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: