Saturday 15 November 2014

Barnet Council's flawed library strategy - ideology trumps hard evidence and common sense yet again

Yet again Barnet have shown their complete adherence to a political dogma. They have started a consultation which I would urge everyone to read and give their views They start off with a question asking people to say whether you agree with their objectives which are set out below:

1. A library service that provides children and adults with reading, literacy and learning opportunities.
2. A library service that engages with communities.
3. A library service that makes knowledge and information easily accessible.
4. A library service that can withstand current and future financial challenges and safeguard services for vulnerable people.

Asking whether you agree or disagree  with the first three objectives is entirely fruitless. For example who is going to say  they want a library service that makes knowledge and information difficult to access or a service that doesn't engage with the community. Then you reach objective four, a carefully constructed statement which follows the classic "when did you stop beating your wife" format. Which ever way you answer this question the council will use it against you. If you agree because you want to safeguard services for vulnerable people it sends them a green light to cut the service to all but a few key libraries. If you disagree because you are concerned about the financial threats to the services they will say that people don't care about safeguarding services for the vulnerable.

Later on in the survey it asks which days of the week would you prefer libraries to be staffed, ranking which day is most important and which day is least important - surely every day is important.  

It then makes an interesting statement "Relocating the library would make it possible to rent out the existing site, generating income which could then subsidise the running costs of the services. Alternatively the council could generate income by redeveloping or selling existing sites". However Barnet don't exactly have a good track record at this. Remember the complete mess they made with the "Landmark Library" at North Finchley. After paying consultants to carry out a feasibility study they found out that the idea was immensely costly so it was scrapped. Also remember the Church Farmhouse Museum which the Council said they could sell or rent out for a profit, yet so far no one has taken up the lease and it has cost a fortune in security costs to keep it closed. Looking at my own local library in East Barnet, the space they propose to use for the new small self service library is less than a quarter of the ground floor space. But how much will it cost to convert and who one earth is going to rent the rest, especially as the library has a serious subsidence problem.

And this is where I have the biggest problem with the entire crazy project and that is the lack of proper financial and operational data. It sets out the reduction in staff numbers but says nothing about what the costs of library conversions would be, how much rent tenants would pay, what each site would realise if sold and, most importantly, how many library users would be lost by adopting each of the strategies. In fact the only financial numbers I have see so far is the £200,350 it will cost to undertake the consultation exercise and report back in April.

This is symptomatic of the council's approach. Spend a fortune on fruitless consultation exercises which they will ignore anyway and press ahead with ideological plans which have no detailed supporting evidence. I urge everyone to make their views known as silence on this subject will be interpreted as acceptance by the council.

1 comment:

  1. Well summarised Mr Reasonabke. Ihope you do not object a to my posting y our link on my Facebook page.