Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by David James Quigley

Summary

1. This submission is made as a personal one, although during the campaign to save libraries on the Isle of Wight I was involved in the setting up of the Friends of the Isle of Wight Library Service. Due to my wife being diagnosed as terminally ill I have had to curtail my involvement in this group. I am 70 years of age and have served my country as a professional soldier (total 12 years), as a merchant naval officer (six years) and finally as a science teacher/college lecturer (15 years) and am partially disabled.

2. I intend to put forward how the DCMS and the IW Council have disregarded the statutes of the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act in the (a) we no longer have a “comprehensive and efficient library service”, (b) despite the Councils protestations to the contrary, no Equality Impact Assessments were done before or after the decision to withdraw funding and the EIA eventually submitted as a legal document was in fact fabricated by the officer concerned and stating that it was her intention to do this at a public meeting.

3. I will outline the impact the Councils actions have had on the local communities involved and how it has affected me personally

4. I will also show how ineffective the DCMS has been and how their non-intervention despite the number of submissions made to them. In fact their handling of this whole matter is a National disgrace.

Submission

1. When plans were first announced by the Isle of Wight Council to cease funding five of our 11 libraries I and my wife became involved, my wife actually setting up the petition in East Cowes. There were other petitions raised by members of a number of the other Island Libraries and we formed “The Friends of the Isle of Wight Library Service”. Two ladies from this group took the IW Council to the High Court seeking a Judicial Review, this was eventually refused on a technicality, legal aid had deliberately been delayed until the case was outside the time limit. I joined these two ladies in a visit to the DCMS when we presented a total of five submissions to them, a total of well over 500 pages of written evidence from different parts of the Island (I had presented a personal submission through the offices of my local MP, Mr Andrew Turner who assured me that it was passed to the Secretary of State). The day after the High Court case, my wife, who had been ailing for some time, was rushed into hospital and was diagnosed as terminally ill. I will not put her case here as she is determined to make her own submission (with my assistance). Having been a registered user of the Isle of Wight libraries since late 1945, I feel that my 66 years of membership enables me to comment on the subject. What is even more galling is the fact that the funding withdrawal has saved the IW Council around £50,000 in the current year (their figures), and yet, despite their budget cuts which have seen public toilets closed, tourist information centres abolished and many council staff being sacked etc, today (10 December 2010) it has been announced that there has been an underspend of £1.8 million this year. Why therefore were these cuts necessary in the first place? One suggestion that has been made is that the council is so unpopular that they are building up a slush fund to bribe the electorate before the next council election in 2013. The decisions on the Island have left those living in the most deprived areas with a second rate excuse for a library service whilst those living in the affluent areas have had their service enhanced when there appears to be no logical reason for the cuts at all.

2(a) We have no longer a comprehensive and efficient library service on the Island, here in East Cowes we have a library run by volunteers, only open three hours a day four days a week for which we not only pay in our Council Tax but also, since April 2010, have being paying a 21% increase in our Town Council Precept. (I understand that it is an offence for two different authorities to both charge for the same service and have been advised that the Local Government Act does not allow Town or Parish Councils to run a library service when they are not the statutory local authority). From 31 December 2010 the East Cowes Library will not even have a premises to operate from. The town is on of the most deprived parts 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. This is certainly not what I would classify either as comprehensive, nor efficient. During the last few years, since my retirement (from teaching), it has been a pleasure to visit the library and to see large groups of children from the local primary school being encouraged to develop a love of books and reading- this has now had to cease due the very restrictive opening hours and that fact that the library is staffed only by volunteers, surely a very backward step when the education of our children is such a vital stage for the future of our once great country. As I understand it, most of the extra 21% that I pay on my Town Council precept is actually paid to the Isle of Wight Council in rent for the library building so they have not only sacked dedicated staff but are also being paid for doing it, this is certainly immoral if not illegal?

