Sunday, 19 May 2013

A sham, a sham, our kingdom for their sham!!

"There is no sin except stupidity" - Oscar Wilde

Council Executive Committee: 17th May 2013

Burnage Library: 1974-2013  RIP

Following what we thought was a modest victory on the 14th May at the neighbourhood scrutiny committee, a few of us attended the council's executive committee meeting on the morning of the 17th May, just to make sure they saw it through.

The meeting started with Richard Lees introducing the agenda and we found the library discussion on item 4 of the agenda again.

We got to item 4 very quickly, however due to traffic problems our speaker Sam Darby was delayed so they deferred the library decison until later, to deal with the broadway baths issue.

Sam arrived and when the Broadway bath matters were decided, it as time for the main event.

What was interesting was how the meeting was carried out. Richard Lees was very definitely in control of matters and if I was not mistaken, seemed to be intent on making decisions the way he wanted them to go. That somewhat worried me, as there was the chance that the library consultation results from the scrutiny committee could well be overturned.  Neil MacInnes was there and so were Sue Murphy and Rosa Battle.

Recap: Neighbourhood Scrutiny Committee

During the neighbourhood scrutiny committee meeting on the 14th May, two amendments were proposed by Mike Amesbury, which were seconded and thirded and more or less unanimously agreed by the scrutiny committee to be put forward to the executive committee meeting on the Friday, 17th May. They were in essence:
  1. Amend the report to remove the date of the 29th June for closure of the library
  2. Maintain staff in libraries even after their transferral to any continuing groups
Neil MacInnes read verbatim a statement that he had prepared towing the line for the library closure. Rosa Battle spoke to confirm the appointment of a library officer to work with the 6 libraries slated for closure and Sue Murphy then spoke in support of the closures, pretty much as if the scrutiny committee hadn't happened. Councillors Wheale and Dimauro, who are both Lib Dem councillors spoke in support of the libraries, but Richard Lees just accused them of lying, of causing the financial problems in the first place, of not delivering on promises to lobby government on MCC's behalf and stated that everything cllr Simon Wheale was saying was lies. Simon Wheale continued to argue the case for the libraries and Richard Lees, after more or less telling him to shut up (very politically of course) just repeatedly shrugged his shoulders and stopped listening. I found that laughable so that had to be tweeted straight away :-/ 

Despite us finding out later that the minutes included both the amendments, the only concillation we got was the Richard Lees mentioned that one amendment had been proposed to remove the date, but then caveated that by saying that "The council expects that all proposals will be in place by the end of June" which to me signalled the death knell, since this in essence is the same as the original proposal, just without an explicit date.

Sure enough, Richard Lees then proposed the closure of the libraries, without debate on any of the points, without any representative mentioning any concrete plans to address the issues raised in the equality impact assessment etc. The whole thing was full of flowery language, no numbers other than the £80 million worth of cuts we had to make and reiterated Sue Murphy's point on how if Manchester was treated fairly the city would be £1 million a week better off... blah blah and sure enough, it received near unanimous agreement from the council, despite the scrutiny committee results. So that was the final nail in the coffin.

The Backlash

Needless to say our group amongst others were furious! The whole consultation had been an absolute sham. Members of our campaign showed their anger by voicing it directly at Richard Lees and Sue Murphy as we were on our way out. Richard Lees then said if we wanted to discuss it with Rosa Battle, we could stay until after the meeting and that the remaining matters on the agenda would only take 5 or 10 minutes to conclude.

Sure enough we got our time. Eimonne tagged along too but Neil MacInnes and his team, yet again, made a very swift exist.

Rosa battle adopted a very political stance and was trying to bring order to proceedings by asking people to put their hands up to speak.In my experience, that means that choosing someone to speak would be at their (or sympathisers') discretions. Given the dirty tactics we'd just experienced, even I had to say my decorum went out of the window. It was time to hold them to account and I was going to do just that and luckily so was everyone else. I knew Eimonne is technically a senior officer in that department, so I was going to have a conversation with him, bypassing Rosa altogether. I didn't have the inclination to give her the time of day.

It's no secret that I think MCC have not exchausted the options they had. I am an apolitial individual and until this experience, really had no strong political feelings in any direction. If the analysis was competent, I wouldn't be so angry. I stated that almost word for word but one thing that stuck in my throat was when Rosa Battle had the audacity to imply that the decison had been made (which it had) and in order to move forward, why don't I work with the council to build the service. Someone from the Fallowfield campaign implied I should just "suck it and see" and Rosa agreed. I more or less blew up at that point and said in no uncertain terms that I did just taste council operations and it sucked, so I can't trust the council to competently work with us in any way. It was a disgrace.    

I and other campaign members, who were visibly very upset with the decion, targeted the next barrage at Eimonne. I started to pick apart their reasoning and they were lost. It was obvious they were lost. Rosa tried to diffuse the situation by joking "I feel like I'm on Countdown" (personally I doubt anyone in MCC could qualify) inferring that she actually had to htink numbers. I took Eimonne to task on the strategy, since he needs to align with the cuts and after confirming with Rosa that no staff would lose their jobs in the library service, they could have spread the detremine across all of Manchester by potentially using volunteers, moving the extraneous staff  out of the library service to elsewhere in the council where operational requirements demand (and thus taking funding from those budgets instead of the library service budget) and they could not only keep the library service open, but still have change!

The minutes of the scrutiny committee were not circulated to all public attendees of the meeting. They were only circulated to the councillors on the scrutiny committee. So we never saw them to verify they were a correct record until after the executive committee meeting had ended and even then, whilst we were in this heated debate with Rosa and Eimonne. Rosa indicated that there was a 'plan' for Burnage, which our campaign jumped on! Since we were not aware of it. Upon our insistence, Eimonne then clarified what the plan was and as far as I was concerned, that wasn't a plan.It was a vision! He tried to fob my arguments off as operational matters but I told him that in times of uncertainty, those are constraints on your strategy and reiterated that he needed to align with the cuts using current evidence and the report hadn't done that.

In short, we left there very aggrieved. A good number of our campaign team stayed in the cafe for lunch and also to discuss some options for the future of the library. We have a meeting on the 22nd May and we will discuss them then.

Burnage Library RIP! :-(


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