Thursday, 8 October 2015

Barnet Council and the decimation of the library services

On Monday 12th October, 2015 7.00 pm there is a special Meeting of the Children, Education, Libraries & Safeguarding Committee. Click here to see the full agenda pack. Local residents have organised a protest meeting prior to the meeting at 6pm at the town hall. It is clear that the strategy the council have adopted has completely ignored the consultation it carried out.

I have reviewed the proposals and it is clear to me that they are not well thought out. There are more questions asked than answered. Basically a whole bunch of libraries are being downgraded. They will not have trained librarians ans will be unmanned for lengthy periods. Given that the elderly, children and vulnerable people are often the main user groups for libraries, is this really desirable?

It seems to me that the Barnets Conservative councillors do not have any concept of what a library is, beyond knowing it is a building with a few books in. They do not understand the key role librarians play in the life of the Borough. They don't understand that some elderly people go to the library and read papers as it is the only way they can afford to keep warm and keep up to date with what is happening in the world. They don't understand that many elderly have poor eyesight and need he;p in selecting large print books. They don't understand that refugees and immigrants can be put in touch with services to help them get jobs and educational services. They don't understand that some young people need quiet space for study. I could go on.

Sadly we live in a punishing world. Whilst I am sure you and I are truly fine citizens, there are elements of our society who see a nice, unstaffed public space as an opportunity. If it has children and young people there, you don't have to be a genius to identify what sort of undesirables may see that as an opportunity. If it has vulnerable and elderly people there, sadly soceity has undesirable elements who see these as rich pickings.

The plan also has aspirations to man the library with volunteers. I think this is a good idea, but not if there are no trained staff at all. Barnet has a duty of care to the public. What checks will be conducted? As there are children, the elderly and teh vulnerable, what first aid training?

And the practicalities. How safe is it to have the public in such buildings withoutr staff? Is there a fire risk etc? Who manages the situation if there is a fire or other emergency.

Anyway, I've asked the following questions.

Having reviewed the council proposals for Barnet library's and given that library's are heavily used by the elderly and children and other vulnerable people, please can you advise.
A) has the council consulted with its insurers with regards to the additional public liability risks? If so how has this affected premiums?
B) with regards to volunteers, what first aid, emergency procedure and health and safety will be provided and what is the cost?
C) with regards to unmanned operation, what consideration and risk assessments have been performed to ensure the safety of the public and the councils assets?
D) have the police and fire service been consulted as to safety aspects of the proposal
E) what backgrounds checks will be performed on volunteers and what are the associated costs
F) what additional management oversight is required and what is the additional costs for managing volunteers
G) what are the additional costs of security for buildings under the new arrangement. How many extra security staff will be employed by the council or its contractors
H) what steps are being taken to ensure that substance abuse and other criminal activities are not undertaken in unmanned libraries

 Often when you add up all the costs, you actually don't save very much. Barnet has a history of cocking up schemes and you end up with a worse service at a greater cost. I am sure that our councillors don't do this on purpose, they just lack the analytic and business skills to identify costs and risks. We saw a small example of this yesterday when BAPS member Barbara Jacobson tried to submit a question for the committee and was told that she was too late to do this, due to an obscure rule change. Myself and several other members of the public emailed the Council Leader, Richard Cornelius and asked him to apply common sense. Happily he realised that this was a completely needless row and Barbara has been allowed to ask her question. It was yet another example of how the Council doesn't really see itself as being there to serve the public.

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