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.

Aintree and College Road (Crosby) Libraries – Tomorrow is yet another crunch day in the campaign to save them

Tomorrow evening we find out whether one of Sefton Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committees is willing to ask the all powerful Labour-run Cabinet to think again over its decision not to allow community groups to take over the running of Aintree and College Road Libraries.

My view is that the decision of the Cabinet was not sound and that it should be reconsidered.

I popped into one of the closing libraries today and my eye fell upon the book pictured below. It seems rather an apt title considering the recent turn of events.

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An e-mail to strike at the very soul of the Labour councillors to whom it has been sent!

Below is the genuine text of an e-mail sent to Labour councillors by an angry Aintree Village resident about the closure of Aintree Library and Sefton’s refusal to allow a voluntary group to take the Library over. A powerful message indeed and one I have not seen the like of before:-

For the attention of the Labour Councillors

Everybody on the To (main list) of recipients above needs to hang their heads in shame, since you have deprived this community of one of the only leisure services provided by Sefton MBC. Clearly, this is the very worst council we have ever experienced since the change from West Lancs RDC in 1974. You gave this area great hope of the library facility being retained and have now dashed everybody’s vision that it would come to fruition. In my view you should all resign and,it won’t take long before the residents of our areas discover which of you voted for closure. Any attempts you might harbour to hide behind the Coalition cutbacks will, I fear, be categorically rejected. Aintree and Melling are, in my view, deprived areas within Sefton MBC, a fact you all need to wake up to.

Did you ever consider that a reduction in the number of Councillors might help to reach the savings you sought to achieve? If not, why not? Maybe we should explore this opportunity in the future in an attempt to bring some sense of responsibility to your thinking. You are, ALL, poor representatives of this community. Heaven forbid any one of you should ever be re-elected.

Labour fail the Libraries crunch day – only one to be saved out of 7 to date

The list below is the sad and depressing outcome of Labour’s closure programme to date in Sefton Borough:-

Library Closure dates

Orrell Library – Closed on 4th October 2013
Litherland Library – Closed on 1st November 2013
Churchtown Library – Closed on 15th November 2013
Ainsdale Library – Closed on 29th November 2013 – To be reopened
College Road Library – To close 6th December 2013
Birkdale Library – To close 13th December 2013
Aintree Library – To Close 20th December 2013

Today at the Council’s all-Labour Cabinet meeting 3 libraries were up for being saved i.e. Aintree, Crosby Carnegie and Ainsdale. Labour only backed Ainsdale to be reopened as a community/charity run venture. Aintree and Crosby Carnegie (College Road) plans were dismissed as unacceptable to Labour.

I sat through the Cabinet meeting and the feeling was all about socialist central control not about real communities and the volunteers who had put hours into trying to save their local library. Yes, the volunteers were thanked as they were shown the door but has any Labour member of Sefton Council really fought against their Party to save their local library?

What struck me today was that the Labour Borough councillors representing Molyneux ward (which covers Aintree Village) were not present and neither was the Labour member for Blundellsands Ward that covers College Road Library. If the Labour ward councillors can’t be there to back campaigners trying to save libraries in their own ward what hope is there? The absence of the Labour Molyneux ward members drew a stinging rebuke from Aintree Parish Council representatives who were present at the Cabinet meeting.

A sad day indeed. the only remaining hope is that Birkdale can be reopened following its planned 13th December closure via another community bid that has yet to be put before Sefton’s Cabinet.

BBC North West Tonight covers Sefton’s library crisis in Aintree and Crosby

www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03jy6fl/North_West_Tonight_03_12_2013/

Above is a link to BBC iplayer and yesterday evening’s programme which had a slot about the axe hanging over Crosby and Aintree Libraries. The item is just over half way through the programme after the fracking item.

MP Bill Esterson did not look at all comfortable when interviewed, during the programme, but then again it’s his own Labour councillors doing the library closures.

Save of Libraries – RIP Churchtown Library closed by Labour-run Sefton Council 15th November 2013

I am grateful to Cllr. Nigel Ashton for this update on how the community on the northern side of Southport is approaching the loss of their much loved library.

Cllr. Nigel Ashton - This photo was taken during the campaign to save the Library from closure

Cllr. Nigel Ashton – This photo was taken during the campaign to save the Library from closure

North Meols Library Association (NMLA) was formed at a public meeting on 10th October 2013 by the local community. It replaces the Friends of Churchtown Library which campaigned, unsuccessfully, to keep Churchtown Library open. The Library was closed by the local authority on 15th November 2013.

The aim of NMLA is to establish a community run library to support Churchtown and the surrounding areas, mainly Crossens, Marshside and High Park. We are in negotiations with Sefton Council regarding an unused council building but it is early days and will take some time.

In order to provide some continuation of library services in the community we have already set up an internet cafe with the support of Crossens Community Association to, in a small way, replace access to the internet following the closure of the library. We are also working to set up a Storytime / Rhymetime group, another library service no longer available to the community.