“COUNCILLORS SET TO DEBATE ‘CALL-IN’ OF CENTRAL LIBRARY LONG LEASE!”

City Councillors are due to debate the ‘call-in’ of a controversial bid to lease part of Bristol Central Library to the Cathedral Choir Primary School at a specially-convened Call-In Sub-Committee to be held on Tuesday, 7th January 2014, at 5.00 pm, at City Hall.

The December decision by Mayor George Ferguson was ‘called-in’ for further scrutiny before Christmas by Tory councillor Richard Eddy and his Green Party colleague Rob Telford.

Opponents of the scheme have claimed that the move, which will see the removal of the reference book-stock to B-Bond almost a mile away, will “desecrate” the prized service of Bristol’s Central Library and could ultimately lead to the re-location of the historic and cultural asset.

Cllr Eddy ( Con, Bishopsworth) said: “There has been an abject failure to adequately consult over these controversial plans and to seek the views of service-users and other key professional stakeholders.

“We hope the Call-In Sub-Committee composed of backbench councillors will uphold the grounds of our ‘call-in’ and refer the matter onto Full Council or the Mayor for reconsideration.”

Cllr Telford (Green, Ashley) added: “When this matter was last scrutinized by the Neighbourhoods & Communities Scrutiny Commission in November, councillors had grave misgivings about the proposal and did not give the scheme their approval.

“Nothing has changed in the intervening period and we will be working to convince the Call-In Sub-Committee that the arguments we have advanced demand that this major shakeup requires urgent reconsideration.”

CONTACT Richard Eddy on 0117-9646455 or Rob Telford on 07756-355547

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Central Library School Plan stalled by Council ‘Call-in’

Controversial plans to lease two floors of Bristol’s Central Library to the Cathedral Choir Primary School have

been put on hold while key opponents have called for councillors to review the decision.

Last Thursday evening, Mayor George Ferguson approved the lease of two lower ground floors of the Edwardian Grade 1 Listed Building for 125 years to the newly-opened Cathedral Choir Primary School.

Opponents of the scheme have claimed that the move, which will see the removal of the book-stock to B-Bond almost a mile away, will “desecrate” the prized service of Bristol’s Central Library and could lead to the re-location of the cultural asset.

Now, Tory councillor Richard Eddy and Green councillor Rob Telford have formally “called-in” the decision- the first time any key decision of Mayor George Ferguson has been subject to the procedural device since he came to power in November 2012.

Cllr Eddy ( Con, Bishopsworth) said: “There has been an abject failure to adequately consult over these controversial plans and to seek the views of service-users- the very people who will be adversely affected by this decision.

“Most Bristolians still remain entirely ignorant of this land-grab by the Cathedral Primary School and the damage this will do to the host library service.”

Cllr Telford ( Green, Ashley) added: ”The Council has virtually ignored or failed to give proper weight to the informed views of staff and professional librarians over the consequences of this decision.

“Members of the Neighbourhoods & Communities Scrutiny Commission, which reviewed this matter on 20th November, expressed an equal concern over this clear contravention of the basic principles of proper decision-making.”

The “call-in” will be considered by a specially-convened Call-In Sub-Committee in the New Year and until that time the Mayoral decision is ‘on hold’.

The Call-In Sub-Committee can decide to take no further action; refer the matter to Full Council for a decision; or refer the matter back to the Mayor to review.

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Campaigners re-double their efforts to block Central Library leasehold disposal

Campaigners say they are redoubling their efforts in the last few days before Bristol Mayor George Ferguson is due to make a decision on the leasehold disposal of two lower floors of the Central Library to the Cathedral Choir Primary School.

 

On Thursday 5th December, Mr Ferguson ‘s Cabinet is expected to meet ( at 6.30 pm) and debate whether the Cathedral Choir Primary School leases the non-public space at the prestigious building for 125 years for £50,000 per annum.

 

The proposal is opposed by campaigners claiming that the move will downgrade the valued library service, is the ‘thin-edge-of-the-wedge’ and lead to the relocation of the Central Library and that the arrangement represents poor value for money for the Council Taxpayer.

 

Among protestors is Cllr Richard Eddy, the former chairman of the all-party Libraries Select Committee, who has launched his own e-petition against the scheme.

