Friday, 4 February 2011

Do They Think We're Stupid, or What?!

Perhaps this should go on the new crime map..? Probably Britain’s politest pressure group, the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries have been elbowed out of their democratic rights by Gloucestershire County Council.

In what look like bizarre breaches of county Constitution, GCC only allowed a campaign representative to address the 2 February council cabinet meeting after councillors had voted. What’s more, GCC also appears to have held back documents relating to the debate - that should have been available for public scrutiny at least five days in advance.

FoGL didn’t see a word, as they prepared their submission to the debate. They were also bracing themselves for another torrent of whispering and sniggering from Conservative councillors, as meted out on 19 January to the last FoGL representative who dared to ask questions at Shire Hall.

Ordered to be quiet
A campaign supporter who observed the 2 February debate described how the FoGL representative ‘made a very eloquent and powerful speech, which drew spontaneous, loud and prolonged applause from we spectators.’ GCC Council Leader, Mark Hawthorne ordered visitors to be quiet with the words, "This is a public meeting". Back shot the answer: "We are the public".

While the irony apparently failed to register with Coun. Hawthorne, the debate observer noted that some of the councillors looked embarrassed.

Decisions announced before 'consultation' ends
So they should. In another twist of the rules, Gloucestershire County Council is trumpeting a ‘new package’ and ‘additional money’ for libraries – formally announcing on 31 January a done deal 48 hours before the formal debate in county cabinet. The decision has also been announced before the final four Library Drop-In Consultation days and before the county’s online consultation closes on 11 February.

I told myself I was too cynical in thinking the Library Consultation looked fake and fixed. With GCC smirking in its press release that that it has ‘listened to people’s comments’ it seems I wasn’t nearly cynical enough.

Council leaders leaped to brand FoGL a “vocal minority” when the group asked for an independent review of GCC’s destructive proposals. They dismiss FoGL as ‘middle class’. Obviously many councillors (dominated by good ol’ green welly Conservatives) are unable to grasp that some people can act altruistically, on behalf of others who are less able – or too ground down with work and financial worries – to speak up for themselves.

Bus services to be slashed, too
County cabinet members insist they must be ‘more concerned about maintaining the services for Children, Vulnerable Adults, Fire and Police and Highways than Libraries’. But they choose to ignore how concurrent plans to slash bus services – already notoriously poor in rural Gloucestershire – will cut off people’s access to libraries, doctors and hospitals; let alone social or community activities that make life worth living.

Rural and urban poverty in Gloucestershire are already some of the worst in Britain. From where I stand, in the wilds of the Cotswolds - paying council tax through the nose for services being stripped away by the year - I’d say our council under the heel of our shiny new government is hellbent on making life unbearable.

And then government has the screaming cheek to start a national survey us on our state of happiness. ALL RIGHT – LET’S TELL ‘EM.

  • Some 10,600 people signed a petition - collected in December's snow - asking for less damaging cuts to library services. The petition continues: now up to more than 13,000 signatures today [4 Feb 2011]
  • Gloucestershire County Council's plans are in its Library Service Consultation - which is allegedly open until 11 February 2011, although they're making decisions NOW...  
  • Information on the campaign to save Gloucestershire Libraries from 69% cuts (26% in 2009 + 43% now proposed) is at the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries website

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