My library petition speech at the County Council

James Hargrave outside
 Endeavour House
This is the full text of my speech to Suffolk County Council on 14th July, there may be some minor variations in delivery.

My name is James Hargrave and I live in Stradbroke. I am here today to represent more than 35 000 Suffolk residents who have signed library petitions across the whole County.

Most of these people signed a petition with identical wording: 
We the undersigned agree that Suffolk County Council have a duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service and believe that all 44 Suffolk libraries should be kept open and continue to be funded by and remain the responsibility of Suffolk County Council.
With headlines in the papers saying “All Suffolk Libraries to stay open” you might think that I could say thank you and then go home. You’re probably not going to be surprised that I have more to say than that!

But I am going to say "Thank You". Several libraries in Suffolk look to have a brighter future with some 25 looking to be reasonably safe now especially in Suffolk's towns.

I would also like to thank the Council's officers for doing a difficult job in handling what was clearly a considerably larger response to the consultation than expected and in producing a thorough vision document.

It is also right to acknowledge that this is a victory for the campaigners. Although this is not the end, by any means, of our campaign, which goes on. 

For 19 libraries the future looks less certain with "community support" being required to keep these libraries open. These are: Capel StMary, Clare, Debenham, Elmswell, Glemsford, Ixworth, Kedington, Kessingland, Lakenheath, Lavenham, Long Melford, Kesgrave, Stradbroke, Thurston, Wickham Market, Oulton Broad in Lowestoft and Rosehill, Stoke and Westbourne in Ipswich.

This will involve volunteers as well as the spectre of "double taxation" where local parish or district councils will raise their precepts to cover services that others in neighbouring Suffolk communities have provided through their county precept.

And that is the best case. No-one knows what extra contributions will be required and some communities might not be able to afford it and may still, despite the headlines, lose their library. 

The People of Suffolk have spoken. We want to keep all of our libraries open and run by the County Council. 

Out of 3,839 responding to the consultation 3,099 (four out of five) simply stated they wanted libraries to continue to be run as they are by the county council. 
Yet in the papers for cabinet we read:

"There is some support for in-house delivery from library users"

Some support? I bet if the Administration win the 2013 elections with such a massive percentage of the vote and the EADT writes a story saying there was "some" support from voters Mark Bee would probably be hurt by such an understatement. 

So we look to the Council to respect the outcome of the consultation and when people say they want services to remain broadly how they are now it is hard to see how the Council can achieve this and still cut the budget by 30%.

Already Suffolk’s spend per head of population on libraries is low. The fifth lowest in the country in fact. In 2009-10 this was £12.90 per head whilst down in Essex they spent £15.90, over in Cambridgeshire £14.80 and up in Norfolk £15.40. 

Is it really sustainable to cut this by nearly a third and still provide the same level of service?

I know that Judy Terry proposes the idea of some kind of social enterprise, arms length company, QUANGO, call it what you will to run libraries. She claims this will save money but as yet there has been no detailed business plan to demonstrate this and, more importantly, no explanation as to why the same savings can’t be made now whilst the service is managed by Suffolk County Council.

Divesting services doesn’t magically make them more efficient.

I hope we see a genuine comparison between keeping the service in house and running it at a distance before a final decision is made.

It is clear that a pragmatic best value model is more likely to take communities with you, but only if the Council recognise that to communities "value" is not just measured in money.

At the last meeting of the County Council Mark Bee made a strong speech saying there was to be a change here at the County Council and that he would listen to the people of Suffolk. 

Here is a chance to show that you are really listening. People in Suffolk are looking for a modern, knowledgeable, well organised County Council passionate about conserving the quality of life that so many clearly cherish. And Libraries, evidently, have an important part to play in this.

So I call on everyone present today to vote for the motion that is on the Agenda today to call on the Cabinet to give an assurance that that no library in Suffolk will close until at least 2013.
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