 

Cllr Eddy (Con, Bishopsworth) said:” My e-petition has collected 846 signatures in the short time it has been running and the complete absence of any consultation with library-users or our staff by the Council is an appalling indictment of this ill-thought-out move.

 

“The Neighbourhoods & Communities Scrutiny Commission has already savaged this proposal last month and every specific meeting we held with George Ferguson and Cllr Simon Cook produced more questions than answers.”

 

Fellow campaigner Julie Boston added: “In addition to our e-petition, we have collected 461 signatures on paper petitions opposing this flog-off and many more people told us they knew nothing of the plan and were disappointed the Council had not done more to publicise the scheme.

 

“The fact that the nearby St George’s Primary school on Brandon Hill has places demonstrates that there is no need for additional primary places in this area.  At the Scrutiny Committee on 20th November one of the criticisms was the environmental impact.”

 

Retired Art Reference Librarian Anthony Beeson added: ”The proposal to move the lion’s share of the respected book-stock to B-Bond and the fact that it is going to take up to three days to order many books strikes at the fundamentals of research and the answering of enquiries.

 

“Such an outcome would eat away at the core of our reputation for maintaining a first-class library service and treating our library-users’ needs as paramount.  It will remove the very tools that reference librarians use to answer enquiries successfully.  Why has there been no consultation with the front-line librarians who actually serve the public?

 

“The Mayor still has the opportunity to recognise the very strong and informed protests he has received and consign this ludicrous plan to the Council shelves where they deposit doomed strategies.”

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Bristol Scrutiny – What did the committee think?

This is not an official report from the Bristol Neighbourhoods and Communities Scrutiny Commission. It is only the notes recorded from members of Love Bristol Libraries. We have made every effort to record what was said faithfully, and where it is a direct quote have indicated. The feeling of the committee was made clear: This proposal is not supported.

On the presentation of the report

  • Report was described as ‘weasily worded’ with an attempt to obscure meaning. Particular sections were highlighted for making no sense whatsoever. [‘Benefits: Section 15. College Square will increase significance for use by school pupils with a wider age spread’]. Report is ‘not fit for purpose’.
  • Peter Hammond compared this report to a glossy estate agents advert, an ‘over enthusiastic description of a property which is encouraging you to buy or sell it’. Presented as a ‘property report’. It is not presented as a document which addresses the needs of children and young people.
  • Peter Hammond made it clear that this is not a ‘property deal’, it should be a document about children and young people.
  • Report left lots of questions unanswered. Not good enough to bring a report that doesn’t tell the whole story.
  • Peter Hammond described the submissions from members of the public as ‘particularly valuable’.
  • Angela Auset (teacher of 35 years) said that we needed an independent report from someone with no vested interest in the outcomes – no decision should be made until the findings from the report are made public.
  • Peter Hammond highlighted the lack of evidence and investigation. Writer had been ‘blinded by potential rental income’ to provide a balanced view.

On the value for the library

  • Library has to look at getting every penny it can, but it shouldn’t allow this to blind them.

On the motivation from Cathedral Primary School

  • Cathedral Primary School is only interested in this site because of the price. It is not interested in taking care of council resources.
  • From Peter Hammond – This is a plan that has been cobbled together to find a solution to the problem of ‘where to put the Free School’. It is not a benefit for young people.
  • There has been no attempt for an ‘open market’ for the library space. Proposal is driven by the requirements of the Free School with no remit for provision of Bristol education.

On the needs of library users

  • Quality of service to people using the library needs to be considered.
  • Once you’ve lost a public space you’ve lost it for good. It is a lifelong, democratic educational institution that is not limited to a specific age-range or socio-economic status (unlike the school)
  • Committee members asked Senior Librarians in attendance (Kate Murray had left, so Janet Bremner answered in place). They said there was no answer and would ‘have to do some research’.
  • Daniella Radice asked whether researchers would be able to access books in person at Bristol Record Office. Janet Bremner noted that it would be a possibility, there was a reading room facility, and it could also be delivered to a local library. (including reference material) [With current uncertainties about the long-term future of branch libraries, this could be seriously questioned]
  • Queries over the long-term future of resources for BRO for library users to be able to access materials ‘as and when needed’ make these proposals non-servicable. BRO is currently through a staff review – Peter Hammond made it clear that reviews usually mean “we’re going to reduce staff”.
  • Simon Cook – People who use the reference material are ‘specialist users’ and they will continue to be able to access the material. [Odd then that the report states that one of the benefits of this proposal is that materials will be accessible ‘world-wide’. Why are these users not ‘specialist’? Puts the needs of people outside of Bristol over the needs of Bristol library members]
  • Did not compare how well off-site systems work in other libraries. Examples used appear to have been cherry-picked.

