Democracy should be for the voters about choice, when there is no difference between the two main parties in a council or in Westminster then where is the choice for voters? There is an old saying about Westminster politics that if both side of the house agree on something then it’s probably the wrong idea. This equally applies to local politics, if the party seeking office intends to do exactly the same as those that are in power then what is the point? Dan Jarvis MP has been making all the right noises on libraries, yet when he travels to Newcastle to speak to one of the worst councils for proposed libraries cuts he has not a single negative think to say about the council and their clearly dodgy statistics. Some people seem to be of the view (myself included) that it’s just a tactic anyway to raise the profile of the ambitious leader to help him in his next attempt to secure a safe seat. Dan has nothing to say about the dodgy stats or the leader’s ambition, it’s the evil Tory cuts to blame, nothing else. These are the same cuts that Labour in Government would have made, despite what they say now. The banker’s bonus tax cannot pay for everything.
Closer to home in Swindon, the Conservatives are slashing the opening hours of libraries, sacking the low paid library managers and assistants, and protecting the bloated back office and service support and decimating the library service all to save a measly 99k. You would think the Labour party would have at least a few different ideas, sadly not. They are planning on doing exactly the same thing as the email below shows from a Labour spokesman to a local campaigner:
“I've spoken with Jim Grant and he's asked me to forward on the following information to you:
The cuts to the library services are as a result of the cuts being made by the Coalition government centrally which are supported by the Tory and Liberal Democrats locally.
Were Labour in power nationally or locally it is hoped we wouldn't have to make these cuts. However, because of the financial constraints being imposed by central government local government has to make very hard choices about how we spend what little money we have.
Labour will be amending the overall budget by finding additional savings in non essential spending in order to preserve services which have a direct affect on the lives of the vulnerable people of the town. This will not include opposing the cuts to library services.
Labour's long term plan for the library service is to ensure that libraries are contained within community hubs, similar to the Old Town library moving into the Arts centre. Unless this path is followed the future cuts to local government, supported by the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, will inevitably mean permanent closure of libraries in Swindon”
So the Swindon Labour position is: It’s the Tories fault, along with the Lib Dems, if we were in power we hope we wouldn’t have to make these cuts but since we have to we plan on making the same cuts to libraries as the party in power and if we don't co-locate and make savings, libraries will close.
The Borough does however have a chief exec of a small borough council on a basic salary of £161k a year, more that the prime minister who is on 142k, for more like for like comparison Sir Jeremy Heywood , who is responsible for every civil servant in the country is on 200k. Even after the cuts (and they have made some) they still have 115 staff on over 50k a year, getting rid of two of the 115 staff would save the libraries from cuts, two back office officers are worth more than the library service it seems. Considering nearly all council services are outsourced it seems odd they need so many well paid people when the services have been contracted out. These are the people who the councillors ask to make the cuts, they are hardly going to suggest chopping themselves.
I’m sure if I looked at the >500 spending data there will be plenty of stuff in there where efficiencies could be made. The sad thing is the “opposition” don’t appear to be trying, they just want to have the power, blame the other side and take no responsibility. They libraries don't have a direct affect on the vulnerable, they are wrong. Cut the libraries and what is lost to society won’t appear on the annual balance sheet but when their power to transform lives, raise aspirations and open up minds is lost then you will certainly see it in years to come when more people don’t realise their potential and have to rely on the state for their pensions and social care. All parties bang on about aspiration and closing the gap between the rich and the poor, sadly they don’t have the vision to see that libraries are one of the best ways of doing this. And when it comes to choice, at the ballot box in Swindon, it seems we don’t have any.