The Not Credible Tale of Two Libraries – Thoughts on Council Meeting 25th January Part Two

The second major debate at last week’s council was Labour’s motion calling for Trafford to withdraw proposals to replace paid librarians with volunteers.

Our Motion

The Council values the tremendous cultural and community benefit of all our Libraries in Trafford and calls on the Council to ensure no Library is closed in the Borough.

Trafford Council also fully supports and pays tribute to all volunteers who work so hard in supporting our communities and individuals. However the Council is opposed to the Conservative Executive proposal to replace professional paid Library Staff in some of the Council’s Libraries with volunteers.

The Council fully supports the statement within the open letter, sent by volunteers, and representatives of the voluntary sector in Old Trafford, to the Leader, All Councillors and Chief Executive which stated :-

”Old Trafford has a magnificent tradition of volunteering and community activism. Resident volunteers in this neighbourhood have established many innovative and successful voluntary projects, and we are rightly proud of our countless achievements. However we are also quite clear about our role and purpose of the community and voluntary sector in Old Trafford: it is to complement and enhance the work of statutory services, to improve the quality of life for individuals and communities in our local area. Our role is definitely not to enable employers to make our friends, colleagues and neighbours redundant and replace them with unpaid volunteers”.

In light of the above the Council calls on the Executive to withdraw their plans to replace paid professional staff with volunteers at Old Trafford and Hale Libraries, and any other Library within Trafford.

The debate

Old Trafford Councillor Whit Stennett proposed the motion. He poignantly described the sense of grievance felt in Old Trafford and Hale at being picked on for the initiative. He underlined the value attached to the libraries at the heart of their respective communities. Why should Old Trafford Library be selected when it serves such diverse and often disadvantaged users?

The reason the council has given for selection is that there is more community activity going on in these neighbourhoods.

I pointed out in my support for Labour’s motion that if the vitality of the Old Trafford community was the primary factor in its selection, there was a real risk that it would put communitities off getting involved. Why come forward to be active in your community if the consequence was that services provided by Council were withdrawn?

It is punishing success.

And we’ve already heard lots of criticism from volunteers throughout Trafford protesting that they volunteer to enhance and supplement the work of the paid professionals, not replace them. We know that community involvement in Trafford is well below average; it would be criminal to make it worse.

Examples from afar

The Council is highlighting that other local authorities have volunteer run libraries but when you look at the specifics, these are often tiny libraries open for a few hours a week and usually additional to the the normal libraries, for example, Carrbrook in Tameside, Woodberry Down in Hackney. Too often, attempts at getting volunteers to run council libraries end in failure.

Breach of Compact

Damningly for the Council, the recognition that volunteering to replace staff is counterproductive and should not happen is already enshrined in an agreement signed by the council in 2008 together with the body representing Trafford’s voluntary sector (VCAT) and known as the Trafford Compact.

Clause 12 of the Code of Practice for Volunteering states:

12. Volunteers should not be recruited to fill the place of paid staff. This could be seen as exploitation of the volunteer and a deprival of someone’s livelihood.

The Council signed the Compact because it wanted a better working relationship with the voluntary and community sector in Trafford. At the very time when the voluntary sector is valued most, the council chooses to ignore the very foundation upon which the relationship is built on.

And how did the Tories respond to the charge?

They simply ignored any reference to the Compact. Despite it being raised repeatedly, they just blanked it out. It might as well not exist.

This matters. Trafford scores exceptionally lowly on the environment for a thriving third sector. It’s blindingly obvious the third sector will not thrive if trust breaks down. It’s a worsening situation.  It’s not enough for Tory Councillors to go around saying that job’s easy and that they could do it. Could they provide a 40 hr a week service? Could they deal with difficult customers? They are insulting the staff if they think it’s just putting books back on the shelves.

It’s appallingly insulting to staff and Trafford needs to get it’s act together quickly. The Tories have been so crass in the manner they’ve approached this, that it’s hard not to suspect that they know it won’t happen. They must realise that it won’t be long into the operation before residents question why their council tax pays for other libraries to have paid professional staff when they have to provide volunteers. Is it a way of knocking the issue into the long grass until after the election? That won’t do. And if political expediency means that trust between the voluntary sector and the Council deteriorates further, they’re doubly culpable.

We lost the vote






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