Anger seems to be in the news. I think people should be more angry about things that matter – like the loss of our public services. Across England, privatisation of the NHS threatens to destroy our national treasure while in Kent our much-valued network of 99 libraries is being put up for grabs. We are being asked by Kent County Council to approve the handover of our library service on the basis of a flawed consultation. The document falls to spell out the risks of closures of smaller libraries, cuts to the mobile and other specialist services, and further loss of qualified staff that is likely if control is given to an “independent” trust.
As Cllr Mike Hill said at the launch of the consultation “it will be a matter for the trust whether to maintain Kent’s 99 libraries”. It states that ‘significant’ changes will have to be approved by KCC and yet such a limitation on a trust’s ‘independence’ could prevent it getting charitable status. It ignores the considerable costs of establishing and running a trust plus the new costs for the council on administrators to set and monitor targets for the trust and ensure it complies with its contract. And it claims a trust would give residents “more input and influence over future decisions” while not mentioning that we would lose the meaningful democratic accountability that we currently have through our elected KCC representatives.
The statutory regulator has said that handing 99 libraries to a trust would be “an innovative way of working” – that means untested, an experiment! We can be proud of our library service. KCC describes it, correctly, as “low cost, efficient and cost effective” and as “richer and more varied than it has ever been”. This should not be experimented with – certainly not when the consultation document doesn’t fully explore the possible risks. Until April 8, everyone who lives, works or studies in Kent can help to ensure there is a proper debate about the future of Kent’s libraries by signing the ‘Save our public libraries’ petition at http://tinyurl.com/kentlibs.
Richard Stainton, Sydenham Street, Whitstable
Herne Bay Gazette, March 19th 2015