Library computer charges crash

The Conservatives’ decision to charge people for using library computers has been a complete failure.

Computer use is down 55% in Cambridgeshire’s libraries and the charging scheme has raised £4000 against a prediction of £50,000.

The Liberal Democrats and thousands of residents (see our petition) opposed the charges, saying it would both put people off using the computers and fail to raise money. We raised an amendment for the council not to go ahead with charges for computer use, but unfortunately our amendment was not supported by Labour/ Conservative councillors. For the background, see https://amandataylor.focusteam.org/2018/02/18/lib-dem-petition-against-library-computer-charges/.

When the Conservatives proposed bringing in charges for using the computers at libraries we were worried about the reduction of information to people who don’t have computers at home. We also thought that people would simply stop using the computers, just as they stopped parking at the Park & Ride sites when charges were levied there.

This is exactly what has happened: usage has slumped and the money raised won’t even cover the cost of collecting it (c 18K).

Don’t the Tories ever learn?

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.

Conservatives vote to close 19 children’s centres

Demo at Shire Hall

4,000 signature-petition

Conservative councillors have voted en bloc to close 19 children’s centres across the county, including Homerton, Romsey Mill and Cherry Hinton in this area.

The decision has been met with widespread dismay from parents concerned about the loss of vital services, including post-natal care, parenting classes and work with troubled families – all for a £1 million saving.

Nearly 4,000 people signed a petition set up by me with other Liberal Democrats which called on the Conservatives to reverse their proposals.

Many families attended the council debate on Tuesday, including some from this area, and eleven people spoke on the importance of children’s centres.

This is a brutal decision, which will cause lasting damage to many children and families. Early intervention with children is vital, and I fear that problems not picked up when children are young are likely to become more embedded, costing more to put right in the long run. The decision is even more sickening when you remember that only a few months ago, Conservative councillors voted themselves a massive pay rise.

CCC CC speech Oct 17

 

Children’s centres petition is IN. Decision will now be put to ALL county councillors

The councillor who chairs the Cambridgeshire County Council Children and Young People Committee, Simon Bywater, has announced that the debate on the children’s centre closures will be pulled from the 10th October committee meeting, and will instead be on the agenda of the full council meeting on 17th October. This means all county councillors will vote on the proposals.

Cllr Bywater, who took the chair of the committee in May, has issued the following statement:

“We have had a good response to the Children Centre Public Consultation with over 2000 completed responses. We welcome the level of detailed feedback and engagement we have had during this period of consultation and understand that whilst there has been some substantial support for the proposals from many residents there is also concern from others about some of the proposals.

In acknowledgment of this we have made the decision to take the consultation response and recommendations to Full Council on October 17. This will replace the planned presentation to Children and Young People Committee on October 10. We feel that this will give a wider group of councillors an opportunity to hear a wide range of views and take part in a debate before voting on the recommendations.”

Today, I went to Shire Hall to hand in our petition opposing the children’s centre closures, now on over 3,800 signatures. We will present it on the 17th October. This meeting will be open to the public, but if you wish to speak at the meeting you must inform the council by 10th October.

Help us save Homerton … and 18 other children’s centres!

With other Lib Dem councillors, I have been running a campaign challenging  the County Council’s proposals to ‘redesignate’ (close) 19 children’s centres, including Homerton in Holbrook Road, whose services would be moved to the Central Library in the city centre — costly for families in terms of time and money. Other centres on the hit list are centres in Trumpington, Cherry Hinton and Romsey.

Thank you if you have signed the Liberal Democrat petition opposing the closures, which has now exceeded the target of 3,000 signatures which we set when we launched it in July. We are hoping to use the petition to trigger a council debate on 17th October.

Before that, the closures will be debated at a meeting of the Children and Young People (CYP) Committee on the 10th October (2pm at Shire Hall). I am not on that committee but I shall be attending to speak against the proposals.

Would you be able to go along too, to show support for the campaign to defend the children’s centres, either by greeting councillors and listening to the debate, or by making a short speech challenging the closures? Please let me know if that is something you might be able to do, so that we can co-ordinate.

Thank you to all those who have written to me and other councillors.  Please write to other county councillors too, particularly Conservative ones (it’s the Conservative party that controls the county council, and that is supporting the closures) and the members of the CYP committee.

We have a Facebook page for the campaign: Cambridgeshire Children’s Centre campaign. Do have a look, and share with friends.

