6th July Cabinet Meeting - Report by Tim Lee
This morning's Cabinet meeting produced a result that could have been better, but at least leaves the door open for a better result at the Full Council meeting on 21st July.
Debbie Ward introduced her report, and repeated much of what we have already read. She described the consultation process in a way that I certainly would not have recognised! She stated that they recognised that Option A was no longer workable or practicable, but Option B had realistic opportunities to succeed, and was the result of the County Council's wish to extend the number of libraries to be kept open. Option D was included to meet the Council's wish for at least one option that kept all the libraries open. She stated the professional opinion that the Book Fund (renamed the Resource Fund) must be £530K to be viable. And she backed that up by saying that they had now looked at the Somerset figures, and even Somerset were now admitting that their fund was unsustainably low. She mentioned the use of the Council's powers of wellbeing to assist the communities setting up community managed libraries. (Can anyone tell me how that would work?). She said that they were looking at what additional support can be offered (but did not specify for instance how that support might be funded). She mentioned that under Options C or D some support functions would have to go – such as the Summer Reading challenge. (My comment – how much of an FTE is required to set that up? – that is a pathetic example). She mentioned the contribution towards property based savings without saying 25%, but did mention Colehill and Portland Underhill as having significant property costs. She acknowledged concerns we have over being outside the statutory provision and stated that this was already happening in other Local Authorities with no problem!
Leivers followed by stating that a tie up with Bournemouth and Poole could increase costs. Repeated the professional view that £530K was needed for the book fund. Said that Option D could result in 25% reduction of management staff. Ended by saying that under Option B the savings timescales would not be met.
Janet Dover (Lib Dem leader) gave strong support to Option D and supported the principle of committees working together on a cross party principle. Option D wanted by the people of Dorset. Then referred to a late proposal by David Crowhurst (for a short time known as Option E) which was a variation of Option B with only Colehill and Portland Underhill being axed. She made a very strong case for the retention of Colehill, the maintenance figures for which were quite wrong. She mentioned the supporting letters from Letwin and Fellowes (that had not been mentioned at the start by Campbell)
Colonel Brierley made a strong case for the retention of Charmouth, querying in particular the use of Section 137 funding when there are other demands on that fund , that Charmouth is not a wellbeing council, and that timescales were wrong.
David C Fox gave strong support for Option D - regretted that Ad Lib had not been invited to address the Cabinet – summarised the situation at Stalbridge where a community centre was being considered, but professional staff still needed – work of PDP has been criticised – why don't they co-opt help from Ad Lib and some parishes? – questioned impact on mobile service under option B.
Hilary Cox once more managed to show her true colours. She noted that the majority of respondents to the questionnaire supported keeping all open but said that the expectations for Option D were unrealistic. Not for the first time she stated that Ad Libs proposal depended too much on taking a hit now on the assumption that the situation will improve soon (which is not what we ever said!). As usual she included several totally outrageous remarks: Of those who wished to see reductions of back room staff – "they seem to think that all those who are not in the front line are useless". "You cannot have a library service with no books!". "Having a library open for 10 or 15 hours a week is not cost effective use".
Robert Gould stated he did not want to reduce services particularly in rural areas, but we need to retain quality services. Need to reduce property assets. Option B provides ambitious alternative. Strongly attracted to Option B but hasn't West Moors been overlooked? Proposed to add West Moors to the retained list and this was approved on the nod! This was a good demonstration of how arbitrary decisions on what library stays open are made! No stated justification at all, and while I personally am delighted for West Moors, the Library Service now has to find a compensating reduction elsewhere!
Toni Coombs told us all that the Power of Wellbeing was not onerous and only cost about £50! She suggested that as there is some time before the full council meeting what we want can be further refined. (Not quite sure in what forum that would be achieved) Her most important contribution was her view that Options B and D should both go forward to the full council. It all looked a bit bleak up to then!
Spencer Flower said he read all his emails and was not elected to close things down. Need to maintain a quality service. As for the financial situation, the new "normal" will be worse than today. Sensible to put both options forward.
Meeting then addressed the Ad Lib complaint note. A full and detailed rebuttal is apparently on its way, but a staff member Jessica Miller outlined three areas where we were wrong. Overall I was not convinced – it was a case of "the analysis of the questionnaires was done by highly competent and professional people who know what they are doing – and you obviously don't"! I await the detail tomorrow!
Angus Campbell then wound up the meeting – seismic shift in finances – there will be future cuts – need a stable situation – the term "back office" is unfortunate in its implication that it is not needed – Big Society/Localism works both ways. Proposed that Option B modified by the addition of West Moors and Option D go forward to the full council on 21st July. Agreed by all. (Note that Crowhurst's "Option E" was not mentioned again!)
The final message is of course that our proposal has survived so far but we need to put on real pressure to get a free vote at the Full Council. Letters to all councillors, particularly, but not exclusively, to those with threatened libraries in their wards are urgently needed. And we need a huge turn out of supporters at County Hall on the day!