Saturday 12 October 2013

The Democracy Delusion 3.0

Its now clear that Oxfordshire County Council will hold the line and continue with their policy of library cuts that save no money and damage the small rural and branch libraries in the mainly Tory divisions.  I wanted to write a post showing how we got to this point and also to put some stuff online that I hadn't before because I had been pushing hard to make the current council leadership see sense and also, part of what I'm putting online was recorded in a public meeting but without the knowledge of the people I was recording. I only made the recording to take notes from and thought the councillor was on our side and I forgot about the recording until recently. What I am putting online is edited to cut the other people out but I think its in the public interest to put what the deputy leader of Oxfordshire County Council said about the library consultation. The prime minister is also involved and waded in to create this mess and its important to show what David Cameron's idea of localism really is. The pieces I have pulled together show that most undemocratically, David Cameron, the leader of the conservative party and MP for Witney, intervened and the council back tracked on their first plan for cuts and came back with another flawed analysis of the data that suggested other libraries would be cut and would be ran by his widely discredited big society. The problem is Dave hasn't done anything in his life outside of politics or PR so he has no idea what libraries do, he piled in, without a mandate and prescribed a policy that doesn't save money, doesn't save libraries and he has left the mess for others who have refused to clean it up because of the shitbox that is politics. Nobody in Oxfordshire voted for Dave to represent them on Oxfordshire County Council. He admits intervening to bring about a change in policy, the Tory group weren't allowed a vote on this and the then leader of the council announced it to the media before telling even his party colleagues. The scrutiny committee made up mostly of Tories waved it through and the recording I have which I am putting on this post has the deputy leader admitting the consultation was a sham. There are a couple of the library friends groups who were previously in the position that their library would be closed and now will receive some staffing so obviously they were more than happy to volunteer to keep their library going, I wish them well. And I'm sure the council will very soon be using them as publicity stooges to sell their non-money saving nonsense as a success. I however won't give my valuable free time for something so badly and undemocratically formulated without evidence, that doesn't save money and damages one of the things I value and that has enabled me to make something of my life.

In October 2010 OCC (Oxfordshire County Council) put forward a plan to close 20 libraries based on their usage. There was outrage at the harsh cuts,  Keith Mitchell the leader of OCC was criticized by many for his insensitive handling of the cuts and for insulting authors and campaigners. Phillip Pullman gave that amazing speed to the council in January 2011.  Then in March 2011 that plan was torn up and OCC said they would think again.

The then leader of the council Keith Mitchell and the MP for Witney (Pic from Oxford Mail)

The policy u-turn was because David Cameron intervened, the big society would ride to the rescue and they would used a quantitative analysis based on indicators from the DCMS (where people live, work study etc) to rank the libraries and then draw a arbitrary line and those that fell under the line would have their staffing cut and have to rely on the volunteers to survive. The methodology they used was deeply flawed and seemed designed to favour libraries in built up areas, regardless of how close together or inefficient they are. The small rural and branch libraries with low paid, non-professtional staffing were hit. Only one of the 21 cut libraries was in the City, the rest were rural and 16 of the 21 were in Tory divisions.

Best picture I could find to fit the story

I know Dave intervened because I have been told by three difference councillors that he did, he also admits it so its common knowledge in Oxon:

"Did intervene to put the arguments"

"I  Met with OCC members to bring about changes"

Again, Dave is the MP for Witney, one of five members in Oxfordshire. He has no business dictating policy to the county council. The hypocrisy of the man who talks about localism and pushing the decision making down to communities is breathtaking. Anyway he intervened because he thinks with his fantastic experience of the world that consists of politics and getting a job at a TV company through his girlfriends mother he knows better than everyone else. But because he is PM and party leader his intervention faced no opposition in Oxfordshire from the local party publically, in fact the Tory group on the council didn't even get to vote on the proposal behind closed doors. Again I know this because I have been told, its common public knowledge, when Keith Mitchell stepped down one of the leadership candidates Pete Handley said in the Oxford Mail:

Councillor that believes in democracy, a rare thing it seems (Pic from Oxford Mail)

“I want all policy decisions to pass through the group before being made public, not as with the library fiasco where one person was making the decisions, talking to the press and then expecting the group to agree with what had been announced.
“This has happened several times over recent years.”
Keith Mitchell  the then leader is the person referred to above, when Dave intervened when he should have he was even ringing Keith at home on Sunday nights to talk about libraries. The Tories who are democratically elected to represent us didn't get a say and the policy was bounced through the scrutiny committee and nobody in cabinet opposed it. Why would they? The leader of a council can kick them out without any notice and if they have a mortgage or other outgoings they're stuffed.

