Not Al Gore!

On Tuesday SCC cabinet met in West Suffolk House in Bury St. Edmunds to discuss the budget for the coming year and approved a far reaching set of proposals to go forward to the Full Council Debate on 13th February in Ipswich.

According to the journalist from the EADT, Paul Geater, during a set of exchanges about the Library service in Suffolk I overused Al Gore’s famous ‘inconvenient truth’ catchphrase with reference to Labour’s continued attack on our Library Strategy and the simple fact that no Suffolk Library has closed and once he had tweeted his disapproval Labour Councillors in the room jumped on the bandwagon and retweeted what he said that if I used it one more time he would scream, of course I too don’t doubt Labour Councillor would scream because their attack is so weak and pathetic on Libraries even I would screen at their efforts!

It is of course my own fault as during my introduction to the Budget cabinet paper I spoke of the cultural change at the County Council over the years and how now it deliver services in many different ways from wholly owned companies, in-house provision, mutuals, to joint ventures, and, as is the case with Suffolk Library service an Industrial Provident Society commission by the County Council to deliver the library service, a service where every Library is open and customer satisfaction is higher than when it was a purely in-house service, public engagement through a series of friends and management groups is also higher than ever and in my own village, here the library is far more centred in the community than it ever was when it was a direct service see http://lakenheathlibraryfriends.wordpress.com/ . Across the county when I say I’m from Suffolk in local government circles people are keen to hear how we have made the necessary savings in our Library service and how we did it.

I suspect what annoys the opposition more than the words I used is that they so desperately wanted the Library savings to provide them with ammo for their attack position and it’s the complete opposite. Equally we must not forget that they so disagree with the motion than anyone, including our own former staff who make up the backbone of the organisation, could provide a better service at a lower cost than the Council it just so upsets them, bless.

On Tuesday beyond the setting of the Council tax I spoke of the cultural change that has taken place at Suffolk County Council and it’s this willingness to embrace new ways of working focused not on protecting Council jobs but on outcomes. The good people of Suffolk can be relieved that the luddites in the Suffolk Labour party riddled with dogma and old fashioned thinking are not in charge, putting up Council tax, cutting services, and blowing the reserves rather than do anything differently than the socialist utopian Big State.

Suffolk Libraries go from strength to strength

Alongside the freeze in council tax, in February we Conservatives voted through a county Council budget for the next 12 months that will achieve savings of £25million – the second part of a plan to save over £50million over two years.  We are doing this as a result of reductions to our grant from the government, together with on-going increases in the demands on our services, and the costs of providing them.

The savings will be achieved by reducing management and back-office costs, cutting bureaucracy and working in new, innovative and more efficient ways.

Just one shining example of this is a secure future for our Library service following our Conservative proposal and then decision of the council to move the management of the library network to a new operating model.

Responsibility for the day-to-day running of the county’s library services was transferred to Suffolk’s Libraries Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) at the beginning of August last year.

All Suffolk’s 44 libraries and the mobile, school and prison services now come under the direct control of the IPS – a first in the country – which works in partnership with local library groups to support and expand the service.

This has enabled us to retain our library network, working in partnership with local communities, while reducing the budget by around 30% over three years, from approximately £9m to £6m.

These changes will mean that, while the council faces continuing pressure on its resources, the county’s much-valued library service will have the scope to survive and potentially grow in the years ahead, just as other Councils are closing their libraries.

In Lakenheath I am proud to have played my part in the establishment of the Friend of Lakenheath Library – FOLK www.lakenheathlibraryfriends.wordpress.com/ a group that goes from strength to strength and is making the library a more relevant and popular place in our community, in a way that only local community members can rather than professional library development officers, yes there is a professional team at the back of each library and the service overall but it’s the community that will help make them flourish.

Library Decision

Really interesting Suffolk Cabinet meeting yesterday, lots of people asking questions and sharing their opinions about the Library proposals. It seems to me the acid test will be in a few years time as to the library usage. I have watched other county services simply address the savings needed by opening less which to my mind is hardly the way to make the libraries more relevant to peoples lives.

The great challenge now is not so much the savings that must be made, as I personally think the proposals will achieve those, but the degree to which the energy displayed in the debate on the Library service future continues and local residents make Libraries more relevant in community life and that will be self evident by the number of users registered and borrowings.

It seems to me the library service is outstanding, money has historically been lavished on it, my local library is outstanding, bright, modern, very well equipped and with a great member of staff. Yet it has 420 registered users, 1000 people signed the petition which ran for weeks and weeks in the local Co-op and the local newsagents, 80 people turned up at the public meeting called weeks in advance and extremely well advertised and I now have 6 people on the working party looking at how we get more involved, which is great; but the challenge ahead is to get far more of the 5,000 people who live in my home village engaged, using the library to borrow a book, log onto the internet or simply read the papers, that will be the true measure of all the debate.

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