Liberal Democrat petition against library computer charges

Campaigning against the Library Enterprise Centre plans

Liberal Democrats in Cambridgeshire have launched a campaign to protect free use of computers at libraries.

County councillors last week considered a package of measures for the future of the library service, building on workshops with the public and library campaigners as well as with councillors. The measures included several sensible initiatives, such as improving occupancy of library meeting rooms and co-locating council services — for example, showcasing assistive technology in libraries, providing support to vulnerable people. Other suggestions were to raise income to support the library service by putting on some paid-for events and maximising room income from commercial users. You can read the paper here.

One of the proposals Liberal Democrats object to is charges for use of library computers. The Conservatives are proposing to introduce a £1 charge for using library computers after the first half hour. We believe that the charge will be damaging to people on very low incomes, especially to people applying for jobs – as many employers now require applications to be made on line. People on Universal Credit need to spend time job-hunting, and to prove that they are doing so.

Machines to collect the charges will cost £18,800. You do the sums for how long it will take to recoup the initial outlay. I don’t think the Conservative councillors have!

I also question the raison d’être of the charge, to generate revenue. Experience with bringing in charges for services has shown that usage drops off dramatically. Have Conservative councillors learnt nothing from the fiasco of their petty parking charges at the Park & Ride sites?

The County Council committee responsible for libraries is the Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee, on which I sit. I am one of two Liberal Democrats on the committee; there is also one Labour councillor, one Independent one — and six Conservatives, including the chair and vice-chair.

Liberal Democrat councillor Henry Batchelor proposed an amendment to scrap the computer charges. We were outvoted and the amendment fell, meaning that the charges might still be introduced. We were sorry that the Labour councillor on the committee, Jocelynne Scutt, refused to support the amendment.

Liberal Democrats believe that access to the internet is a key element of equality in the modern world, and that the County Council has a responsibility to provide access to computers to those, who for reasons of finance or where they live may not have high quality internet access in their homes.

The Liberal Democrats have set up a petition opposing the charges.  Over 500 people had signed even before the meeting.  You can sign it at http://www.cambridgelibdems.org.uk/library_computer_charging.

Meet the Candidates: St John the Evangelist

Amidst all the excitement of an impending General Election and a metro mayor election, I am working hard defending my county council seat. Elections take place on 4th May.

Tomorrow night, Thursday 20th April, I shall be at St John’s Church for the Queen Edith’s Community Forum’s hustings for the county council elections, along with the three other candidates.

Do come along and ask questions about local issues and hear how we address these on the County Council. The County is responsible for vital services including transport, highways (streetlighting and roads maintenance) social care, health scrutiny, children’s and young people’s service, libraries and heritage.

We Liberal Democrats have published a manifesto for Cambridgeshire, which you can read here.

Kora — kaput

rescind On Friday, Cambridgeshire County Council‘s Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee rescinded its earlier decisions to allow Kora-Regus to set up an Enterprise Centre in Cambridge Central Library.

Conservatives on the County Council, who had previously voted through the proposal en bloc (first in March and again in June), this time voted to rescind the decision and for council officers to identify alternatives.

Councillors from the Liberal Democrat, Labour, Independent and UKIP groups had opposed the Kora plan on the grounds of inadequate evidence as well as its impact on the library service. We were especially angry about the clandestine way in which the Kora project was pursued by officers. An Freedom of Information request by Paul Lythoge revealed that there had been 37 secret meetings between the council officers and Kora. A confidentially agreement had effectively suppressed information from members of the Council charged with responsibility for the library service.

The decision was first taken in March. I opposed it, but the Tories and the UKIP vice-chair voted it through. I was successful in leading a call-in resulting in the decision being reconsidered on 2nd June. This time I was not the only councillor to vote against as the vote was 6-7; again, the BluKip band rubberstamped the officers’ proposals.

It was only when the Kora MD was exposed as being in the middle of a disqualification by the investigative local blogger Phil Rodgers that the Tories withdrew their support.

Tory Cllr Steve Crisell described himself as “embarrassed, disappointed and angry” and vowed to investigate individuals concerned, but acknowledged the “goodwill and ideas” of the library campaigners.

The committee passed a motion to rescind its previous decisions and also:

“To request the Executive Director of ETE to identify alternative options for increasing income at Cambridge Central Library by working with Central Library staff, an elected members group and library users to explore all options which may include developing a cultural and educational centre for Cambridge and the County”.

Library Enterprise Centre: next stop Council

To:
Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive, Cambridgeshire County Council
Quentin Baker, Chief Legal Officer, Cambridgeshire County Council

I wish to request a review of the decision on the Enterprise Centre taken at
Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee on 2nd June, and would like it to
be debated at Full Council, or at GPC, should the quorum of members requesting a
review be lower than 24.

  • Members did not have enough information to make an informed decision:
  • Alternative options to the KORA proposal were not properly researched.
  • Financial projections for KORA had no evidence to support them.

Amanda Taylor

Controversy still rages over the Tory proposals to let out Cambridge Library to a private firm. Proposals were first put to councillors  on the Highways & Community Infrastructure committee in March to allow private firm Kora to take over most of the third floor of Cambridge Library to create an Enterprise Centre. I voted against, but Tory and UKIP councillors banded together to vote the proposal through.

I led a call-in of the decision, leading to the decision being revoked and the Highways committee being asked to reconsider, following consultation and extra information.

So we debated it again this week.

