Library campaigners thrilled by response

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A group campaigning to save the county’s libraries has issued a positive response following the outcome of the public consultation into proposed cuts to the service.

It has been reported that 23,000 residents in Lincolnshire signed various petitions against the cuts.

In a press release issued by Save Lincolnshire Libraries (SLL) it stated: “Campaigners are seeing this as a major achievement, especially set against the figure of only 9,757 people turning out for the nine Executive Members in the 2013 county election.”

Campaigner and author William Hussey said: “In other words, over 13,000 more people signed the petition rejecting the council’s proposals than voted for the entire executive body combined.”

Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) are proposing cuts of three hours per week at Market Rasen’s Library which would see a reduction from 28 hours to 25.

Caistor, Wragby, Welton and Keelby would see their libraries close.

SLL have criticised the council for spending ‘£50,000’ on its consultation activities - which it says included a questionnaire and several events.

Angela Montague, another campaigner, added: “The SLL campaigners managed to engage 23,000 people on a shoestring budget of about £1,500.”

LCC are aiming to save £2 million from its budget with the proposed changes.

Steve Palmer added: “Out of 30,000 paper surveys that went out 16 per cent were returned.

“They were placed in limited locations, 26,000 went to libraries, 2,500 to schools, 1,500 to job centres and 500 to CAB...this does not add up.”

13 questions were posed to LCC by campaigners at SLL and these have been replied to by Councillor Nick Worth, executive member for libraries.

Coun Worth said: “We very much welcome this opportunity to answer questions, explain again the rationale behind 
the consultation, and assure residents that the purpose of a consultation is to genuinely seek and listen to feedback.

“I would like to emphasise that no decisions have been made on the future of Lincolnshire’s libraries.”

The 13 questions and the county council’s answers can be found below:

Q: Who planned the consultation and who signed off those plans?

A: The consultation was designed by experts in the council’s Community Engagement Team and the Consultation Institute, as well as library service managers.

Q: Why didn’t the consultation use the existing email database of thousands of library users to invite people to take part?

A: The law prohibits us from using database contact details in this way. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 would have considered such a message as ‘unsolicited’ mail.

Q: Why wasn’t a letter and questionnaire inserted into the County News, which goes to every county home?

A: The timing of the consultation did not marry up well with the production and distribution schedule for County News. The summer edition was published before the consultation was finalised. However, we were able to promote it in the autumn edition and in a range of other ways, including online, social media, in libraries and through the local press.

Q: Why wasn’t the plan clearly presented in every library, with posters listing libraries and mobile stops facing closure?

A: Information and surveys were placed in every library in Lincolnshire.

Q: The questionnaire was widely reported to be confusing and background papers difficult to track down. With so much money available for designing it, why did it fail on this fundamental level?

A: This is an opinion that we are sorry to hear but cannot agree with. An independent report by Sheffield Hallam University stated that consultation documents were designed to give ‘clear, accessible and accurate information’.

Q: Why were so many consultation events held in the daytime, excluding working people?

A: Given the anticipated high level of interest in these events, venues were chosen that could hold around 100 people at locations across the county. A mix of times and days, including evenings and weekends, were chosen to enable as many people as possible to attend.

Q: Why were consultation events held in towns where the library was not under threat?

A: Answer as above.

Q: At the consultation meetings, why was the majority of the time taken up with a presentation on the plans, leaving very little time for the public to take part in the consultation, i.e. to be consulted?

A: The presentation was to ensure that everybody had a full understanding of the proposals and why they were deemed necessary. This did not take up the ‘majority’ of the meetings. In fact, just twenty minutes were allocated to presentations, compared to between 55 minutes and 1 hour 25 minutes for questions and debate.

Q: Why did people have to register to attend the consultation meetings? A public meeting about a public service should be completely open.

A: This was done to ensure the venue’s health and safety measures were met and to avoid potential problems and disappointment should too many people have turned up and subsequently sent away.

Q: Why consult in the Summer holidays when many people are away and schools (children are key library users) could not take part as a group?

A: The timing of the consultation was critical to achieving our budget reductions for 2014/15 and we do not feel that people’s holidays would have prevented them taking part in what was a long, 13-week consultation period. Also, separate consultation documents and events were designed specifically for children and young people ensuring that they were as equally involved in the process.

Q: Why publicise the Co-op’s offer halfway through the consultation? This confused people at best, and led some people to believe their libraries were safe, thus demotivating them from taking part in any campaign, or consultation activities.

A: We strongly felt that communicating Co-op’s offer was in the public’s best interest. The information helped generate further media interest, which in turn resulted in more awareness and involvement in the consultation process. Furthermore, as a member-owned organisation, the Co-op was rightly as keen as us to keep local people informed about the plans.

Q: Why run an ‘expression of interest’ campaign alongside the consultation when (as quoted by Cllr Nick Worth in the media on numerous occasions) no decisions had at that stage been made, other than to make people panic and feel that if they protested at their library closure they would miss the opportunity to save it?

A: A major part of our proposals involved other groups running local libraries, so asking for expressions of interest was vital to gauging the level of appetite for this. More than 40 councils, community groups and other organisations came forward offering to run 24 local libraries or create new community-run facilities.

Q: Finally, why did the questionnaire not give the option for ‘no change’ to the library service, a view 23,000 people in Lincolnshire clearly hold? Could this be why many did not bother to complete it as their views were not accounted for?

A: The decision to reduce the library budget by £2million had already been agreed by full council back in February. Because of that, whether or not to change the service was not an option, we have to save £2m - the question is ‘how’.