More children’s centre drop-in events

Following pressure from a number of concerned councillors and campaigners, the county council has announced eight more drop-in sessions about the proposals to close 19 children’s centres. The times should also be better for many working parents too. Here is an updated list of events with the new ones shown in bold.

Tuesday 15th August, 13:00-15:00, Waterbeach Children’s Centre

Wednesday 23rd August, 13:0-15:00, Oasis Children’s Centre, Wisbech

Thursday 24 August, 16:00-18:00, Cambridge Professional Development Centre, Trumpington
Wednesday 30 August, 14:00-16:00, Murrow Children’s Centre
Tuesday 5 September, 17.00-19.00, Sutton Children’s Centre
Wednesday 6 September, 17.00-19.00, Bar Hill Children’s Centre
Monday 11 September, 17.00-19.00, Linton Children’s Centre
Monday 11 September, 17.00-19.00, Bottisham Children’s Centre
Tuesday 12 September, 16:00-18:00, Ramsey Library
Wednesday 13 September, 18.30-20.00, Papworth Children’s Centre

Children’s centres consultation

Many thanks to everybody who’s signed our petition opposing the  County Council’s theats of cuts to children’s centres. It’s grown like wildfire since we launched it last Monday; this shows just how much the children’s centres and services are valued, not just by the people who use them but by the whole community.

There are two more things you can do to help:

SPREAD THE WORD

We are on 1,500 signatures after just a week, but we are aiming to get to 3,000 by September, as this will mean we can have a council debate and challenge the decision. So: can you please share the petition with your friends and family (even if you have  done so already)?

We also have some paper forms, so you can collect signatures in person and tell people about the campaign. Please email Amanda: [email protected], or leave a note on our Cambridgeshire Children’s Centres campaign Facebook page and we’ll get some forms to you.

SPEAK UP

The County Council has now launched its official consultation, which you can find at https://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/residents/children-and-families/children-s-centres/children-s-centres-consultation/. As you can see, there are very few facts or figures behind their proposals, and they seem to be struggling to justify what is really a vicious cost-cutting exercise. Please take part, and make sure they know what you think of their plans.

The consultation runs until 22nd September. As  the school holidays are a difficult time for families, we asked the Council if they would keep the consultation open later, but our request has been ignored.

The County is putting on a consultation event on 3rd August (2.30-4.30pm) at the Arbury Community Centre in Campkin Road. As in other areas, the consultation events are not near the centres that are under threat.

Homerton Children’s Centre will have staff available to discuss the consultation at their summer events, starting with one in Holbrook Park this Friday morning (21st July), 10-1130am. Tesco’s is kindly fundingsnacks.

Homerton CC SUMMER 2017

 

Conservatives threaten our children’s centres

Conservative councillors have today voted in favour of going ahead with a consultation to close 19 children’s centres, including Homerton Children’s Centre in Holbrook Road.

The centres themselves were only told last Tuesday, just as a public consultation is about to start.

In Cambridge, the Tories will also close children’s centres at Romsey Mill, Fawcett, and Cherry Hinton, which they say are ‘not needed’. Families are expected to  travel to other areas– eg Homerton families are directed to the Central Library in the city centre. Quite a distance if you are taking small children, and an extra cost if you have to pay bus fares or park in town.

The proposals have been met with anger and indignation by local people. A petition calling for a halt to the proposals has gained nearly 1,000 signatures in just 2 days.

Today I attended the County Council’s Children & Young People Committee and told them:

“Homerton Children’s Centre not only supports the excellent nursery education, but it provides a range of vital services to families: baby clinics and benefits advice and, at the sharp end, they deal with cases of mental health and domestic abuse.

If these services are taken away, the needs will not disappear but will still have to be met, by the NHS, the police and the councils. The Council’s £1m saving will cost that and more to other services, as well as the cost to quality of life.

It’s hard to see how families are going to access services easily if they have to go all the way into town to Central Library. This will not only turn a short visit into a lengthy trip in and out of town, but it will mean families have to pay for bus fares or parking. In practice, this will reduce the take-up from those who most benefit from the services.”

To make matters worse, the council’s consultation will run through the school holidays, 17th July – 22nd September – the worst possible time for families.

Liberal Democrats on the committee asked for the proposals to be sent back for more work, and for the consultation to be delayed until the beginning of next term but were outvoted by the Conservatives, who voted en bloc to go ahead.

We will continue to oppose these proposals to close children’s centres and to challenge the assumptions behind them. If you would like to join our campaign, please sign our petition opposing the closures, and follow our Facebook page Cambridgeshire Children’s Centres campaign.

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.