|Members were informed that a valid petition had been received. In terms of the final confirmed petition, the number of signatories was as follows:-|
2430 paper signatures
787 electronic signatures
3217 in total
As the petition exceeded the threshold of 2,000 signatures and in accordance with Part 8a of the Council's Constitution the petition must be debated at a meeting of Council.
The petition stated that:-
"Fairfield Library should remain open because it is a vital and necessary asset to our community. Its closure would affect all age ranges.
Fairfield library has excellent footfall & usage which is unusual for a community library and thus highlights that the town centre library is not first choice for most people and is therefore meeting a need not met elsewhere.
The staff while being knowledgeable & friendly tend to know both the children & adults who visit, something which is not found in main libraries.
There is free & numerous parking next to the library.
There is a bus stop immediately outside of the library thus those with mobility issues and no private transport can easily access the library.
Fairfield library has easy access into its building for people with disabilities.
Fairfield library is an ideal meeting place for Dementia support & other groups as it is calming, relaxing, welcoming, familiar & compact.
The under school age children groups are always well attended & in this world of computers, is an introduction at an early age into the world of books.
It has quiet working & reading spaces.
It has a safe, child friendly room away from adults, which helps with safeguarding issues & gives children their own space.
Children with special needs who easily become overwhelmed in large, busy echoing spaces can relax & be themselves in the quiet, traditional setting of Fairfield library."
Mrs Jennings (Lead Petitioner - Proposed Closure of Fairfield Library) was in attendance at the meeting and was given the opportunity to present the reasons for and the background to the petition. Mrs Jennings presentation could be summarised as follows:-
- The library had been open for 50 wonderful years, providing access for all, to knowledge, enlightenment, discovery, wonder.
- A place to meet, a pathway to education, a safe haven while pursuing these goals
- 50 years on and the advance of technology had not changed the library's original needs, in fact those needs had grown
- Today and because of the change in modern society the library was needed more than ever before
- The library lay in a heavily populated area and close to 6 schools and some of the primary schools took the pupils to visit the library and as it is within walking distance it negated the need for transport
- The library had helpful, friendly knowledgeable staff and even though it was busy it kept a calm atmosphere with a warm welcoming safe feeling
- It was such a well-used library and was the second busiest in Stockton and issued more books per hour than the central library, this highlighted that the central library was not the first choice for residents around Fairfield library and was therefore meeting a need
- Computer and photocopying services were also very well used
- At the consultation meeting it was said that the mobile library service would be able to provide a replacement service for the residents of this large area, however the mobile library currently operated on a 3 weekly cycle, with one taken up for school visits, for the remaining 2 weeks it ran from 9.30am to 3.00pm including a lunch break, this was no good if you were working or wanted to visit with your children after school
- We were told in the consultation meeting that the mobile library could not meet these sorts of needs
- This building was not just a library, of the 3 full days that the library was open during school time, it hosted an over 60s group, stay play for babies and toddlers followed by rhyme time, craft group, chair dancing, funky feet, during school holidays craft sessions are held for children
- It was truly a community library and filled so many needs
- Not every child had access to a home computer or a quiet place to study and to do some research
- It was also a lot safer as people don't have to travel to use a library
- Some of the users were elderly and for them this maybe their only way of having conversation and company, some had dementia partners and the library was somewhere they could go to browse the shelves and still keep an eye on their partners
- Young mums and grandparents with children that had special needs who could easily become overwhelmed could relax and be themselves in a calm traditional setting
- The library had a child friendly room away from adults that helped with safeguarding issues and gave the children their own space
- The library also had good access for people with disability and mobility issues
- There was ample parking next to the library for those with their own transport and there was also a bus stop outside for those who relied on public transport
- When I was collecting signatures for the petition I was overwhelmed by the support to keep the library open and the outrage and despondency at the thought of losing it
- In August some residents would lose their only bus service, people had asked how would they get to Stockton, where would they park and would they manage to walk from the bus stop or car park and would they be able to carry books that distance whilst also using a walking stick or carrying shopping, mums with toddlers or children in tow, never mind the extra transport costs
