A few weeks ago we reported on the campaign to save Swindon ’s small community libraries from closure. Since knowing about the ‘alphabet soup’ quangocracy that governs library policy, and can advise on whether to keep certain libraries open or not, we’ve got more involved in this grassroots effort to maintain this important, front line service.
As has been noted, not just by councillors but also by library expert Tim Coates, there are plenty of solutions available to keep Swindon ’s libraries open, whether managing overheads better or finding the money from cuts in councillor allowances.
Yet Swindon council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives council (MLA) have doggedly criticised and fought against pleas to keep the libraries open.
As an example of how steadfast the MLA have been, a report from Tim Coates into Swindon’s Libraries was described by the MLA to Swindon Council as being "poor", but faced with a formal complaint for making that criticism without any foundation, they have been forced to withdraw and issue a public apology. A panel of their own board members found the analysis made by MLA researchers to be 'below the standard expected' and the behaviour of the MLA's executive officers to be 'inappropriate' . The complaint panel underlined the comment that 'Mr Coates view (of Swindon libraries) may well be right'
The complaint, which was made to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport was upheld yesterday. From the Bookseller.com:
“The inquiry also found that it was "not in accordance with accepted standards" for the MLA to have agreed to offer an analysis of Coates' own report into Swindon libraries without informing Coates and giving him the opportunity to comment.”
In addition to this we have put in our own complaint with the MLA. Some months ago I requested all correspondence from the MLA referring to Swindon council and Swindon taxpayers, in the hope that we could get a comprehensive picture of the debate.
When I had received the information, I cross-referenced my findings with the correspondence Tim Coates had obtained and has access to. In matching them up, we have found over 30 documents that have been withheld from us. The report that the MLA issued yesterday shows that there even more documents, that have been omitted, than we had previously been aware, some apparently containing language that the MLA panel also found to be 'inaoppropriate'.
Given the MLA’s history of secretly criticising work without right of reply from Mr Coates, as well as a one-sided approach to keeping Swindon ’s libraries open, we are left wondering why they decided not to comply with Freedom of Information law and withhold documents we have every right to see.
Any defender of the quango-state should look upon the business with the MLA and the Swindon libraries case study and wonder what role the quango really has in our society.