Frustratingly, Tory councillors and the UKIP vice-chair once again banded together to drive through the proposals, despite woefully sketchy information on alternative options and the Kora business plan and financial projections being extremely dubious. With a great deal of work by a campaign group formed from the 38 Degrees petition to save the library, we had hoped to carry the day, but in the end, the vote went in favour of the Kora proposals 7-6.

Colleagues and I have now asked for the Full Council to review this decision, as we not only deplore the impact on the rest of the library operation, but we question the credibility of the financial case that is the raison d’être of this ill thought out proposal. And if it doesn’t make money, why compromise the library service?

We need to get 24 councillors to request a review. If we pass that hurdle, the next one is to get a majority vote at Council to change the recommendation. That will need a simple majority of the county councillors present to vote for a change – 35 out of 69 if everyone attends. A simple majority — but not at all simple to achieve.

We will need some minds to change. Perhaps you can help us by talking to your friends who live outside Cambridge, and ask them to talk to their county councillors?

For background on the proposals, we have produced some FAQs. Please see http://amandataylor.focusteam.org/2015/04/29/cambridge-library-and-the-tory-enterprise-centre-faq/#page-content

Rediscover the Rock Road of 100 years ago

As the chilling stories of the First World War are retold in this centenary commemoration, do you sometimes wonder what everyday life was like in 1914 in this area? Not just for those at the front, but for children, wives and families at home; for land girls, conscientious objectors, and other non-combatants?

The Friends of Rock Road Library have been awarded a £9,500 grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a two year project documenting the area around the Library during the First World War.Since then they have been researching the impact of WWI on the lives of people in this area.

In ten days time, 27th November, the Friends will be opening their ‘Stories from a Neighbourhood’ exhibition to showcase their findings, telling the story of the Rock Road area at war through maps, photographs, biographies, souvenirs and newspaper articles about the people who lived in our houses 100 years ago. The launch event on the 27th will have the bonus of a talk about First World War Cambridge by local historian Mike Petty.

The event starts at 8pm, viewing at 7.30pm.

The new Party President of the Liberal Democrats is Baroness Sal Brinton, who for many years worked and lived in Cambridge, including a spell in Cavendish Avenue. Sal stood twice for Parliament in South East Cambridgeshire before moving to Watford and was Education Spokes and Group Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Cambridgeshire County Council.

But her experience is not limited to politics: she started her career working on Dr Who and Playschool, and later worked as Bursar at two university colleges as well as running local charities, eg Christian Blind Mission.
Sal said: “I am honoured to have been elected President by the members of the Liberal Democrats.
“My role will be to represent the members, and make the changes that they want happen.
“My first priority will be to move the renowned campaign fighting ability of the Lib Dems into top gear, so that we win more seats in both Westminster and in councils across the UK in the General and Local Elections.”

Nine Wells bird survey by local resident John Meed

Local musician John Meed is a singer-songwriter of folk with a political angle – but there is more than one string to his bow.

He’s also made a study of local birds, and has been carrying out counts over the past few years; his research has provided valuable evidence in submissions to the Cambridge Local Plan. He has just released a report on farmland birdlife in the area south of Addenbrooke’s, including the lovely Nine Wells area and he very generously said I might share it.

So: to learn all about your singing and soaring neighbours: skylarks, corn buntings and yellowhammers and their contribution to local biodiversity, visit John’s website to read his report

What’s more, you can listen to tracks from John’s latest album at the same time. Enjoy!

Cutting the tape: Vice-Chair and Mayor join locals to celebrate library transformation

RRL tape Last night, the new Mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Gerri Bird, and the vice-chair of Cambridgeshire County Council, Cllr Sebastian Kindersley, came to cut the tape across the new doors to the library garden and to help us launch the new community room.

We heard from the Friends of Rock Road Library Treasurer James Berry about how the Friends had come into being; standing up for the library when it was under threat, and later working to achieve the improvements that we celebrated last night. We were also treated to a stimulating talk by Mr Owers of NARB Architects on potential future developments at the library.

The library was packed – in addition to our special guests, there were library professionals who had come to look, community development workers, volunteers, Friends, readers galore, several councillors — and as you can see in the picture, the library’s younger members were out in force!

The new community room is currently displaying original illustrations by Arthur Rackham, the artist of Alice in Wonderland and both the creator and inspirer of the Mad Hatter. It is hoped to put on more displays of this nature and ideas are welcome. The room will also be available for use by local groups Monday-Saturday, and booking charges start from just £4 an hour. To book, ring 01223 728530 or email [email protected]

Three men in a boat in a library

Three men in a boat

The Friends of Rock Road Library invite local residents to enjoy a dramatisation of Jerome K Jerome’s comic novel Three Men in a Boat – a one-man show by local actor Geoff Hales.

The show is at Rock Road Library and starts at 8 p.m. after a welcome drink. There is no fixed charge but the Friends invite the audience to donate towards their funds, which go back into events such as this.

Geoff Hales read English at Cambridge, went away and came back! He runs his own theatre company, ‘Travelling Theatre’, which performs one-man shows about great writers. He has appeared all over England and in Prague, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Germany and Switzerland.

Three Men in a Boat was first published in 1899 and has never been out of print since. Come and see why!

NOTES FOR EDITORS

The Friends of Rock Road Library support the work of the library and arrange community events to support it. The Friends Group originally came into being to create a garden at the back of the library. See http://rockroadlibrarygarden.blogspot.com/.

They supported the library throughout the period of threatened cuts to its funding.

 

Rock Road Library is on Rock Road, between Cherry Hinton Road and Blinco Grove.