May 31, 2012
The Fault Line in Local Government
Poor Dan Jarvis. . He is the amiable Labour MP recently promoted to be shadow junior minister of the Arts, desparately keen to flaunt himself by saying that the 'Labour Party Loves Libraries'.. only to get smashed in the teeth by the Labour Party in Brent - who, like most of their Labour colleagues in Lewisham and the other London boroughs haven't got an iota of interest in their public libraries or the least understanding of what they are for.
It's the same story with the Tories really. What Ed Vaizey may or may not think about libraries or anything else, has absolutely no connection with what the idiotic councillors in Somerset, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Surrey etc do... and even if he did think something there is no way at all the those same councillors and their officers would feel they had any need to take any note of what it was
It makes you wonder why anyone believes that there is any connection at all between the Laboour Party as it parades in Parliament - and the Labour Party as it is masquerades in any local council election -- same with the Tories -- same with the Lib Dems
In fact when we have local elections, the idea that a local councillor should claim to belong to a national party is only hocus pocus to try to get them elected by wrapping themselves in some flag - to which in fact no one pretends there is any allegiance at all
It isn't reform of the House of Lords we need - but reform of the whole machine of home governance, particularly including the madness that calls itself local government
Unfortunately one of the great victims of 'The Fault Line that is Local Government' is the Public Library service, wherein the idea that local people who are let down by their council administration thought they could turn to central government to support them -- it is just a deception.
It is no good Dan Jarvis or his friends - or even the Arts Council and theirs, writing reports about Libraries until they grasp that not only is there a big problem with the way they are managed, but that that problem lies in the way that we manage local affairs generally -- look at the evidence in Kensal Rise and no further..
And when those reports do come out, which sadly, they probably will -- the first question anyone reading them has to ask is -- what happened in Brent, Lewisham, Surrey, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Suffolk, The Isle of Wight --- and so on: Was it right, or was it wrong ? - and why? and who? -- and what should they have done? and why was their popular uprise?
Posted by Perkins at May 31, 2012 12:56 PM
Tim, When you write "What Ed Vaizey may or may not think about libraries or anything else, has absolutely no connection with what the idiotic councillors in Somerset, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Surrey etc do... and even if he did think something there is no way at all the those same councillors and their officers would feel they had any need to take any note of what it was" You are letting Ed Vaizey and central government off the hook. Vaizey has a well-defined role under the 1964 Public Libraries Act which gives him the power to intervene. It is quite clear that the councillors you correctly criticise have been given a 'nod and a wink' by the old MLA and by the DCMS to close down and hive off large parts of the public library service.
Posted by: Martyn at June 8, 2012 7:24 AM
Thanks(sorry to have been slow to post your comment) ... I think this is a really fundamental point.
The key strategic decisions about libraries are made, in my experience, by a small group within a council; that normally comprises the elected leader (or Mayor); the councillor with responsibility for finance; the councillor who has libraries in his or her portfolio and then the Chief exec and financial director.
How that strategy is implemented will involve a couple more of the directors - property, IT and whichever department the libraries falls in and ultimately the cheif librarian.
Whenever I see discussions raised by the DCMS about libraries, they never involve these key decision makers -- for example the conference this month at which Ed Vaizey is speaking has some Chief Leisure Officers and some Chief Librarians - but none of the really important figures - leaders and those responsible for finances in councils - will be there. So there is no effective discussion of the issues with the right people.
I don't let Ed Vaizey off the hook - but I think we have to understand that it is council leaders who actually decide what happens-- indeed that is what the 1964 Act says-- and I do blame the civil servants in the DCMS for never having created a framework within which the 1964 Act could work effectively - so that council leaders knew what criteria the minister would use in order to judge that a council had fallen outside the Act.
I don't think they have been given nods and winks - I think there has never been meaningful discussion betweeen the right people at all. The MLA never had anything sensible to say because they never had any genuine expertise or experience that could have been useful to a council leader - ask any council leader and they will concur.
Instead of a practical discussion along constructive lines - which we need - we get idiotic consultations about the future of libraries in 10 years time, which help no one and do nothing at all except waste time and raise blood pressure.
In fact I think the only person in a position to do anything about the library service now is the Minister for Local Govt (currently Eric Pickles) because he could elevate Ed Vaizey's role into one which council leaders take note of... but there is no sign that such a move will happen (I argued for it very hard at the start of this Government, but clearlly the DCLG had larger priorities)
That's why I concluide that Ed Vaizey simply cannot do anything now -- if there was a moment it has gone past. His role is not credible - not just to those of us who campaign, but more importantly to those in councils who make the decisions we so deeply dislike
Posted by: perkins at June 10, 2012 9:17 AM