Again I have blogged on this stuff above before. This final bit just confirms what a shambolic, undemocratic fudge the whole thing was. My councillor Rodney Rose, came to a public meeting in 2011 when the consultation started and to his credit spelled it all out to the people who were at the meeting. Below are some key quotes, I the transcript and recording are below, the recording and transcript are below.

 Pic from Oxford Mail
Rodney Rose: "The consultation is telling you what you're going to end up with"

  • "The feeling I have got is the consultation’s a sham, if it is a consultation. It’s stating what is going to happen on the 30 September"
  • "I mean the figures that we were first quoted when libraries were originally going to be closing was that libraries that were staffed with volunteers failed within four years the cabinet was told. Now all of a sudden they are going to last forever."
  • "My guess is that with further cuts come down the line, you know with Greece and other things happening to upset the euro who knows then it will be the community libraries that have gone to volunteers keeping them open to oh well they’re the least important so they’re the ones that will close."
  • "It’s not achievable at the moment, what was told to me point blank was what category you’re in, you’re stopping in end of story and they’ve all been told that. Now that also makes a nonsense of consultation should be able to have some impact on that."
  • "The consultation is telling you what you’re going to end up with."
  • "I’m arguing against myself and I’m part of that cabinet and it’s very difficult for me but the whole thing just smacks of erm we want to close or diminish those libraries we don’t care if they close and we make up a quantitative analysis to suit the end result we need."
Rodney was and still is the deputy leader of the council, if the deputy leader thinks the consultation is a sham then its a sham. I feel bad about putting the above online as Rodney was open and honest about what was going on and I wish all councillors put people before party but I'm not sure many do.

Democracy at Oxfordshire County Council has failed. 
  • Dave intervened to change the policy
  • The local tories didn't get a vote on the policy
  • The consultation was a sham
You except party political people to do dodgy little deals and make up policy on the hoof behind closed doors but what saddens me the most about is there is supposed to be checks and balances in politics to stop things like this happening. But they happen time and time again, not just locally but nationally, the parties poison democracy but thankfully their powers are almost spent. There has been a lot of other bad things not to do with libraries gone on at OCC in the past few years, some a lot more important than libraries, the council who is supposed to serve the people not the parties needs to up its game.

I don't know where we go from here, I will continue to oppose the replacing of library staff with volunteers and all the other stupid ideas that involve sacking low paid staff to save money. Our political system is a complete failure, local councils are in urgent need of reform but they won't, they're happy to get at least half of the 30% ish turn out and the rest of us can bugger off. David Cameron's idea of localism and democracy is to wade in and make decisions, give the local people who it affects no say and then swan off to create his next mess for others to clean up and defend.

1 comment:

  1. The great irony of the cuts that were made was this:

    We at Save Oxfordshire Libraries (SOL) had proposals to keep the libraries open while helping the OCC to cut costs by 23%; yet the OCC unilaterally reduced the cuts to only 10%, made a hash of the project, and accused SOL of wanting to take funds from social services.

    As for the comment, "The consultation is telling you what you're going to end up with"...

    Well, duh, that's because it's not a consultation, is it? It's a proposal with requests for comments. Not once were the relevant people in the libraries or the libraries' Friends groups consulted with in the first so-called consultation. Keith Mitchell complained that he had "hired expensive consultants." We told Keith Mitchell that we at SOL were on his side to help with the cuts, and we were available — for free! — for consultation (our group includes lawyers, consultants, project managers and more).

    So... was our offer to help taken during the second so-called consultation? Were we consulted in any way whatsoever? Hah. No, of course not.

    Why on earth do the politicians think that the public is a bunch of idiots, while acting that way themselves?