- Those with severve mobility or disability issues had expressed concern about going to a library that was unfamiliar to them
- I'm well aware that in these times of austerity savings have to be made however the decision had been made to spend £6k on a duck and to spend money on the Globe Theatre and £17 million on a hotel; had the Council considered all options
- 3 years ago the library had its hours severely cut and residents felt that as money had been saved the library was now saved having lost 2 full days and one later opening night
- Had the other libraries in the Borough undergone an in depth study to see if they could reduce their hours, was there any need for the central library to have 2 late night openings a week
- I would also appeal for the Council to explore if the library could generate any income
- Please consider your decision to close the library, it is not an underused quiet backwater library
- The library needed to remain open as it is a necessary asset to the community
- The closure would affect all age ranges and the whole community, it was a short term decision with long term consequences, its closure would contribute to social isolation, a possible increase in mental health issues and therefore an increase on other services in the community and could impact on SBC's vision for better mental health within the community
- Its closure would remove so much from the communities of Fairfield, Hartburn, Grangefield, Elm Tree, Oxbridge and Parkfield
- The decision you will make is vitally important to a large section of the population that you represent, more than 3000 residents had made their feelings known, I implore you please do not let us down
A note was read out from a local child that attended Fairfield Library:-
- I go to the library to choose my books every 2 weeks, the librarian lets me click the books with a date stamp, please save the library
The Cabinet Member for Arts, Leisure and Leisure was then given the opportunity to respond to the presentation and the response could be summarised as follows:-
- Thank you Mrs Jennings for your passionate and committed approach to our library service. I have to say that passion and that commitment to the library service at Stockton is felt by all of us.
- There is much in this petition, and in the supporting statements by Mrs Jennings with which Cabinet can agree, and the passion and determination to protect our library service is one I share, as do many of my Cabinet Colleagues.
- Fairfield Library does indeed enjoy excellent footfall, it is well used. But this is not unique to Fairfield. Whilst the national trend had been downward, our library visits have continued to grow.
- With over 1 million users of the Library Service every year, Cabinet are well aware of its importance to the communities we serve.
- In many local authority areas Libraries have taken a disproportionate share of the cuts, book funds have been cut, staff made redundant and all but a skeleton of branches remain. In some of our neighbouring areas there are no professional librarians and dilapidated spaces with ageing and unchanging stocks of books gathered dust. In Stockton, where we are prepared to take tough decisions and where we know the value of libraries, we have built new libraries to replace old ones, refurbished and improved the town centre sites, and protected a staff structure that allowed the expertise and customer support that turns a room full of books into a library.
- The staff in Fairfield Library are indeed knowledgeable and friendly, as they are across all our branches. When we conducted a survey of library users, staff across all sites were ranked as the most valued part of the service, more important even than the books. And that's partly why we have said that we will not replace paid staff with volunteers in this Review.
- During our consultation, we have been asked to consider a greater role for volunteers, and we are prepared to do so, supporting paid staff to enhance the service, or taking responsibility for a deposit collection in a community building.
- Staffing costs, as you may be aware is the major element of cost in running Fairfield Library and if we took costs from there we would have to lose them from elsewhere. People like specialist staff for things like digital access for the most vulnerable or children's reading development experts. If we did this we would fail in our commitment to target the resources at the most vulnerable in the Borough.
- You are right to point to the fact that Fairfield has parking spaces, though they belong to the pub next door, and we know that many of the service users come by car, either for convenience or because they cannot walk long distances. A number of our other libraries also have parking immediately adjacent and I have asked officers to set out options to improve parking at other branches, in the report that is presented to Cabinet at the end of the current period of consultation.
- Similarly, you rightly point out that Fairfield is accessible for people with disabilities. All Stockton Council Library branches are accessible. Closure of Billingham Bedale and its replacement with a new town centre branch addressed access problems in Billingham, work currently underway in Yarm improves access and creates a new disabled toilet in the branch, and the new library in Ingleby Barwick will be fully accessible. We are constantly working to improve access.
