29th Feb 2012 - MPs back library campaigners' call for clarity
MPs representing eight of the libraries that Dorset County Council is to cease to fund later this year have offered to help the communities hoping to take over the running of the libraries by volunteers. At a meeting in Dorchester with Annette Brooke, Oliver Letwin and Richard Drax, Tim Lee, who leads the Friends group at Stalbridge library, explained that eight months have passed since Dorset Library Service set out in general terms what help it would give communities that took over their libraries.
'Our problem is,' says Tim, 'that so many questions about how the council's help will work in practice still remain unanswered. We are finding it hard going to complete the business plans the council is demanding of us and volunteer groups in these eight areas are finding it frustratingly difficult to get information out of the library service.
'What we need,' declares Tim, 'is a document that spells out the facts and figures. We all feel that without such detail it is going to be difficult for us to sign up to the deal we must make with the county council before we can take over the running of our libraries.'
Hazel Robinson, chairman of Charmouth Friends, told the MPs that It is proving extremely difficult for groups like hers to apply for the grants it will need to meet the costs of running and maintaining the library. 'Without a guarantee that we are in the business for the long haul,' she said, 'funding bodies say they can't help us. To give such a pledge we need to be able to assure them that the county council will go on supporting us for at least five years.'
All the groups fighting to save their libraries are members of Ad Lib, the Association of Friends of Dorset Libraries, whose chairman, Graham Lee of Lytchett Matravers, stressed to the MPs that the volunteer groups are not ungrateful for the help the county council is offering, but that they urgently need flesh to be put on the bones of that offer.
Graham also told the MPs about the evidence that Ad Lib has submitted to the enquiry into the future of public libraries set up by House of Commons select committee covering culture, media and sport. 'We emphasised,' he told them, 'how vital it is that public money continues to made available so that councils like Dorset's can maintain a comprehensive range of libraries, especially in isolated areas where public transport is so patchy.'
The Ad Lib team also up-dated the MPs on the progress of its complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman about the biased way in which Dorset County Council presented its case to councillors before the vote to end support to the nine libraries. The Ombudsman has asked for further details of Ad Lib's case.