Suffolk’s Library ‘consultation’ – and Woodbridge

I have just written  to the officers and Portfolio-holder in charge of Suffolk’s libraries to propose that SCC grants an extension for Woodbridge (and potentially many other areas like it)  to the 30 April deadline for the Suffolk Libraries ‘consultation’..   Briefly, I’m suggesting this extension on the following compelling grounds:

  1. An unclear, inconsistent message. It has only recently been made clear by SCC that this supposed Library ‘consultation’ is in reality a seemingly compulsory bidding process (see note 1 below, also Appendix d)
  2. Woefully Inadequate financial figures provided to support the consultation document. This is not my personal opinion, but the opinion of the venture capitalist to whom I showed the document   – and who was frankly incredulous (see Note 2 below)
  3. Overambitious timescale: the excuse given by SCC for the paucity and poor quality of supporting materials intended to elicit ‘expressions of interest’ in the Library  is the short timescale leading up to the library ‘consultation’ period.

    In reality this Suffolk scheme was announced nationally in early August 2010 giving experienced library staff 5 months to prepare for it before the consultation started.  This is considerably more time than the council is offering to utter library tyros for them to discover whether an ‘expression of interest’ is even possible. This seems an unreasonably ungenerous and compressed timescale for such a complete shift in library provision
  4. Inbuilt demographic disadvantage of towns such as Woodbridge. Woodbridge being a small town which punches above its weight, is also a large focal point for a vast geographical area and has a library worthy of being classed a ‘county library’. But with a voting population of around 7500 , the town council precept is very small. The range of possible local volunteers also small.  When this becomes a locality issue, our specific locality is too small  (see Note 3)
  5.  Specific disadvantage for Woodbridge: Woodbridge is adjacent to Wilford the geographically huge, bounded-by-the-sea-on-more-than-one-side, libraryless district  that runs eastward from Woodbridge to the sea, southward to the sea at Bawdsey, and northward to just below Aldeburgh. Because Wilford is libraryless, Woodbridge library is the only available option for most Wilford residents. Yet, due to the sad death of its incumbent county councillor,  Wilford has been without a county council representative for the entire duration  of the library consultation/bidding process.  This discriminates against significant locality decisions being made at county council level
  6. Imminent change to Town and District council: like many other places in Suffolk, all the local representatives of Woodbridge (apart from me) are up for election or standing down  on 5 May – a week after the consultation finishes. They are thus much less able or motivated  to make an ‘expression of interest’ than the councillors elected on May 6 who will have a 4 year tenure in front of them (see Note 4 below).
  7. Limited possibilities of Income Generation. Clearly unhappy that Woodbridge as a whole or in part  has made no ‘expression of interest’ in the library consultation, SCC library officers recently suggested income generation by:  late book fines, room lettings inc out of hours, teaching IT skills, commission charged via a community gallery.  Also suggested were things that have been tried in libraries but that are proven to make less money: DVDs, reading glasses and book tokens.  
    Cannot anyone see how futile this appears, when it is impossible to disambiguate the much larger supporting figures provided? (See Note 2 below)

All these reasons make it hard for a businesslike case to be made for any ‘expression of interest’  in running a library within the timescale Suffolk CC have set out. The people of Woodbridge are likely to be too well-grounded in reality to want to make any proposal under such circumstances. It would seem a great shame that they should be thus deprived of a chance to have a reasoned and factually supported say in how their local library provision is to be altered 


 The Supporting Notes can be found here

Explore card, RIP

Today, April 1, is a sad day for Suffolk. Not only has Jeremy Pembroke, Leader of Suffolk County Council resigned, but there has been another departure, one which, in truth, will affect far more people in Suffolk far more immediately. Today the Tory administration that Mr Pembroke has led for the last 6 years has seen off the Suffolk Explore card.

Any of the 28,130 post-16 year old cardholders, relying on their Explore card to get to school, college or work will find that from today it will not be valid, and that from today they may be paying double the amount for the same journey, making other arrangements, or staying at home.

In connection with the same administration’s cuts in subsidised transport services (many of which also start today) this is a huge blow to the young, the poor and the rural – and most particularly to the young, rural, poor.

Currently the scheme has 52,555 card holders representing 55% of the eligible group. The Explore card was divided into two age ranges 5-15 (24,425 card holders ) and 16-19 (28,130 cardholders).

The only thing wrong with this card was that Suffolk County Council’s administration identified cutting it as a means of saving money.   A pretty safe move, if you’re not worried about social justice. After all, people can’t vote until they’re 18 – and by then they might have forgotten who was responsaible, or  might not be voting in Suffolk!

This cut was made halfway through the school and college year.   And who cares?   Certainly  not the administration who runs Suffolk County Council! They didn’t even do an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA)  before they decided to abolish our Explore card  because their pre-screening decided that :

there may be an adverse impact to the 15-19 age group but this is not unlawful discrimination as providing the scheme is not a statutory duty.  Concluding: This function should not move to a full impact assessment as it is a discretionary activity and has been indentified as a budget saving proposal.

Good excuse!

Can I mention that the press release notifying us of Mr Pembroke’s departure praises “his unquestioned commitment to protect the most vulnerable in society”.


Please continue signing the petition to save SCC’s  eXplore cards We need to get 3,675 signatures to get this decision back to Council – and now have less than 1,000 to go.
The Explore card scheme was the brainchild of Suffolk County’s previous Liberal-Labour coalition, started in January 2005,
and was designed to help tackle social isolation by enabling young people to travel cheaply from rural areas to the main urban centres in the county as well as within those urban centres. It is also designed to assist the local economy of Suffolk by enabling access for young people to retail and leisure opportunities. The scheme is also PASS approved and therefore qualifies as a Proof of Age card.
Currently the scheme has 52,555 card holders representing 55% of the eligible group. The Explore card is divided into two age ranges 5-15 (24,425 card holders ) and 16-19 (28,130 cardholders).
In Leicestershire a similar county council proposal for withdrawal of non-statutory bus services
triggered an immediate EIA (unlike here in Suffolk)  which concluded public consultation  with all  affected groups is essential (unlike here in Suffolk) , including special interest organisations,invited to comment publicly on the proposals to curtail non-statutory service provision (unlike here in Suffolk).  Consultation documentation to be available by web, post (and large print on request). Once more, unlike here in Suffolk!