- We recognise that supporting our ageing population is not just about physical access. You rightly point to the fact that Fairfield is a good meeting place for Dementia support groups, but all our libraries are dementia friendly, as are many of the community buildings we support. And whilst we recognise and value the use of libraries as community spaces and meeting rooms, we must be clear about the priorities for library resources and explore whether general community benefits arising from use of library buildings might be delivered in other ways.
- Most of us were introduced to libraries as children, and many of us go back to them as parents to introduce our children to the wonder of books and reading. All of our libraries have reading groups and programmes for children, like the Summer Reading Challenge which we launched last week.
- As you would expect, safeguarding is also crucial to all our library sites, not just Fairfield. Staff in every branch receive safeguarding training and we are constantly looking for ways of protecting the children and vulnerable adults that visit our facilities.
- The general public perception of a library as a place in which you must talk in a whisper is an outdated one. We're happy to have children's story times and cafés, group activities and music, but most of our library spaces most of the time are quiet, and there are many that are quiet all the time. So again, whilst the characteristic of Fairfield you cherish was a genuine one, it is not unique to that branch.
- The background to this petition is important, and those present tonight should know the context for this debate.
- Stockton Borough Council conducted a review of the library service in 2011, to define library service requirements as a basis for a major Building Asset Review which commenced in 2012. The 2011 study identified the priority status of staff and book stocks and defined the differentiated service model principle. Under that principle Cabinet agreed to prioritise investment in town centre libraries capable of serving the widest range of service users with the best possible quality of service. The Asset Review work concluded that the branches that were not in town centres should be closed or relocated. They were Billingham Bedale, Thornaby Westbury Street, Roseworth, Eaglescliffe and Fairfield.
Bedale, Westbury Street and Roseworth were subsequently closed or relocated. In May 2013 Cabinet approved a recommendation to maintain Fairfield and Eaglsecliffe with reduced hours because it had not been possible to find workable alternative locations, but to review options again in 2014.
- Whilst there was pressure on budgets in 2011 when this process began, it is modest when compared to the current position. The Council has had a 30% reduction in its budgets in the past 5 years, and still has more than £20million in savings to find.
- There was no magic expenditure item that could match this sum. We need to look at savings, even if they appear to be modest savings across the board and if they can't be found in one area they must be found in other areas.
- Against that backdrop, and with reluctance, we began consultation in May on the closure of Eaglescliffe and the possible closure of Fairfield. That consultation prompted this petition.
- The decision on the outcome of the consultation and the potential closure is not for now and there is a way to go yet. I have meetings booked with Ward Councillors in the affected Wards and we are looking at positive and constructive proposals and we would consider all options that would address the impact of the proposals and consider any alternatives. In order to fully explore the ideas and to show good faith in this we have moved the date when this is going to be considered from September to October. That gives sufficent time to look at all the proposals.
- Cabinet in October will consider a report on the findings of the consultation and the options for achieving the necessary savings for the Library Service.
- I assure you Mrs Jennings, and all the Councillors and members of the public present, that we will give very careful consideration to all the issues raised in the petition and your supporting presentation when we deliberate over that report and make our final decision.
Members then debated the issues of the Petition. Members comments could be summarised as follows:-
- Twice in the last week I have witnessed Stockton Councils consultation process. Cabinet was criticised strongly by Catholic parents in Norton, the Heads of St Michaels and St Josephs and even by Bishop of Hexham and Durham representative.
- Tonight we can embrace fully the consultation process, put aside the idea that the decision has already been made, avoid half-truths and move the goal posts back to what was originally stated staffing could be found for a re-located library.
- Over 3000 signatures, truly heart felt appeals from library users. We have not that the opportunity to scrutinise the comments yet. All the options have not yet been explored.
- £16k running costs could be reduced to zero with imagination. £11k was wiped off this revenue figure for today when it was discovered that some figures had been doubled up in accountancy. Solar panels currently sit on the roof of the central library. Fairfield Library was the same construction with a flat roof. The flat at the rear of the library could be let and income could be generated.
