What follows is an open public letter sent by Biteback author and libraries campaigner Tim Coates to Boris Johnson and Ed Vaizey over the weekend about a programme called 'The London Libraries Change Programme' (LLCP). LLCP has been going on for over two years and is run by a quango called MLA London and The Mayor's Cultural Initiative. It has already cost over £300k in fees for consultants and Tim Coates has been trying to alert people that it is a waste of time and money and directed at the wrong problems.
Public Letter to Ed Vaizey and Boris Johnson
To Ed Vaizey and Boris Johnson : London Libraries Change Programme
Just once more and further to all our previous correspondence.... I am going to start making public statements about the London Libraries Change Programme
My view, and I suspect it will be widely understood and supported, is this, and it is probably best if you regard this as a public letter.
1. The Public library service in London is an essential part of the cultural fabric of one of the great learning centres of the world.
2. All the figures tell a simple story; the buildings have been allowed to decay and the facilities they offer have fallen behind the times; stocks of books and other reading material have degenerated to a terrible low standard; opening hours, in a 24 hour city, where people study night and day, are no reflection of people's lives nor their expectations; staff are sometimes good and knowledgeable, but not always, in a world where people expect good service
3. At over £200m per annum with further considerable annual capital expenditures in total amounting almost the cost of BBC TV licenses for London families-- the cost is huge but fails to deliver respectable value for money. There is obviously a significant wastage of money and therefore there should be no need to seek additional finance to do anything.
4. Users don't believe that those responsible understand their needs and therefore when making changes will probably do the wrong things. Public communication of the actions of the service is poor
5. The metropolis needs central libraries, good large libraries and a network of small community, or suburban libraries, the values of each of which are properly and clearly understood and appreciated by those responsible for them. People don't want to have to fight all the time to keep their libraries open or well stocked.
5. A London Libraries Change Programme (LLCP) should have addressed all these matters with urgency years ago. The service desperately needs improvement across the whole of its activities.
6. The current plans expressed in LLCP documents are deeply depressing to people of London and miles away from making immediate improvement. They need to be re-energised so that they bring beneficial change-- people need a promise of regeneration that is public, clear, credible and in the hands of people trusted to deliver it. They want to hear about longer hours, improved collections and smarter buildings designed for reading and study, funded out of the money they already pay and have paid. Savings should be possible, in these times, but only if the management of resources is properly directed and effective.
7 People don't want to be told about endless administrative failings and confusions and about how one council won't listen to the advice of another or how reports have been ignored or technical changes in cataloguing and non standard cataloguing systems are debated at library conferences . Not do they want to hear half baked theories about how council services have to be delivered nor about the possible needs of libraries in future centuries. They want the attention of those responsible to concentrate on the public library service now- and improvements to be urgent.
8. In drawing up these plans, those responsible for the current LLCP appear to have made no attempt to hear, listen to or understand the public needs of the various and many groups and individuals who use, or would use libraries. That failing runs through almost every page of both the consultants' reports (which have already cost over £300k) and the summaries and directions being given by the LLCP Board. The factual basis of the consultants' work relies entirely on information from within the service and is largely a regurgitation of observations of management incompetence and obfuscation that has been reported time and again over the years. The reports totally lack any clarity of understanding or vision. The allocation of priorities and the management of the project has been put in the hands of those who failed to address these issues in the past decades.
9. So for all these reasons, the LLCP is a shambles and needs immediate political redirection. It is hard not to say that those who are charged by the public with the care of the service have not been naive, gullible, distracted and less than attentive in letting a project run for two years at such enormous expense without correction. That needs to change.
10 The only place from which that redirection can come is from those in positions of political leadership upon whom the public depend. Because so many of the councils in London have Conservative administrations, that means you Ed Vaizey as shadow minister and aspirant minister and it means Boris Johnson as Mayor and I think you should work together and express a joint vision- to which you should insist that the administrators, officers and civil servants respond with more energy than they have so far.
11. I beg you both not to tolerate the secret scheming which has brought us to this position and not only to attend the meeting on 13th November at which those responsible are to discuss these issues with London Councils but also to make that a public meeting
12 I also call on you to dismiss from office the entire Board of the LLCP and replace it with a small effective body that will conduct the improvement work with appropriate expedition and urgency
In this way we will at last see some improvement in public libraries in London. We should be ambitious and seek a world class public library service for our capital which it needs and deserves.
I offer you my support in all this - and believe that a wider public understanding of this project will also give you the mandate for change and recognisable improvement. It will be a good matter for you and a new government to tackle well.
With kind regards
For more information, contact Time Coates on firstname.lastname@example.org