Agenda item

Public Question Time

The Chairman will allow members of the public to ask a question or make a statement about any matter on the agenda for this meeting. These questions may be taken during the meeting, when the relevant agenda item is considered, at the Chairman’s discretion.  


There were two public questions in relation to item 5. 


Peter Murphy – Chair, Friends of Somerset Libraries (FOSL)

In the approach to the current Library Service Review, FOSL were heartened by a statement from the Leader of the Council that the Council was working to keep all libraries open.  When the consultation was launched, the language which we had worked to keep as positive as possible was changed. The change was in effect saying that if a community supported solution to keeping some libraries open cannot be found, those libraries will close. The FOSL approach, which we believed SCC had agreed with, was to deliver statutory library services through existing library buildings with community support. This would, we believe have encouraged communities to approach the consultation in an open minded way but the change means they are being pressurised into reaching an agreement or losing their library.  It began to feel like a rerun of the 2010 - 11 review.


FOSL has presented a preliminary analysis to officers which suggests that SCC could offer funding to all community library partnerships within the budget options available.  If communities are to be encouraged to enter into such partnerships, they must feel that they are not taking on a higher financial commitment than their communities can afford.  This Review is intended to reset the library network for the next five years at least.  It would be a missed opportunity if the Council failed to invest sufficient funds to make the community partnership solutions work.


FOSL continues to encourage communities to engage with the library service to find creative ways to keep current libraries open.  An entirely volunteer run solution is not one we support since we believe that in most communities, it is not sustainable.   FOSL does not understand what outreach services as proposed might look like in a particular situation and have doubts that such an approach would fulfill the statutory duty laid on the Council to provide a “comprehensive and efficient library service” under s7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act.  A community now served by a library would be worse served through outreach or a mobile stop.  The Council would need to be confident that it could demonstrate that such a reduced service fulfilled the Council’s statutory duty.


FOSL is concerned that negotiating a successful Community Library Partnership with a community will take longer than the timescale laid out in the present proposals.  We urge that SCC exercise the maximum flexibility possible to secure good agreements that keep all current libraries open.


Pauline Homeshaw – Friends of Wiveliscombe Library


Our current comments on the Proposal itself for Wiveliscombe (Area 2) are as follows:

·        Transport – the map shows that Wiveliscombe and its wider rural catchment area, are out on their own to the west of Area 2.  Public transport to Taunton is expensive, infrequent and journey times are long. The bus service was cut further at the beginning of February. There is no bus service to Wellington.

·        Library Usage - 10.7% of the population are active borrowers (the rest in this area range from 8.1% to 4.2%); and the population makes 3.2 visits per head annually (the others range from 2.5 to 0.7).

·        Partnership with local community option – Whilst noting that it is proposed to make possible contribution of about £ 5,000, this is nowhere near the sum of £21,000 it currently takes to run the library. There are many arguments against a community-run library, all of which we endorse – for a start, huge logistical problems, training, safeguarding and management issues.

·        Mobile library stop option – The library has a footfall of 23,000 plus per year. We are not sure how often the mobile library would visit, nor for how long, but doubt it could accommodate that number of visits. Furthermore, the library is well used for other events, such a Storytime, Poppy Ops, coffee mornings, Meet the Author and so on which a mobile library could not possibly accommodate.


We’ve also read through the background information on the consultation website and would highlight the following:


1             Vision, Strategic Direction and Outcomes Framework 2017-2021

We totally agree with the overall vision statement. However we note that the document states, ‘The vision and outcomes framework sets out a high level of ambition for the Library Service … in particular the likely need to reduce the cost of the service in order to make savings’.  We question why the libraries, which are the heart of the system, have been identified as an area for savings.


The Vision also notes that children and young peoples’ educational attainment has improved but Somerset’s GCSE pass rates remain below average. There is no university and there is a net flow of 18-24 year olds out of the county.  Surely a vital aspect of library provision is to support initiatives to improve literacy and opportunities for children and young people -  it is difficult to be, or remain, motivated if there is no accessible local library. 


We feel that if the proposed changes were to go ahead, it would be difficult to say that the outcomes set out in the Vision would be fulfilled.


2             Overarching Equalities Impact Assessment and Equalities Assessment for Wiveliscombe


 We understand this to say that for certain protected groups of people (eg, older people and children, disabled people), the proposed changes would have a significant residual impact after taking mitigations into account. Wiveliscombe has a higher than average proportion of some of these protected groups. One of the proposed mitigations, alternative building-based library services, would not be effective because of poor transport links.


The way we see this document, it repeatedly raises a lot of concerns about the impact of the proposed changes but then seems to dismiss them by proposing the Council’s desired mitigations and outcomes. However it seems to us that those mitigations and outcomes do not currently adequately address those concerns.


3             Rationale


 The two paragraphs of the rationale seem to be contradictory. We also note that it is acknowledged that, ‘….the changes proposed for Wiveliscombe are likely to have a higher impact than changes proposed for other communities’.


As we’re sure you’re all too aware, this documentation is extremely lengthy and detailed, so the above is our best effort as lay-people simply to highlight briefly the main points that have come to our attention.


We appreciate that we are not the only library you have to consider and would not wish to be instrumental in depriving anyone of their library resources. However, our library in Wiveliscombe is much-loved and well-used, as is evidenced by the turnout of over 100 people for the drop-in events on the 21st February.


We feel that neither of the options currently offered in the proposal would be sufficient to comply with the Council’s legal duties, in particular, the Public Sector Equality Duty. We would also question as to whether closing well-established libraries would comply with the Best Value Duty, especially bearing in mind that the population is to increase due to additional housing plans particularly for young families.


Our preference is that the library should continue to be run by the council, as at present. We urge you to bear this in mind in your deliberations.


We have invited Councillor Hall to let us have dates as to when he could join us for a public meeting sometime during late March/early April so that we can enlarge on and put our views forward in more detail and hold further discussions. We also, in January, requested up-to-date information on a number of issues - active users, actual operating costs and so on -  which has not yet been supplied and is in fact now overdue.


We plan to submit our detailed response to the Consultation after the public meeting and receipt of the requested information and therefore trust that we have responses to our requests regarding these as soon as possible.


The Strategic Manager, Community & Traded Services, thanked both members of the public for their questions and looked forward to discussing them at meetings with both parties next week.  All public questions will receive a written response.