Libraries – Just look at this innovative project in Wigan

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Ever since Sefton Council ran into its library funding problem and then seemed to lack the will and imagination to reinvent community libraries around the power of volunteers I have been looking at other places where volunteer library projects were given an opportunity to flourish.

Sefton’s Labour Council simply turned its nose up at volunteer bids to run Aintree and College Road Libraries if you recall (see many previous postings on this blog site). Instead of encouraging them they were made to jump through so many hoops only then to be told they had failed the test and to sling their hooks.

Aintree Library - Now up for sale by the same Council that shut it!

Aintree Library – Now up for sale by the same Council that shut it!

Well, as I have said before such negative thinking is not replicated elsewhere. Indeed, in Wigan a Labour run Council there has worked with volunteers and just look at this result:-

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If it can work in Wigan why were Labour so determined that volunteer library ventures would not be given a chance to succeed in Sefton?

More rumours of internal Sefton Labour troubles

Unless I am deliberately being fed duff information from more then one source, which does not seem likely, it looks like strains within the Labour Party locally are growing.

I am being told of a rift between the Sefton Central MP and some of his councillors and, if my sources are correct, this may be particularly the case with the relationship between the MP and his Molyneux ward councillors.

Of course it seems to be an open secret that Sefton Council Leader Peter Dowd and MP Bill Esterson don’t get on as I have been told this by more Labour Party sources than I could shake a stick at!

But this Molyneux ward rift is interesting as it could well be associated with the closing of Aintree Library as much as any other matter because of the differing stances being taken by folk representing opposing interests within Labour.

Labour councillors were openly in dispute with community campaigners in early December last year, during what I am told were some ugly scenes at the end of the adjourned Sefton Council Scrutiny meeting. That meeting was hearing the campaigner’s appeals against them being turned down to run Aintree and College Road (Crosby) Libraries using volunteers. That meeting reconvenes on 11th February.

So are Labour in a rugby scrum with their Sefton Councillors on one side and an MP’s Office and activists on the other and are they suffering some low self-inflicted blows? Everything points to this being more than possible………………..

Sefton does not want volunteers to run the services it can no longer run?

Well it seems so from the debate that we had at the Council meeting of last Thursday. Whilst we Lib Dems were pressing the case for volunteers to be encouraged and helped to put in bids to run things Labour were at best disinterested and at worst damn right hostile to the suggestion.

Not one speaker from the controlling Labour benches rose to speak up for and back the two volunteer groups wishing to take over the running of Aintree & College Road Libraries.

Yes Labour members, like us Lib Dems, spoke positively about volunteering across the Borough generally but when it came to backing groups wanting to help run Council facilities and services the Labour barriers were all too clearly up.

3 Labour members represent Aintree and 1 represents the part of Crosby where College Road Library is sited but none engaged in the debate which surrounded my motion that I posted details of a few days ago on this site.

In the end Labour, via their majority numbers, watered down and amended my motion beyond all recognition until the straight forward thrust of it was lost in a sea of political rhetoric.

But we saw the whites of the Labour member’s eyes. They were angry at being put on the spot. They were unwilling to embrace volunteers and help them make a success of their ideas to run the two libraries. They were, in my view an utter disgrace to the Borough they claim to be running.

What chance that the Sefton Scrutiny meeting (with its inbuilt Labour majority), which reconvenes on 11th February, will tell the Labour run Cabinet it got it wrong and that it should think again about telling the volunteers to shut the door on their way out?

Trying to turn around Sefton Council to welcome community/volunteer ventures

I have submitted the following motion to the next meeting of Sefton Council to be held on 23rd January more in sadness than in anger. Readers will know how profoundly unhappy I have been over the community/volunteer bids to run College Road, Crosby and Aintree Libraries being turned down by Sefton Council. I genuinely feel that the bids need to be given a chance to succeed rather than Sefton turning them down without giving the bidders the chance to try to prove whether they can make a go of their bids.

This Council wishes to be seen to be fully signed up to the localism agenda that all 3 major political parties support both in broad terms and in many areas of detail.

To this end we welcome and support in principle proposals from Parish Councils, community groups and local charities who wish to assist in running services that the Borough Council can’t find the resources to sustain such as libraries, youth facilities, community halls etc.

Cllr. Tony Robertson

I submitted the motion on the 6th of January and realise that things may have changed before the motion is debated on 23rd January. I say this as we are yet to hear the outcome of the ‘appeal’ against the refusal to approve the two bids to one of Sefton’s Scrutiny Committees, which was heard before Christmas and was subsequently deferred to a second meeting to be held at some point in January.

Stop press: the Scrutiny meeting will not now reconvene until 11th February so I am told.

It would be nice to think that before I come to move the motion that the principle at the heart of it is something that all 3 of the political parties on the Borough Council will sign up to and that the present rather ugly spat between community campaigners and the Borough Council can be put to one side.

All I want is for community campaigners and volunteers to be welcomed with open arms and their ideas be given the chance to flourish.

Community bids to run Sefton Libraries – Why were they really turned down for Aintree and College Road, Crosby?

Prior to attending the crucial meeting of Sefton’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee this evening here are some thoughts and questions about the community bids to run Aintree and College Road Libraries which Sefton Council has so far rejected.

Frankly, the bar was set far too high for newly created community organisations to be able to get over. The only one to get though was the bid for Ainsdale Library and that was from an already well established company.

The obvious question to me is why did Labour–run Sefton Council play its cards as it did? I know the volunteers running the bids feel that they have been given the run-around rather than a fair chance to show what they can do.

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Was the reality that Labour did not want the bids to get through?

But amongst all this the most telling part of the debate at Sefton’s Cabinet meeting on the 5th December was the all too obvious, in my opinion, stubborn refusal to embrace the volunteers and community campaigners from Crosby and Aintree and to give them a chance to have a go at running their library. Instead, the Cabinet hid behind all sorts of rules, which Sefton Council had invented, that simply made the campaigners jump through far too many hoops.

Why not give them a year or two to see what they could do? In such a scenario Sefton could have held back on its investment in the properties, which is required because it has not kept up with maintenance requirements. Surely, testing out the volunteer plans for real was always going to be the best way forward unless that is the Council was firmly of the view that it really did not want many if any of the community run bids to get through?

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The other telling thing that came out of the debate at the Cabinet meeting was that I can’t recall any of the questions and concerns that the two volunteer groups raised being answered by the Cabinet in any meaningful way. It just looked like it had already decided what it was going to do no matter what representations were made to it!

And what of the local MP? His reaction was, I am told, to issue a press statement saying that he was going to Government to ask them for more money to run Sefton libraries. Well yes, but what on earth has that got to do with volunteers running the libraries? Surely Bill Esterson should be angry that Labour councillors have not given the campaigning volunteers the chance to have a go at running their libraries? In the end this has come down to how well and to what extent Labour-run Sefton Council is prepared to work with fledgling volunteer groups to encourage them to take on the running of community libraries. And the answer seems to be hardly at all! As an MP for the Borough and a Labour one at that Bill should be taking on this party’s councillors and shaming them into a change of heart.

If Labour has the will to back off from its present stance, embracing the campaigners rather than holding them at arms length, then the volunteer bids can still be given a chance to succeed. But that needs Bill Esterson MP to take his Labour councillor colleagues on in a very public way instead of wringing his hands on the sidelines.