The City Council budget targeted the Library services with a £200,000 savings from April 2013. That has since been increased to £250,000, which is 10% of their total budget. It comes on top of years of piecemeal restructuring and staffing reductions. It is the equivalent of nine branch libraries. The Council will make further cuts to funding in future years, regardless of which party is in control. Library management hope to hold off closures and compulsory redundancies this year, but will not be able to in future.
The Council say they want a ‘Co-operative’ alternative to the way the Library services are delivered, by creating a ‘Community Benefit Society’ (CBS). This would be funded by the Council but would operate Library services on behalf of the Council. There is no explanation or information as to how this Society will be created, how it will be organised, or what role its ‘members’ and ‘friends’ would have in controlling its activities.
Setting up a CBS is neither straightforward, nor cost-free. Either these costs will counter the savings being made, or (as seems more likely) they will be added to future savings demanded. There is no information as to what will happen in the event that the CBS proves to be unsustainable and can no longer meet the Council’s statutory responsibility to run the library service.
A genuine co-operative enterprise would be created by its members, who would own the buildings and stock and control the budget entirely. Co-operative members, whether employees or customers, should be in full democratic control of the enterprise. A co-operative cannot be imposed from above by bureaucrats who pull the purse strings, leave others to struggle with the consequences and pretend not to be responsible.
The Council have launched a ‘public consultation’, to conclude on 12 November, with a decision to be made in December. There is a questionnaire that is no more than a customer survey of what people want from their libraries and what they might offer as volunteers. There is no opportunity to comment on the idea of a Community Benefit Society. There is in any case not enough information on which to make an informed choice.
THIS ‘CONSULTATION’ IS A FAKE
What can you do?
1. Lobby your local councillor, opposing any cuts to the Library services, staffing and budget. There are two useful websites for finding your local councillor and how to contact them: WriteToThem allows you to enter your postcode and shows you your councillors; and City of York, Find Councillor provides a lot more detail about each councillor.
2. Tell your councillors you would prefer the Library service to remain in full Council control so that they are accountable to the electorate for any decisions.
3. Tell your councillors you will only support a properly democratic co-operative that has full control of its assets and budget and is run by its staff and its members, with a democratically elected Board.
4. Tell your councillors you will only volunteer if there are no staff cuts and no budget cuts. Refuse to do jobs that are currently done by paid employees.
5. Give expressions of support to library staff, personally and in writing, including the library management, who are doing their utmost to protect Library services in impossible circumstances.