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.

Reprieve for mobile libraries and roads maintenance

Cambridgeshire Lib Dem councillors are relieved that the County Council (Highways and Community Infrastructure Committee has had a change of heart on the axing of the mobile library service and cuts to highways maintenance (eg potholes) and will no longer recommend these cuts to the Council’s General Purposes Committee.

We were appalled that the Council was even considering ending the mobile library service. Sometimes the mobile library is the only contact people in rural areas have with the councils. Time and time again when I spent a day on the van, borrowers described it as ‘a lifeline’.

Potholes and cracked pavements are amongst the most frequent complaints that councillors receive. They make life so difficult for people tryjng to get about, whether by car, on foot or on a bike. Poor surfaces are particularly dangerous for older people, sometimes resulting in broken bones and hospitalisation. Cutting this budget would have been not only a false economy but a slap in the face for the people of Cambridgeshire, so I’m pleased that the committee saw sense and decided to maintain funding for this core service.

But we were disappointed that Conservative councillors voted to endorse:

stopping school crossing patrols
turning lights off at night
cutting grants to agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau — when the need for help with money and benefits grows ever more acute.

We were sorry that Labour councillors sat on their hands for the votes on the streetlighting switch-off, mobile libraries and the CAB grant. What was the point of their being at the meeting if they do not vote?
These cuts will be included in the budget recommendations to the Council’s General Purposes Committee, which meets later this month. You can help defend these services by writing to your county councillor.

 

Cambridgeshire volunteers first winners of new award

When Cambridgeshire libraries put out a call for volunteers a couple of years ago, both the Library Service and the Friends were delighted with the numbers of people who came forward. At Rock Road Library, people come to help with gardening, reading with children, giving talks, and telling stories. I’ve seen people of all ages taking part, from the under-8s to the over-80s.

Now the willingness of local people to get stuck in with supporting these great community services has been recognized with a special award.

Cambridgeshire’s Library and Archive Service has been presented with the Five Star Focus Award for its volunteering programme by Volunteering, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, a partnership of Volunteer Centres.

Not only that, but the Library & Service is the first winner in the county.

Cambridgeshire Libraries, and Archives have a wide range of valuable volunteers of all ages – from Computer Buddie and Rhymetime Assistants to the Library at Home service.

Anyone interested in a volunteering opportunity with Cambridgeshire Libraries and Archives can find out more on the Cambridgeshire County Council website, at http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/leisure/libraries/community.htm

Petitions limit slashed. Road repairs taskforce set up.

The new Cambridgeshire County Council met last week. I spoke in two of the motions, both of which were voted through:

Petitions: the number of signatures to get a petition debated by the full Council is slashed from over 15,000 to just 3,000.

I seconded this motion, which was proposed by my colleague Cllr Ian Manning.

A Conservative amendment to change limit from 3,000 to 5,000 was defeated by 35 votes to 29 with both UKIP and Labour voting with the Lib Dem group to reject the proposed limit as still too high.

No petition had ever succeeded in reaching the old threshold, not even the massive Save Cambridgeshire Libraries petition of 2011, which was just over 8,000.

Tackling the road repairs backlog. proposed by Cllr David Jenkins

There is a staggering £300m backlog in our road repairs, and it is growing at £50m a year. Liberal Democrats in the last Council succeeding in getting a review, and an injection of £90m to do more work, which includes next month’s work on Hills Road, but it is not enough. This motion called for an officer taskforce to develop an action plan on addressing this deficit for next year’s budget.

I spoke on the importance of having decent roads and pavements for daily life, whether it is work, social or leisure activity; and the need for safe pavements of all of us, especially anyone with disabilities.

The motion was carried by 32 votes to 28.

Community Library Assistant wanted for Rock Road Library

Are you a ‘people person’? Rock Road Library is advertising for a Community Library Assistant, to work for 14.5 hours a week. For details, see here.

The postholder will be working with community groups, so customer services experience is sought, as well as a passion for libraries and what they can offer.