Saturday, 28 April 2012

Library Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

The Conservative group in Oxfordshire have elected their new leader to replace the outgoing Keith Mitchell. The leader is a man called Ian Hudspeth. He was a cabinet member but was booted out when he challenged Keith for the leadership last year. Why this is significant for libraries is Cllr Hudspeth spoke out against the current library scheme both at the scrutiny committee and cabinet. He was one of only two elected Tories to speak out against the flawed proposals.
Cllr Hudspeth fighting the PM for the brolly (pic Oxford Mail)

 His rural division of Woodstock is one where the staff are being cut and the library will be forced to rely on "volunteers". Having a look on Ian's site there is a post he wrote at the time when the current proposal was voted through and gives his thoughts on the way forward for libraries in Oxfordshire, here is a snippet:

"The one glimmer of hope for Woodstock and all libraries is that the budget for next year allows them to remain as they are with the savings budgeted for future years. This does mean that we can continue to fight to have a fully funded library in Woodstock."

I understand a lot of the Tory group were unhappy with the proposal and didn't get a chance to vote at group level. The idea behind it came from a meeting with David Cameron and Cllr Mitchell when Cameron intervened when the threat to the City libraries caused a lot of negative publicity involving celebrity authors. I don't think the staff in the library service itself had very little to do with it nor the flawed and misquoted data used to support it. Sixteen of the twenty one cut libraries are in Tory divisions.  

Whatever Cllr Hudspeths ideas are for the library, he seems more pro library and I hope this means a scheme that will save money, keep the libraries fully staffed, open and most importantly restore their status as statutory (in the view of the council). When asked by the Oxford Mail why he won the vote he said:

"But I would hope they can see that I am bringing fresh ideas and a new approach to the county council."

I hope the new approach means a reprieve for the libraries but also a more consensual approach, Keith did rub a lot of people up the wrong way, the job of a politician is to lead by consent in my opinion. Most non party people like myself don't like tribal politics, despite how entertaining it can be to watch them insult each other. We care about what works, want evidence based policy, not policy based on ideology and then trying to find the evidence to fit the policy. 

Finally on Cllr Keith Mitchell, although I find myself disagreeing with him on lots of issues, all the people who know him I have spoken to have all say he is a workaholic and was always putting in long hours as  leader. He is also a very accessible politician, he always answers emails and tweets, sometimes with insults! But he is always up for a debate. I wish him luck in whatever he does next.  He is speaking at a "Do we need libraries" debate in Liverpool next month, despite having a annoying title I look forward to hearing his views. I do hope he understands that people like me are happy to volunteer to improve the library but I refuse to be forced to volunteer to replace staff. The rural voters are as entitled to a statutory library service as those in cities.

Oxford mail article on new leader:

Link to the new Leader Ian Hudspeth's website and his library page:

The Liverpool Uni's "Do we need libraries?"  (YES!)

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