On the needs of potential school children attending the school

  • Children should be treated as children not as ‘numbers’ or ‘places’. Lots of use of the words ‘places’ in this report, children as numbers, but very little consideration of the needs of real, live children.
  • Proposals seem to mean lots of walking from one point to another, to the detriment of the children. (e.g., walking to dining hall in a separate building, daily – through wind/rain). Impact on their quality of life.
  • Report references a ‘slight lack of natural light’. Criticism for the wording – ‘slight’ is not a scientific term. There were serious concerns about the long-term effects of lack of natural light on children and their ability to learn. There is no evidence on this in the report that suggests they have considered this.
  • Report suggests that primary aged children will be sharing a dining hall with secondary aged children. How are arrangements for this really practical – difference in chair sizes? Are small children expected to use equipment intended for much bigger children? Could this be considered discrimination? If children are expected to eat in shifts, it could be a long wait for some children to get lunch.
  • Where will they play? Separate playgrounds are needed for Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2. Staggered play time and lunch time?
  • There are other ways to solve the problem of school places – e.g., working to expand council run schools. There is a proposal to extend another school in the Harbourside to meet demand for school places in Cabot.

On the admissions arrangements

  • Concerns with admission arrangements, with it compared to a ‘lottery system’. Clear statement that this should not apply to a primary school. Primary schools should have a local focus – local schools for local children, with a plea for ‘good old fashioned catchment areas’.
  • No sense of where school places will be allocated year to year. Council will still be responsible for providing places to Bristol children. [Indeed, Bristol Council has already noted that the impact on local need will need to be monitored on a annual basis]
  • “The ‘catchment area isn’t round here, it isn’t even around Bristol. It is not a facility for local people”.
  • Equality of access – how is this school serving the local community?
  • How will low-income families access provision? Question is not answered in this report. It refers to ‘choice’ and ‘range of provision’.

On needs for school places in Bristol

  • How many vacancies have we got in schools across the city?
  • This is a proposal for ‘yummy mummies’ who don’t want their kids to go to a traditional state school. There are clear benefits for children from different socio-economic backgrounds mixing together, and there is no evidence that this school appears to the wide range of people as it claims.

On Environmental Impacts

  • Profound disappointment on Environmental Impact assessment. Doesn’t reference the number of children who would need to be transported to the school. It would increase traffic daily, and would also have an impact around school events – e.g. Parents Evenings.

Neil Blundell attended and ‘listened with patience’, but did not respond to any of the comments in the meeting, only stating that his ‘door was open’ and inviting councillors to his office to discuss the proposals.

Simon Cook left before the end of the meeting, but stated that there was ‘no statutory obligation’ to consult with library members over this plan after it was said that ‘Library staff don’t feel well informed or consulted and neither do library users. Bristol needs to consult fully and properly’.

Brenda Massey attended, but was there to ‘listen only’, preferring not to answer questions about the proposal.

There was no representative from Children and Young People’s services. Something that was highly criticised.

On the vote

  • 3 councillors were in favour, 2 abstained from the vote, one because he was on the planning committee and didn’t want his vote to be considered ‘pre-determination’ of the result. He did not disagree with the statement made by the committee.

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Speak Up For Libraries Conference, 2013

Julie Boston reports back from Speak Up For Libraries conference

What is your earliest memory of visiting a library ?

Did you enter a Victorian building which had the words FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY over the doorway ?  Were you with your dad ? And did you determine to read every book in the library?

Steve Davies, a lecturer at Cardiff University, showed a picture of the library he visited as a child with his dad. The impressive photo of a public library set the scene for his talk on the situation facing local government and the public library service at the annual ‘Speak Up For Libraries Conference’ which was held on 23 November 2013.

