An open letter to "Misunderstood" at Endeavour House (Andrea Hill)

This is an open letter to Andrea Hill, CEO of Suffolk County Council

Ms Andrea Hill
Endeavour House

2 March 2011

Dear "Misunderstood"

I read with concern your article "Budget cuts or divestment?" in the Inside SCC March 2011 staff communication this month. In the article you comment that:
Much of the coverage - not just in Suffolk, but also in neighbouring Norfolk and Cambridgeshire -focused on public protest and headlines about anxiety. The danger is that the portrayal of a 'cuts agenda' nationally is creating a charged atmosphere in Suffolk that is confusing our agenda of divestment with budget cuts.

However on page 2 of the Inside SCC there is an report about the library "consultation" that begins:
As part of the New Strategic Direction the county council is looking for new, innovative ways of running Suffolk’s libraries in the future in order to make 30% reduction in cost to the council within three years. (emphasis added)

So if you feel that there is confusion between your "New Strategic Direction" divestment agenda and cost cutting then that confusion is coming from yourselves!

You then go on in your article to mention:
It has proved almost impossible to convince the public and local councils that we are not shutting 29 libraries in April this year. The media headlines haven't helped. Our consultation document - intended to be honest and early publication of a future scenario for libraries - has been interpreted as a definitive proposal to close 29 libraries

So I went back to the consultation document to see if myself, most of the public, the media and local councils had all simply misunderstood what had been written. In the opening statement by Cllr Judy Terry, Cabinet Lead for the consultation she states:
should responses to the consultation prove disappointing, it is imperative that we make the necessary savings, meaning that we may have to close 29 libraries. (my emphasis)

And then again  on p8 directly under a list of the 29 so-called "community" libraries it is stated:
If the response to this consultation is disappointing, and the county council does not receive viable proposals and ideas from people, groups, businesses and other interested parties for ways to run community libraries, we propose that funding will stop from 2012. (my emphasis)

So the reason that it has been "almost impossible" to convince people that libraries will not be closing is that this is exactly what the consultation document states might happen! The confusion, if it really is confusion is coming once again from yourselves.

You then go on to state in the closest thing I have seen from you to an apology that you have got the library consultation badly wrong:
With hindsight I don't think we should have called it 'consultation': it is rather information to stimulate a 'creative conversation'

I suppose this is part of the other idea that you suggest in your article:
Harsh as it may appear now, taking away the money will act as a driver to prompt those ideas and innovation 

I have heard you advance this idea before and do you know, you're right. In the same way as if someone held a gun to my head it would act as a driver for me to do pretty much anything they asked me to do. Threats and bullying work but that doesn't make them right.

In this case there is something else you seem to have forgotten. The money you are "taking away" is ours as are the services. Ours not yours to give and take away as you see fit. And if people do not want you to take the money and services away and "do things differently" then there is nothing you can do to make them.

Just one final thing from your article (perhaps you might like to publish a copy so people can read it all? UPDATE it is now available from Wordblog) you end by saying:
I prefer not to encourage people to 'save services' because that implies they will stay as they are. 

I really do not know why you think people campaigning to save services want them to stay as they are. Some might do. People campaign to save things that someone else threatens to take away. I didn't see people in the streets campaigning against library computer catalogues, eBooks or self-issue. The current protests are not about keeping things the same. They are about keeping what for many in a small rural community is a lifeline.

You might prefer people didn't campaign in this way but I have a few closing comments of my own:
  • You are the CEO of Suffolk County Council, a post as "Head of Paid Service" that is supposed to preclude active political involvement. It is my view that you are overstepping the mark into politics
  • The current Suffolk County Council administration did not include anything in its 2009 Manifesto about the new strategic direction or the divestment agenda and has no mandate for this
  • The County Council can only do what the people of Suffolk want you to do as we live in a democracy. You can suggest any strategic direction you like but you need to convince not impose or worse still threaten and bully
And you know, you're wrong about the protesters. They don't want things to stay the way they are. Many want a big change not to our local services that we value but at Suffolk County Council. 

It would be a start to a "creative conversation" for you to listen to what we are saying rather than blaming us for not understanding. Withdraw the consultation, lift the threat of closures and we will all be more than happy to talk. Talking is much easier when one person isn't holding a gun to the other's head....

Yours sincerely

James Hargrave

UPDATE, the article I quote from Inside SCC is now available in full from Wordblog it is well worth a read and I am pleased to see it in the public domain
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