. The professional staff were part of the village family.

In Lightwater and Bagshot the libraries are used by the young and old, but for different reasons. Entering the world of books as a child opens up endless possibilities for learning, fulfilment and entertainment throughout life. Free public libraries are the only way to ensure that every child can achieve this. For the elderly, the library links them to their community. Practically, many people need the library and librarians to get online too.

Libraries are the repository of local history in many communities. Without them we may forget the previous inhabitants and stories of our villages.

If you would like to help save your local library, just visit it, look around, sign up for a library card if you don’t have one, borrow something interesting, and read a book!

 

“Without the library, you have no civilization.” -Ray Bradbury

 

What’s Latin for Omnishambles?


Prime Minister David Cameron was recently mocked on American TV because he didn’t know the literal meaning of Magna Carta. There’s not much call for Latin these days and even the Old Etonian himself couldn’t dredge it up. What really matters, of course, is that the Magna Carta, nearly 800 years ago, enshrined equality under the law. OK, it was just equality for men, and didn’t include serfs, but it was a start.

Right to Party?

The Magna Carta was signed in 1215 in Runnymede, Surrey. With just two years until its 800th anniversary, Runnymede Borough Council (RBC) are making plans to celebrate. So far, so good: as the Beastie Boys pointed out 771 years after Magna Carta, certain rights have to be fought for.

However, RBC haven’t got any money. This is one of the reasons why they are trying to push through the DERA development, for example. So how could they celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta?

One idea would be to spend nothing on it and promote it through private donations and local schools and museums. After all, foodbanks are setting up in RBC’s area, their funding from central government is being cut, and the poorest are being hit by benefit cuts so need vital council-provided services more than ever. Celebrations are important, but not that important.

Another idea would be to spend a small sum and coordinate with Egham Museum to celebrate the anniversary in Egham town centre where it might attract tourists to benefit struggling local businesses and would be close to public transport links. Although this idea might cost some public money, at least it would recoup some or all of it for local people.

A really bad idea would be to plan a £5million brand new Magna Carta Centre in an area prone to flooding, with no public transport links and few local businesses which would benefit from the visitors. It would be an even worse idea for Surrey County Council (SCC) to offer to fund this vanity project.

Can you guess which idea our elected representatives decided to go for?

Robin Hood or King John?

Like many worried Surrey residents I wrote to the SCC cabinet members to ask them to cancel this spending. £5million represents about half of the increase in Council Tax that SCC charged us all in the last year. To spend this all in one borough (out of 11), for no tangible benefit, on a white elephant is the height of irresponsibility.

Rather than listen to us at the time, SCC cabinet re-confirmed their pledge of £5million after the Communities Select Committee asked them to reconsider it. SCC have a long history of ignoring residents and sticking to unviable decisions to the last gasp, until they are forced into humiliating U-turns like this.

Now they have been forced to back down, RBC will have less time to make alternative arrangements. It is a self-induced shambles by SCC. Again.

Fall of Rome

There comes a time when an administration has been in power too long, when it becomes unable to adapt, to notice, to listen. Surrey County Council is one such administration. After the debacle of the so-called Community Partnered Libraries programme (of which more soon), this latest climbdown that has been forced upon them shows how out of touch they have become.

Evidence of the disarray was displayed today when a Tory councillor quit the party and welcomed the end of the “vanity” project. Other Tories have not exactly covered themselves in glory during their last term. For instance, the councillor for Bagshot, Windlesham and Lightwater East is currently banned from driving. Like the cabinet member responsible for transport, he committed an aggravated drink-driving offence. SCC have been organising “away days” for councillors and senior staff at a castle, at our expense. The council’s propaganda magazine, Surrey Pravda, continues to be sent to all households in Surrey despite cuts to vital services. In the last days of the current Surrey County Council empire, they are fiddling while Surrey burns (they are also cutting fire engines!).

Choices, Choices

Even here, in Surrey, people are having to choose between heating their homes and feeding their children. Even here, foodbanks are opening, people can’t find jobs, and school-leavers are missing out on university.

£5million could be spent on reducing the burden of benefit cuts on families, enhancing our libraries (like a new building for Bagshot Library), making cyclists safer on our roads, improving public transport, or reducing the inequality in the county. SCC raise our Council Tax, spend our money like drunken sailors on shore leave, and preside over worsening services and the permanent loss of our natural environment.

This U-turn shows above all that Surrey County Council has lost its way. Luckily there is an election on 2 May when we can all vote for new county councillors to represent us.

Sophia James

Labour Councillor for Katesgrove Ward

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