Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by June Winifred Quigley

The actual production of this submission is from the words of Mrs Quigley but it has been typed and sent by her husband Mr David James Quigley as Mrs Quigley is terminally ill and is unable to use a computer.

Summary

This submission is made as a personal one. I have been a regular user of the East Cowes library for many years and feel that the loss of this excellent facility has had a very adverse effect on my life.

I believe that the action of cutting funding to five of our Island libraries has been totally against the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, and that as here was no full Equality Impact Assessment done by the council and their consultation exercise was so flawed that it was useless, as a result of that we no longer have a Comprehensive and Adequate library service as per the requirements of the Act.

There has been a significant impact on the five areas which have lost IW Council funding for their libraries as well as the extremely important impact on myself.

I believe the DCMS have been very remiss in their lack of action on the matter of library funding withdrawal and, in view of the fact that our council have now managed an underspend of £1.8 million in this financial year it would appear that many of the front line services including libraries need not have faced cutbacks at all and the DCMS should have intervened and did not, despite the large number of submissions made to them by Isle of Wight residents.

Submission

1. When plans were first announced by the Isle of Wight Council to cease funding of our libraries I helped to set up a petition to try and save our branch library and its very helpful knowledgeable staff. There were petitions raised by members of many of the other Island Libraries as well. My husband was involved in setting up the “Friends of the Isle of Wight Library Service”. He and two ladies from Brighstone visited the DCMS and presented a number of submissions. These same two ladies took the Isle of Wight Council to the High Court, seeking a Judicial Review. My husband accompanied them. At this time I had been ill for some time but had kept it from my husband. The day after the High Court case I was rushed into hospital and was diagnosed as terminally ill with chronic heart failure and inoperable cancer. This has meant that I am now unable to visit the local library in East Cowes, something I have done five days a week for many years. There seems to be no real reason for the IW Council funding cuts which have seen public toilets closed, tourist information centres abolished as well as funding withdrawal from five of our 11 libraries. The Council has announced that it has had underspend of £1.8 million this year, I understand that this is five times the money the cuts actually saved. Why therefore were these cuts necessary in the first place?

2. The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act states that “a comprehensive and efficient library service, which must be free of charge” must be provided. On the Isle of Wight this statute has not been obeyed. In East Cowes we have seen the opening hours drop from 38 hours per week spread over five days to 12 hours per week over four days. On top of this, as well as paying for our library service through out council tax, since April 2010 we have been paying a further 21% on top of our Town Council Precept which is being used to pay for the library in the form of rental to the IW Council. The library staff are now volunteers to operate from. Our town is the most deprived part of the County and most of the library users are low income groups, ie children, unemployed, and pensioners, who will, from 1 January 2012 have to pay bus fares to get to Newport library, a cost to those without bus passes of £7.00 per visit. So I cannot see the second rate service, at a cost, can be classed as being either comprehensive or efficient

3. As I understand the 1964 Act it is necessary for the local authority to carry out a comprehensive Equality Impact Assessment before even considering the withdrawal of funding to any public service. This our council did not do, the actual funding decision was taken less than 24 hours after the “public consultation period” ended and no notice was taken of over 6,000 signatures of the various petitions that were handed in. The Isle of Wight Council have made no attempt to study the impact that their cuts are having on the residents of the Island. In fact what they have done is to drastically reduce the access to libraries for many of the less well off whilst increasing access for those who live in Ryde and Newport, they have heavily increased costs for this same group, this is definitely not Equality, in fact it is exactly the opposite, as we now have a library service that operates double standards. In my own case I am now unable to visit a library, I am on oxygen for most of my waking hours and could, had our original hours been kept have been able to make occasional visits in the car with my husband, however that is totally impossible as the days and time that the library is open are those same days and times when I have to stay at home waiting for the nurses who are trying to keep me alive! Therefore, there is no way that there is any equality, my husband and I, along with thousands of other taxpayers, are paying twice for a library service which we cannot access!

4. There are five communities on the Island which have lost their council funded libraries are now paying twice for the same service, this service has been drastically reduced. The libraries are now manned by volunteers who, I’m sure do an excellent job, however I feel certain that there is a serious breach of Health & Safety in that the libraries have no paid member of staff and therefore nobody who, in law, could be held responsible for any accidents/injuries that may occur to either the single volunteer or any of the public using the library. The library has always been the hub of the community, a social meeting place for many of the elderly and unemployed, and as such it was an important part of the town. This wonderful facility has gone as has the help and assistance given to all and sundry by the professional staff.

Effectiveness of the DCMS intervention

5. As the DCMS has a statutory duty to uphold the statutes of the 1964 Act, the title of this paragraph is not what it should say. In view of the number of submissions from all over the country asking the Secretary of State to intervene and the fact that despite the High Court finding at least two councils acted illegally by withdrawing funding/closing libraries, then the DCMS must be considered negligent by the fact that they have done absolutely nothing to prevent the decimation of the library service nation wide the title should perhaps read “The Ineffectiveness of the DCMS in upholding the laws of the land”.

For further evidence on this matter, there has been an open letter to the Minister, Ed Vaizey, signed by many groups of library campaigners and hundreds of ordinary people like myself, I suggest the Select Committee should read and take note of the letter and the comments attached to it.

December 2011

Prepared 5th November 2012