- Staffing cost could be reduced significantly, Eaglescliffe staffing was £20k less with only 3 hours less opening than Fairfield Library.
- Almost one third of the running costs are attributed to the consolidated budget. Why not re-locate a small department to the library to avoid lone working of the librarian.
- Volunteers could at least be considered when they have been ruled out from the start.
- 3 out of the 4 key policy principles were none financial performance and could be met by retaining first line services at the library.
- Closure would have a knock on effect of other services. Bus journeys would be increased, loneliness could be avoided, this was a signposting service
- I hope the consultation process is fair and residents are given feedback and a solution is found
- It was not helpful to put things in newsletters that just aren't true, to go on about the Council spending money on a duck, when we didn't, a business did and to talk about the hotel which is capital spending and not the day to day running of services
- I have carried out some research on libraries and it appears that Councils across the country, some Conservative controlled that are having to make tough decisions, not because they want to but because of budget cuts. At Devon Council 28 out of their 50 libraries are facing closure. At Swindon Council 14 out of 15 are no longer be going to be under Council control.
- At the budget meeting of Council in February the Conservative Group put forward an amendment that would have resulted in far deeper cuts and you would have put on an adult social care levy, there would have been no chance to save the library
- There were avenues being explored and the consultation was not finished
- The vision of Stockton Council was to improve public services and the quality of life for everyone in the Stockton area
- To close the library would be a retrograde step to Stockton's vision
- The tax payers of Stockton deserve a better deal and therefore the library should remain open as it is a vital asset to our community
- I would like assurance that every effort and avenue would be looked at to try and keep Fairfield Library open
- We were the only Members that spoke out against the potential closure of Fairfield library at the Cabinet meeting and in our newsletter we told people that there would be a consultation about the potential closure of Fairfield library. Out of the 2800 residences in our ward Mrs Jennings was the only person that contacted me and I commend the work that she has done. None of us want to see the end of the library as it is a brilliant library. I will be in discussion about possible ways to save the library with Councillor Norma Wilburn.
- None of us like to make cuts or close libraries
- Thank you to Councillor Norma Wilburn for giving us an extra month's consultation
- It is clear from the petition that the library is of huge value to the residents of Hartburn, Fairfield, Grangefield, Parkfield & Oxbridge and Elm Tree and surrounding areas
- It was one of the best used in the Borough and was furthest from any other library
- We had heard how important the library was to the most vulnerable in our society during the last 50 years
- There are major concerns about the consultation was being conducted and there is a suggestion that having one officer working on the Youth Service Review along-side the libraries review limited capacity to look at potential solutions
- The Council's own objectives and the figures that have been provided in relation to the running costs are an ever moving feast
- It had become apparent that "on-site", who we were originally told didn't have any interest in running the site have put in a business plan of sorts with costings and a plan of how they could operate the site. This never reached the consultation meetings or indeed members of the Council
- The briefing provided by officers on what we are looking to achieve was somewhat grey with ever moving goalposts. No one knows what the scale of savings has to be achieved to save the library. We have already identified ways of reducing costs from the quoted £77k to £36k, that was a saving of 53%
- In order to save this treasured community asset we need to know what level of saving is required rather than throwing incomprehensive hurdles in the way of any idea or plan
- The co-location in Yarm was an illustration of the fantastic innovative work undertaken by some of our officers and it adopted a positive attitude on how this could work rather than why it can't, I'm confident that this valuable community asset could be saved
- When you look at the community activity, the educational and social benefits provided by this library, the £36k we would need to invest is indeed very good value for money
- The proposals for Fairfield Library were tabled as part of the MTFP at Cabinet on 18th February 2016. It was striking that all Cabinet members present voiced their concern about what this Tory government was doing to Council services including libraries. The only local Councillor who got up and spoke at that meeting was the late and much loved Michael Clark whose constituents in Grangefield had contacted him and his wife Councillor Carol Clark saying how much they loved this service and how sad it would be too lose the community hub. Michael spoke with conviction and made a passionate plea for Cabinet to do all they could to find a way of saving the library. It was noticeable there were no signs of the Conservative Councillors from either Hartburn or Fairfield, maybe they had more important things to do on that day or maybe they just had nothing to say on the matter. Now that Michael had sadly passed away they had suddenly found their voice. I'm sure fellow Councillors and members of the public would reach their own conclusion about their motives. It was all left down to Michael Clark to stand up and make the case for all those that use the library and not for the first time he did his community proud.
