I am one of the people at the heart of the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign. Martin Hill has now written an open letter (dated July 29) attacking me and other campaigners, claiming our actions are political and unnecessary. I must now make it clear I have several motivations for opposing Mr Hill’s plan. None of them are political, and people can judge for themselves if my concerns are well-founded.
I am a mother of two. Libraries have allowed me to better my life and it has been a delight to watch libraries and the staff within them work the same magic on my young children.
I am also a business owner. Libraries have contributed the knowledge and intelligence that powers my business, which provides work for me and other people. I believe that a strong and successful enterprise needs certain foundations: people selected on the basis of skills and experience, contracts of employment, ongoing training, and financial rewards to keep people motivated (and frankly most people in this world need a wage). Any enterprise that does not have these foundations in place is relying far too much on luck, and Martin Hill’s plan to replace libraries with around 30 volunteer community hubs is doing just that. I was also one of the directors on Market Rasen’s Portas Pilot scheme, and I can say with absolute certainty that finding enough good volunteers with enough time to spare in a rural location was an Achilles Heel. The volunteer board I was a part of soon became exhausted. Support from additional volunteers for our initiatives was patchy and required much more management than anticipated. Our fall-back position was employed management resource – paid staff. So I have direct experience of volunteer initiatives and their limitations behind my opposition to this plan.
I can also say from my conversations with national library campaigners that there is no in-depth research in the UK into volunteer libraries to confirm they are sustainable, with much anecdotal evidence saying they are not.
So, my stance is this: Martin Hill’s plan to close libraries and replace them with volunteer community hubs takes a huge risk with a greatly loved service that is vital to many, especially children, the elderly and unemployed. He has ignored massive and sustained opposition. He was shown how an efficient service provider could make all the cuts he wanted while keeping all the libraries open and fully staffed, and he has ignored that offer too.
For these many reasons I have campaigned against Mr Hill’s plan. I have no need to add political ones to the list. I am not a Labour councillor or a member of the Labour party. My vote has gone to three different parties in my time as I vote for the least annoying candidate.
If you want to really understand the people supporting this campaign, you must read the 900 comments on our website from those who signed our online petition (www.savelincslibraries.org.uk/nine-hundred-comments/). If you can get through that page without becoming tearful you have a heart of stone. This is just a snapshot of the tens of thousands of people who support the campaign: good citizens of Lincolnshire who pay their taxes and want a secure library service in return. These are the people Martin Hill is now putting the boot into. Mr Hill’s obsession with other councillors should not be allowed to cover up the massive support this grassroots campaign has gathered.
To say Save Lincolnshire Libraries cannot be distinguished from The Labour Party is preposterous. Labour councillors are involved in the campaign but that is their job, they have a duty to be The Opposition.
Any comment by Mr Hill on the matter of wasting taxpayers’ money is him protesting about the public purse being used to reveal that he and his fellow executives acted unlawfully, the reason they lost the 2014 Judicial Review on two counts.
And what recourse did people have but to take this to the highest court? The people of Lincolnshire do not like being dictated to (God bless them) and Martin Hill’s first unlawful consultation did just that. If he had let people truly have their say on the future of the library service they are paying for, the outcome would have been so different. If he had got round the table with campaigners (the offer was made many times) he could also have avoided this costly battle.