No ‘mandate’ required for future of Shepley Library

shepley_library_1040x400I read in the recent edition of the village magazine that a 'mandate' is required from villagers before any plans to safeguard the future of Shepley Library can be taken forward.

This is not exactly the case and the confusion needs clearing up. The power to decide the future of the library building rests with Kirklees Council, not the local community. So, Shepley residents do not have any legal or mandate powers in this respect. But, a community-based initiative to save the library does need to demonstrate to Kirklees Council that the business plan (1) is sustainable; (2) has the interests of the community at the core, and (3) has general support across the local community before an asset transfer can take place.

And therein lies the problem. What can Shepley do with its library building? It's clear that library services alone won't sustain the building's future under the current government's austerity spending.

And this is not likely to change after the General Election in May next year, according to Kirklees Council. Since 2011, cuts in national spending have led to the closure of 324 libraries, the handing over of 400 more to volunteers, and the loss of 6,000 staff jobs. If the fallout figures quoted in today's article in the Guardian are correct, we ought to be applauding the Council for keeping the libraries open for so long - until 2017, in fact!

Independent Library Report

Last week the government published its Independent Library Report into the future of England's libraries. The Report made 3 key recommendations

  • 1. The provision of a national digital resource for libraries, to be delivered in partnership with local authorities;
  • 2. The setting up of a task and finish force, led by local government, in partnership with other bodies involved in the library sector, to provide a strategic framework for England, and to help in implementing the following;
  • 3. The task force, to work with local authorities, to help them improve, revitalise and if necessary, change their local library service, while encouraging, appropriate to each library, increased community involvement.

Despite the growth in digital technologies, the report makes it clear that there is still a clear need and demand within communities for modern, safe, non-judgemental, flexible spaces, where citizens of all ages can mine the knowledge of the world for free, supported by the help and knowledge of the library workforce. This is particularly true for the most vulnerable in society who need support and guidance and to children and young people who benefit from engagement with libraries outside of the formal classroom environment.

All inclusive, secular community hub

The library does more than simply loan books. It underpins every community. It is not just a place for self-improvement, but the supplier of an infrastructure for life, learning and inclusion, from babies to old age, offering support, help, education, and encouraging a love of reading.Whether you wish to apply for a job, or seek housing benefit, or understand your pension rights or the health solutions available to you, or learn to read, the library can assist.

And I'm particularly eager to develop the 'digital' opportunities the library building can bring to the local community and economy.

If it's not sustainable, it's not sustainable...

But, the cold fact is that the Shepley Library building will have to make money to remain in community hands. And that means diversifying its use. If the community cannot come up with an innovative business plan to safeguard the building's future, it will close.

The new 'Friends of Shepley Library Steering Group' will have to make a calculated business decision over the next few months on whether the library building can be put to good community use, or not!

Fact, if it's not sustainable, it's not sustainable...

But, I am encouraged by the emails I have received in the past fortnight from residents who have welcomed the initiative to safeguard the future of the library "on behalf of the silent majority across the community." The Parish Council's full support of any sustainable and community-based initiative to take over the building helps enormously.

And I trust that when the steering group finally meets in early January 2015 we'll have much to discuss. But, we also need more people to come forward and give this fantastic opportunity to preserve the library building for community use and enjoyment a fair crack of the whip!

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One thought on “No ‘mandate’ required for future of Shepley Library

  1. Councillor Dr Bill Armer

    I read with interest Will Roebuck’s post about a “mandate” for a user-led initiative for the Library.

    Let me say straight away that there is nothing in it with which I fundamentally disagree – in particular, Shepley needs to demonstrate both the will and the means to take over the library and associated services if the building is to remain in the public domain. (Theoretically, the building could go and the services be retained if housed elsewhere, but that would to my mind be a poor alternative).

    What I would like to develop is the issue of a “mandate”, for my interpretation is perhaps slightly different to Will’s here. I am certain that there would never be a mandate if that were taken to mean a majority of villagers in favour, but we are also dealing with a hierarchy of mandates.

    In what we are pleased to call our Great British Democracy, we have long since accepted that a “mandate” is granted by an idea of “greatest number of votes in favour of…”, which is why we most often see a Government or Council elevated to office on a vote share of well under 50% of those cast, and on a turnout which may sometimes drop below a quarter of those qualified to vote.

    Largely, we are accustomed to accepting that a mandate may be conferred by a minority of voters, in so far as the “winner” has a larger count than any of the others as individuals.

    Following this precedent, I would interpret a village mandate for the continuance of the library and associated services as arising from the majority wish of those villagers who take the time and trouble to attend an open and well-publicised meeting on the topic. We do not operate a compulsory voting policy in the UK, and should not try to introduce one locally in Shepley. When the time comes let those who wish attend a meeting, whilst others are perfectly entitled to stay away. The only proviso is that any meeting be well publicised in the village beforehand.

    Meanwhile, Kirklees Council’s ruling Administration has exercised its own mandate, conferred by the Kirklees electorate, and is absolutely clear that it will not retain long-term ownership of the library building. Kirklees is also clear that its preferred option is to transfer the assets (and future running costs) at nominal cost to the community, although if a credible organisation is not in place to receive the transfer it is most likely that the building would then be sold commercially.

    In its turn, the Parish Council has a mandate conferred by the voters of the whole Parish. In this regard, the Parish Council has virtually unanimously (I believe that there was one dissenter) agreed to do whatever it can to support the people of Shepley should a local organisation be formed to accept the asset transfer, but must also remember its duty to the other villages in the Parish.

    To sum up, I believe that Shepley needs three mandates to operate together if the Library is to survive. Kirklees and Kirkburton Councils have already indicated that they will exercise their respective mandates to help maintain the library, if a suitable Shepley organisation is formed. It is now for a sufficient number (I.E. a simple majority of attendees at a public meeting, but also enough to actually run the enterprise) of Shepley villagers to decide that they can and will agree a way forward to operate the building and services in order for the third and final mandate to exist.

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