Libraries – Just look at this innovative project in Wigan

book-cycle.org/wigan

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?

Why are Sefton’s Labour councillors not campaigning for the communities that elected them?

In the south of the Sefton Borough Aintree, College Road, Litherland & Orrell Libraries have all been shut down by Labour-run Sefton Council as part of its savings drive. All these closures have been in wards with at least one Labour member yet Labour councillors have, as far as I know, been at best distant from the community campaign groups trying to find a sustainable way forward for the libraries. 3 more libraries have also been closed by Labour in Southport wards where there are no Labour councillors.

We all knew the Council needed to save money but to close libraries was Labour’s choice. However, when community bids came in to run Aintree and College Road Libraries, using volunteer help, what on earth made Labour councillors rejected those bids?

Lib Dems fighting for Aintree Library

Lib Dem campaigners fighting for the Libraries that Labour shut. Labour even stopped volunteers from reopening two libraries!

Then there’s the Green Belt. In Maghull, Lydiate, Formby, Thornton & Southport (which, as noted above, does not have any socialist councillors) community campaigns are trying to stop the Green Belt and high grade agricultural land from being concreted over. Sadly, it is Labour-run Sefton Council that is proposing to allow the building.

A petition being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council next to a threatened Green Belt development site.

A petition being presented to Cllr. Dave Russell Chairman of Lydiate Parish Council next to a threatened Green Belt development site.

And what about the Green Bin tax that Labour wanted to impose on Sefton residents. That needed a huge community reaction (and the loss of two Labour council seats in Maghull) to make Labour back off but they have only deferred the imposition of this local tax and we await them trying again to impose it.

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labour's Green Bill tax for Sefton.

A green bin mountain, Cllr. Bruce Hubbard, and a huge pile of petitions opposing Labour’s Green Bin tax for Sefton.

Libraries, Green Belt and the Green Bin tax are massive community issues yet Labour councillors are not standing with the residents who elected them, indeed they seem firmly stood against residents.

We simply do not want volunteers to run Council services, what other conclusion can you come to?

I have posted quite a few times about the roller coaster of a ride that Aintree Village Parish Council has had with Sefton Borough as it has tried, unsuccessfully so far, to take over the running of Aintree’s local Library.

To recap the plan was to take over Aintree library, one of 7 that Labour-run Sefton Borough had decided to close, and run it with volunteers and Parish Council finance. All was going well and the bid was seemingly being welcomed but then the Borough (i.e. Labour) started to put all kinds of obstacles in the way.

Eventually Sefton decreed that Aintree Library could not be taken over by volunteers, funded by Aintree Village PC, because there was no guarantee in place for funds to be available for 5 years. No if’s, no but’s, put 5 years funding on the table or sling your hook was seemingly the Borough’s attitude.

Things went from bad to worse in the relationship between the Borough and Parish and the local Parish Charter, which had been ignored anyway, was ripped up in front of the Borough’s Cabinet by an Aintree Parish Councillor.

But underneath all this something very odd was going on as another library was down to be taken over by volunteers and they also got told to shut the door after they left. This one was not in a Parished part of the Borough (it was College Road Library in Crosby). The common denominator was volunteers and them being seen to be unreliable, so much so that they were not given a chance to have a go at running their respective libraries despite both groups having significant business and professional input from the two reasonably affluent communities.

A Sefton Full Council meeting debated volunteers taking over Council facilities, at my instigation, but it became quite clear to me that the Council’s ruling Labour Party held the view that they were not having any of their services, even ones they say they can no longer afford to run, being taken over by volunteers.

The matter concluded, for now at least, with a Sefton Scrutiny Committee going through the motions of examining the matter and then the majority Labour members of it voting to back the Cabinet decision without any really meaningful in depth and independent reviewing of the situation what so ever. Or put it another of the 70 odd questions submitted raising concerns about the process of reviewing the 2 volunteer bids, how many do think came from Labour Councillors? Less than say one………..

So in Sefton which, not so long ago, was developing a good relationship with its 10 Parish Councils and its diverse communities an about face has been done with Parishes and indeed volunteers being shown the door. So much for parish charters, localism and volunteering in the Borough.

This article was originally written for and published on a differing web site.

Smug socialsts 2 – Aintree & College Road Volunteers Nil

Last night was the second half of the Sefton Overview & Scrutiny meeting looking into Labour’s Cabinet decision not to allow volunteers to take over the running of Aintree and Collage Road Libraries in the Borough. The first half of the meeting having ended in chaos in early December 2013 as previously noted on this blog site.

The result was sadly quite predictable as Labour members of the Committee used their inbuilt majority to back their Cabinet colleague’s previous decision to, in effect, tell the volunteers to sling their hook.

What Labour had to gain from refusing to allow the volunteers an opportunity to have a go at running the now closed libraries is anyone’s guess but they were simply not going to let it happen.

It is Municipal socialism gone mad! This was no longer about whether the Council had the money to keep the libraries open it was about a Labour-run Council saying we have decided not to run these 2 libraries any more and we are not going to let volunteers do it either.

Interestingly, this time the Council’s Chief Executive answered virtually all the questions rather than the Council officers who had taken so much heat at the first meeting. Also, Council Leader Peter Dowd said nothing this time, having all but taken over the meeting in December when his own Labour members had effectively pressed the panic button is the face of well informed volunteers who had them on the rack.

Labour members of the Committee asked no questions what so ever and simply sat there voting down Lib Dem proposals for the matters before the Committee to be sent back to the Cabinet to be reconsidered or sent to a meeting of the whole Council for a full debate.

Labour should hang its head in shame; treating volunteers so badly is nothing to be proud of. Indeed, I saw Labour supporters smiling at the end of the meeting! Smiling at what?

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?