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.

Why Liberals and Socialists are simply not on the same page

On Thursday last I witnessed something that I could not imagine a Lib Dem councillor doing, or indeed in this case, not doing.

The issue was important for two local communities (Blundellsands/Crosby & Aintree Village) who had both been told by Sefton Council that their respective libraries (College Road and Aintree) are closing. The communities were told this some months ago (along with 5 other communities in the Borough) and their libraries close this month.

College Road Carnegie Library in Crosby - A listed building

College Road Carnegie Library in Crosby – A listed building

The crunch last Thursday was all about the two communities playing what was likely to be their last significant card to set up viable community run libraries and them sadly getting knocked back by the Council’s all-powerful Labour controlled Cabinet.

The eye opener was not the debate (which I will return to in a future posting) about the rights and wrongs of the community bids, which I personally think the Council got very wrong in these two cases, but the fact that on the day these big issues were being decided the Labour ward councillors were not present to stand side by side with the community campaigners. I would add that the local Labour MP was not there either despite saying he supported the Aintree community bid. He should have been there, in my view, to back the campaigners. As it was they were left to fight their case with just the support of their Parish Council in terms of people elected to serve Aintree Village. Bundellsands/Crosby has no Parish Council to fight its corner.

Cllr. Andrew Blackburn outside Aintree Library

Cllr. Andrew Blackburn outside Aintree Library

Yes, I realise that the closing of the libraries is being pursued by a Labour run Council but I simply can’t get my head around why Labour ward councillors chose not to be there last Thursday. Indeed, in the case of the Borough councillors representing Aintree Village they were roundly condemned for their lack of involvement and support for the bid to turn Aintree Library into one run by the community. This condemnation came not from me but from representatives of Aintree Village Parish Council (during a BBC TV interview after the Cabinet meeting) who are independent of the main political parties.

I represented Aintree Village for 12 years until 2011 so I thought it important to be there to stand with the campaigners and the Parish Councillors whom I have worked with in the past. I now represent the next door ward but my fellow Lib Dem councillor Andrew, who has never represented Aintree Village, also wanted to be there to support the Aintree campaigners.

Liberals by instinct work with communities, not for party political gain, but because we try to put communities before party politics.

Andrew and I have (together with Bruce, another Maghull Lib Dem Borough councillor) stood side by side with the Aintree Village campaigners a number of times over the months of campaigning there have been to try to save Aintree Library. I can honestly say that even if Sefton Council had been Lib Dem run and it had been proposing library closures I and my fellow Lib Dem councillors would have standing with the campaigning community groups in the wards we represent.

Cllr. Bruce Hubbard

In my time as Leader of the Lib Dem Group on Sefton Council and indeed my 7 years as Council Leader I expected and always tried to embrace challenges to the Council from Lib Dem councillors, or indeed opposition councillors, who had issues of concern in their wards to fight for. To a Liberal fighting for the community you have been elected to represent has to be the number one priority, not your political party.

Since Sefton Council has been Labour controlled my observations lead me to the conclusion that sadly socialists do not see things as we do.

Save our Libraries – Aintree Library – Will Labour-run Sefton give an answer before they close it?

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Below is an extract from a newsletter being delivered around Aintree Village by Aintree Ratepayers Association.
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As we go to print we have still not heard anything from Sefton Council as to whether we will be able to take over the running of the Library or not. To say that we are disappointed would be a massive understatement. The Library is due to close on December 20th with a run down in hours up to that date. We would ask you to put as much pressure on your elected members on the Borough Council to support the Library as there has been no support to date.

This is Independent Aintree Village Parish Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at an outdoor meeting. He and Peter Gill have run a great campaign to save Aintree Library

This is Independent Aintree Village Parish Councillor Terry Baldwin speaking at an outdoor meeting. He and Peter Gill have run a great campaign to save Aintree Library

The fear is that if Aintree Library where to close on 20th December and no decision has been reached that it would become increasingly more difficult to reopen it. This would then deteriorate into a worse condition than it is in now and would look a complete eyesore.

We assure you that your Ratepayer Association will not give up the fight!
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I can’t tell you how sad it made me when I read this newsletter as I have been full of admiration for the work that Peter Gill, Terry Baldwin, Aintree Ratepayers and Aintree Parish Council have done to try to save their Library from Labour’s axe. They have moved mountains and embarrassed a slippery Labour Party in the process. I do hope that Labour-run Sefton will now play ball and not just let the Library die.

Stop Press: I hear that there is a Special Meeting of Aintree Village Parish Council on Wednesday 6th November to discuss the crisis.

NEW CHAIRMAN FOR AINTREE VILLAGE PARISH COUNCIL & SOME LIBRARY NEWS

At it’s A.G.M. Aintree Village Parish Council selected a new Chairman, Cllr Peter Gill was elected unanimously. Peter said “I am delighted and honoured to be asked to serve the community of Aintree Village once again. I look forward to the coming year, it will be testing with all the cuts culminating in our campaign to keep Aintree Library open, we are making great strides and are hopeful that we can transfer it to a community run library. I would like to pay tribute to the retiring Chairman Cllr Terry Baldwin, he has been Chairman for eighteen months and has found it quite stressful at times. He, along with other library campaign leaders fought an excellent campaign which is online to keep Aintree Library open. Terry has always been community led, proof being his membership of St John Ambulance, serving for over 50 years.”

Retiring Chairman Cllr Baldwin said “It has been a long 18 months but most of that time I have thoroughly enjoyed serving the residents of Aintree Village. I will be leaving the area in the near future and will take with me some wonderful memories having lived here for over 40 years. I wish the new Chairman Cllr Peter Gill well for the coming 12 months and thank everybody for their support over the last 18 months.”

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No one should underestimate the contribution that Terry Baldwin has made to Aintree Village and the wider community. I count Terry (and indeed Peter Gill) as personal friends. I first came across Terry via his work with St John Ambulance and of course he was given Maghull’s Civic Award some years ago for that work. Whilst Terry has been feeling his age he put everything into trying to stop Sefton Council from closing Aintree Library and if it does become a community run library the credit will be down to him and other parish councillors like Peter Gill. I really do hope that the comrades who decided to close the library do not have the cheek to try to claim that they saved it when the real work was done by Terry and Peter and a small band of determined Aintree Village parish councillors and residents.