Steve said that cuts and closures of libraries were defended either on the grounds that we don’t need them or that we cannot afford them. But the 7 million people who have no access to internet urgently need them for information and for applying for jobs, to pay bills, communicate with their child’s school etc.

As for the theory that everything is on the internet, try to find the speeches made before the 2010 election by Conservative candidates. They have been removed!

We live in the sixth richest country in the world and need to keep public libraries as a civic amenity and as a resource in civil society.

We already know from the privatisation of some local authority library services that there will be no consultation and no FOI access. Outsourcing, reduced wages, worse working conditions and a reduction of the range of books is inevitable in a system designed to make a profit.

The Welsh academic, Raymond Williams, used to urge people to draw on “resources of hope”.   The rest of the conference gave us an opportunity to do that in the workshops, in the lunchtime networking and with the panel session. The summing up by Alan Gibbons, Campaign for the Book, provided “resources of hope” showing how an area which had suffered cuts raised money to pay for authors to visit 10 schools.

Attending the conference and reading the magazine “The Library Campaigner” inspired me to promote National Libraries Day – Saturday 8 February 2014 – in Bristol.

Maybe people could arrange an hour long activity in a whatever Bristol branch library they use and provide an activity such as designing a poster promoting libraries, on line or on paper; creating a library quiz ; making a list of Readers Recommendations; reading “The Mayor, the Cook and the Wardrobe”.

Hopefully we can raise money to provide prizes to under 18 year olds.

Julie Boston

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Council watchdog echo concerns of library campaigners

A key Council scrutiny watchdog has backed the concerns of campaigners fighting the proposal to lease the lower two ground floors of the Central Library to Bristol Cathedral Choir Primary School.
Critics of the move allege that the controversial plan will downgrade service in the Central Library, is poor value-for-money for Council Taxpayers, and will do nothing to address the problem of the need for primary school places in Central Bristol.

On Wednesday, councillors serving on the Neighbourhoods & Communities Scrutiny Commission endorsed their misgivings and supported a resolution stating that the “Scrutiny Commission does not support the proposal to lease two basement floors of Bristol Central Library.”

Green leader Cllr Daniella Radice, who has been a consistent critic of the plan and who sits on the Scrutiny Commission, said: “The stack collections form an intrinsic part of the Central Library’s collection and I was not reassured by either the report or Assistant Mayor Simon Cook’s statement that it would remain easily accessible for the public following its removal to the B-bond warehouse.”

Tory councillor Richard Eddy, the former chairman of the cross-party Libraries Select Committee, commented: “I am delighted that our detailed concerns have been taken up by the Scrutiny Commission and it shares our grave misgivings over the future of the library service if this move goes ahead.

“Sadly, this hare-brained scheme does not stand up to scrutiny on library grounds, value-for-money or even the claimed educational merits of the case.”

Retired Art Reference Librarian Anthony Beeson added: “The campaigners were impressed at the manner in which  the Scrutiny Commission both examined the proposal and also detected  the considerable flaws in the environmental impact on the Central Library building and the negative effect to users of the library service, library staff and young people.

“Councillors serving on the body also had major fears over the suitability of the Central Library for its proposed use and the manifest failure of this plan to help meet the demand for primary school places in central Bristol.”

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Neighbourhoods & Communities Scrutiny Commission does not support the proposal

Neighbourhoods & Communities Scrutiny Commission met on Wednesday 20th November to scrutinise a proposal from Cathedral Primary School to lease the two lower ground floors of the original Holden building, Bristol Central Library. The definitive text from that meeting is below, without annotation or comment from Love Bristol Libraries.  Full minutes of the meeting will be available at a later date on the Bristol City Council website. We’ll provide the link to the official minutes when published.

“That the Mayor & Cabinet be advised that the Neighbourhoods & Communities Scrutiny Commission does not support the proposal to lease the lower two basement floors ( of the original Holden library) of Bristol Central Library to the Cathedral Primary School.

“The Commission found that the current proposal left unanswered questions around:

  • the suitability of the site for its proposed use;
  • its impact on the availability of school places for local children;
  • the environmental impact on the building itself and the transport of children to and from the school;
  • the potential negative effect on users of the reference library when the bulk of the reference material is stored off-site.

“The Commission was not satisfied that the Equality Impact Assessments provided an adequate impact assessment of the proposals on library-users, library staff and, most importantly, young people.”

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