I have just written to the officers and Portfolio-holder in charge of Suffolk’s libraries to propose that SCC grants an extension for Woodbridge (and potentially many other areas like it) to the 30 April deadline for the Suffolk Libraries ‘consultation’.. Briefly, I’m suggesting this extension on the following compelling grounds:
- An unclear, inconsistent message. It has only recently been made clear by SCC that this supposed Library ‘consultation’ is in reality a seemingly compulsory bidding process (see note 1 below, also Appendix d)
- Woefully Inadequate financial figures provided to support the consultation document. This is not my personal opinion, but the opinion of the venture capitalist to whom I showed the document – and who was frankly incredulous (see Note 2 below)
- Overambitious timescale: the excuse given by SCC for the paucity and poor quality of supporting materials intended to elicit ‘expressions of interest’ in the Library is the short timescale leading up to the library ‘consultation’ period.
In reality this Suffolk scheme was announced nationally in early August 2010 giving experienced library staff 5 months to prepare for it before the consultation started. This is considerably more time than the council is offering to utter library tyros for them to discover whether an ‘expression of interest’ is even possible. This seems an unreasonably ungenerous and compressed timescale for such a complete shift in library provision
- Inbuilt demographic disadvantage of towns such as Woodbridge. Woodbridge being a small town which punches above its weight, is also a large focal point for a vast geographical area and has a library worthy of being classed a ‘county library’. But with a voting population of around 7500 , the town council precept is very small. The range of possible local volunteers also small. When this becomes a locality issue, our specific locality is too small (see Note 3)
- Specific disadvantage for Woodbridge: Woodbridge is adjacent to Wilford the geographically huge, bounded-by-the-sea-on-more-than-one-side, libraryless district that runs eastward from Woodbridge to the sea, southward to the sea at Bawdsey, and northward to just below Aldeburgh. Because Wilford is libraryless, Woodbridge library is the only available option for most Wilford residents. Yet, due to the sad death of its incumbent county councillor, Wilford has been without a county council representative for the entire duration of the library consultation/bidding process. This discriminates against significant locality decisions being made at county council level
- Imminent change to Town and District council: like many other places in Suffolk, all the local representatives of Woodbridge (apart from me) are up for election or standing down on 5 May – a week after the consultation finishes. They are thus much less able or motivated to make an ‘expression of interest’ than the councillors elected on May 6 who will have a 4 year tenure in front of them (see Note 4 below).
- Limited possibilities of Income Generation. Clearly unhappy that Woodbridge as a whole or in part has made no ‘expression of interest’ in the library consultation, SCC library officers recently suggested income generation by: late book fines, room lettings inc out of hours, teaching IT skills, commission charged via a community gallery. Also suggested were things that have been tried in libraries but that are proven to make less money: DVDs, reading glasses and book tokens.
Cannot anyone see how futile this appears, when it is impossible to disambiguate the much larger supporting figures provided? (See Note 2 below)
All these reasons make it hard for a businesslike case to be made for any ‘expression of interest’ in running a library within the timescale Suffolk CC have set out. The people of Woodbridge are likely to be too well-grounded in reality to want to make any proposal under such circumstances. It would seem a great shame that they should be thus deprived of a chance to have a reasoned and factually supported say in how their local library provision is to be altered
The Supporting Notes can be found here