2(b) As I understand the 1964 Act it was necessary for the IW Council to carry out Equality Impact Assessments before considering shutting/withdrawing funding from libraries, this was not done. Even when the council were asked by the lawyers representing the ladies in the High Court to send copies, nothing happened. At a meeting attended by those steering groups offering to help set up volunteer groups to run the libraries affected, they had still not done them and the female council officer who’s duty it was, asked the volunteer steering groups to do their own impact assessments and help her out. When one of the groups declined she commented, in front of the leader of the council Cllr David Pugh, “In that case I will have to make them up”. This surely is fraudulent? The Isle of Wight Council have made no attempt to really study the impact that their cuts are having on the residents of the Island. In fact what they have done is drastically reduced the access to libraries for many, heavily increased costs for those same people and at the same time have increased the access hours to the two biggest libraries on the Island- this is definitely not Equality, in fact it is exactly the opposite, as we now have a library service that operates double standards in which those who receive the worst service pay twice as much as those who receive the 1st class service! No equality there!

3. The five communities which have lost their council funded libraries are now paying twice for the same service, this service has been drastically reduced, in East Cowes we used to have a library open 38 hours per week, staffed by two paid librarians, now we have 12 hours per week. Despite the excellent work done by volunteers, in my view, there should always be a professional member of staff to supervise and to take responsibility for the health and safety of library staff and users (a duty for which a volunteer cannot be held responsible). The library was considered as a social meeting place for many of the elderly and unemployed, and as such it was a community hub. It was also an unlimited source of free, unbiased, and very helpful information provided by the excellent professional staff, this has now gone and many of those I have spoken to, no longer use the library! A very sad outcome. The rural communities like Brighstone have a very long bus ride into either Newport or Freshwater, an expensive run for young mothers, especially as there are only a very limited number of buses each day. In my own case, my wife can only get out of the house for a short time in the car as she needs to be on oxygen for most of the time, unfortunately the times at which our library is open are on days when she has to stay at home waiting for her nurses to turn up! I might add that despite acting as 24/7 carer for my wife, I too am disabled due to arthritis caused as a result of injuries suffered firstly in a land mine explosion whilst serving my country some 45 years ago, and secondly by an accident at work! It would appear that we just do not matter to the politicians, either local of national.

The Effectiveness of the DCMS intervention

4. Having followed the progress of many library closures in the national and local press, to the extent of having many thousands of press cuttings from all over the country, it has become clear that the DCMS have had no intention whatever of intervening in the planned closures of libraries, a number of campaign groups have been to the department and presented their cases but those responsible have always replied with a “we will study your case and get back to you” followed weeks or even months later by a stereotyped letter which leaves a lot to be desired and have then sat back and done nothing at all. The DCMS have categorically refused to intervene, despite the fact that the High Court has declared the decisions of Gloucestershire and Somerset County Councils to have been illegal. Many others groups, including the Isle of Wight, have but forward similar cases to these two, some aspects being identical but in no single instance have they “intervened”. It would appear that the Secretary of State and his Minister are more than content to simply allow libraries to close and not to do their duty and uphold the 1964 Act in its entirety. The present government is doing its utmost to destroy as many public services as it can and by sitting back and doing nothing, as in the case of libraries, the DCMS is allowing local authorities to do the government’s dirty work! Our MP, Mr Andrew Turner (Conservative) has made representations to the Secretary of State regarding these matters on behalf of a number of his constituents, even he has been ignored. The DCMS seems to be totally ineffective in this matter and would seem to fit the current term of “unfit for purpose”. Please can the Select Committee do something to correct this lack of action and please get the DCMS to institute a full public inquiry into this matter as soon as possible.

There has been an open letter written by the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries be circulated via the internet, there have been a very large number of both campaign groups and concerned individuals who have either signed the letter or commented on it, or in most cases, both. This letter is addressed to Ed Vaizey and is asking him to do the job for which he is paid as Minister responsible for libraries and the upholding of the 1964 Act. I would ask the Select Committee to request that the minister allows them to see this letter and its attached comments as it show just how deep the feeling are of those of us who are fighting for the future of the public library service in this country—an essential part of the education system which, according to frequent reports in the media, is already failing our children and therefore the future of the country.

December 2011

Prepared 5th November 2012