Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A letter to Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture & Sport

Dear Mr Vaizey,
I am writing to you in your position as an Oxfordshire MP and Minister of Culture. The Friends of Kennington Library are aware of your previous support for libraries and your description of the proposed closure of libraries in the Wirral as cultural vandalism.

Grove, in your constituency, is one of the libraries threatened with closure. I have written to Nicola Blackwood, my MP re. the proposed closure of our popular library in Kennington. The Parish Council and Friends of Kennington Library held a public meeting with Councillor Heathcoat and John Jackson who sadly did not answer one direct question. Each time the answer was ‘We haven’t that information’ or ‘At this stage in the consultation process we don’t know.’

John Jackson made it clear that the decision to close 20 libraries was based on the absolute numbers going through the door, regardless of how few hours a small library is open compared to a large one, with no reference to the size of the population served or the square footage of the library. Asked how they calculated the numbers per hour going through the door of small libraries so that an accurate comparison can be made per hour worked by one librarian, he didn’t reply. Asked by a Conservative District Councillor, ‘If the footfall increased would that change the decision?’ again no answer.

After the open part of the meeting I asked Judith and John personally if, as part of the invited consultation, they would consider other means of making the cuts – no answer! To the voters of Kennington and no doubt of Grove too, it seems patently unfair. 25 % cuts across all the library services, as in Hertfordshire, is understandable but closing a library means 100% cut for our community of readers. Our library only costs approximately £19,000 to run.

Mr Jackson seemed to think all our users, like him, could go into Oxford. Councillor Mitchell obviously thinks we are a nuisance because 82% already use the saved hub libraries. We get the impression that Councillor Mitchell has never struggled to get a buggie and two children on buses from Berinsfield or Blackbird Leys: buses that are not free to parents on a minimum wage(not to mention parking and fuel costs). Certainly in Kennington the 24 under -fives who walk to our library in crocodile every Wednesday will not be able to use the hub libraries nor the disabled and frail. At the meeting with Councillor Heathcoat, I took a letter from the Headmistress of our primary school, a letter from the head of the nursery school, signatures of the parent and toddler group parents with their comments, the signatures of the Festival Group – mostly either disabled or over 75. We have the support of the local businesses, the churches, the Parish Council, the Chairman of Kennington Conservative Party -- indeed all the Big Society of our village! I do believe that if the Council’s attitude remains closed to alternative methods of cutting all libraries, rather that this grossly unfair approach, it will have an effect in the ballot box.

Councillor Mitchell claims that if he doesn’t close twenty libraries the cuts will have to come from other services. We are of the firm opinion that the libraries can take a fair share of the cuts without closing 20 – if the cuts are shared equally. If all Oxfordshire libraries are kept within the Oxfordshire network (Galaxy) then a modern library system can be sustained and indeed volunteers can step in to help ameliorate the cuts. To increase spending on hub libraries and close 20 rural and suburban libraries is discriminatory.

Can you use your influence to ask Oxfordshire County Council to look again at their policy and have genuine discussions with Friends Groups as to how we can save the necessary amount of money without this slash and burn policy?

There also seems to be confused and conflicting messages coming from the Department of Communities claiming just 1.69% cut for Oxfordshire and 2.5 % increase in grant if community tax is frozen and £7,000,000 plus in reserve in Oxfordshire and the message we are getting locally.

Below are some of the questions we have tried to get answers to.
1. We understood from the meeting in the Kennington Village Centre that you are required to cut the total Oxfordshire library costs by 25%. Please let us know if this figure is correct, and if not, let us know the correct figure.
2. Where does this figure come from?
3. What will the council not consider as solutions to cost-saving and why?
4 What made you decide to use footfall per library as a suitable measure for choosing libraries to close? (For example, what made you decide not to measure footfall per unit of served population?)
5 Where can we find the raw data that you used to compile the figures? We would also like to know how the data was collected; the margins of error employed by your statisticians; and are the statistics independently verified?
With regards and best wishes
Sylvia Vetta
On behalf of the Friends of Kennington Library
To Contact Ed Vaizey MP
telephone: 020 7219 6350

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