- Libraries could be very important to the community and education was a way out of poverty and could address some of the inequalities that existed in the Borough. We are a borough of great inequalities.
- In the bigger picture this Council got elected on a policy to protect the most vulnerable from the worst of the Conservative cuts. We have tried to manage the reduction in budget and keep the most vulnerable protected from the cuts which is a difficult task. Libraries are important but you can't equate that to some of the services that keep children safe and adults that are cared for in our community who are more vulnerable that the average library user. That is not to say that we shouldn't be doing a lot more in that area and libraries do a lot more than just lend books.
- Roseworth library did close and then did re-locate to the Children's Centre but we were lucky that there was another building not too far away. It is not the same offer but it is a better offer as you can link up with the Children's Centre and you can open some of those services as well so there is potential and I trust my colleague Councillor Norma Wilburn to exhaust all these possibilities. We are trying to cover this Borough with libraries and there was a strategy in place for multi-centres where you could sustain the library within other services that the Council deliver.
- There is a safety net, the mobile library would never replace the library but there was a service available and there was a housebound service that hadn't been mentioned.
- IBIS fully support the Cabinet decision of September 2011 which endorsed the principle for differentiated library services based on town centre libraries. Ingleby Barwick was identified as a town centre at the Cabinet meeting in December 2011 but we will look at all the options available to us.
- No Councillor that had been elected to Stockton wanted to make any cuts to any services and the Labour Group is agreed on that but as a responsible group who had been elected to be the executive of this Council we have got to go through the process of trying to balance our budget. Over the last few years this Council has had to save £52 million because government funding had continued to be cut. We still have to find a further £21 million of savings to balance the budget by 2020.
- Tough decisions have to be made and this was just the first decision and they would be right across the service areas.
- Some of the savings are quite small but the savings do add up to large amounts
- The Council is in a difficult financial position. If the savings can be found elsewhere then we would happily look at them. It is not a conspiracy theory, we are not trying to do down Fairfield library and we would like to try and hold on to Fairfield library but we need to make savings. If ideas come forward it is all well and good but do remember that £52k of those savings are from staff, they are not from the building, the staff are the greatest resource the library has and that is what the libraries users say and that is what we must listen too.
- In terms of consultation, it is never perfect but we have got 527 responses to the survey and a lot of them had got a lot of information in there and hopefully they will add some flavour to the debate but consultation is not a referendum.
- I do hope we can save the library and whatever we can do we will do.
Councillor Bob Cook then moved the following motion, seconded by Councillor Norma Wilburn:-
"This petition will be considered along with the other consultation responses at the meeting of Cabinet scheduled for 6th October 2016."
Councillor Lynn Hall moved the following amendment to the motion.
"The issue does eventually come back to Council for decision."
The Worshipful the Mayor reported that the issue was a Cabinet decision and not a Council decision.
Councillor Hall asked for clarification on the rules for a petition that has over 2000 signatures.
The Proper Officer reported the rules governing a petition was that if a petition had over 2000 signatures it would be considered at a meeting of Council and this petition had been considered at this meeting of Council. What was happening now was that the petition would now be taken into account when Cabinet made its final decision on the matter in October 2016. That was perfectly in line with the constitution and the way in which the petition scheme worked.
The amendment to the motion by Councillor Lynn Hall was therefore ruled not valid.
A vote then took place on the motion moved by Councillor Bob Cook, seconded by Councillor Norma Wilburn and the motion was agreed.
The Worshipful the Mayor thanked Members for their contribution to the debate and thanked Mrs Jennings and members of the public for their attendance at the meeting indicating that written confirmation of the decision that had been made would be provided in due course.