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Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Northants and its Libraries Collapse

I remarked on the way in which Northamptonshire County Council is going into a death spiral whilst its politicians and MPs (all Conservative) engage in an orgy of finger pointing.  Essentially, they have run their Council into the ground and are now simply trying to pin the blame on each other.  I imagine that the grimmest elements of this are in social care, but as I have a particular interest in public libraries lets look at that service.

On 28 February, following the section 114 declaration, KPMG presented Northants with an ultimatum to make its budget balance.  The Council really had very little freedom of action to anything other than vote them through.  In other words managing the cuts in the worst possible way, as a crash course with minimal consideration of the consequences.

It is easy to get angry as one watches some of those responsible apparently being given golden parachutes as they leave the institution they were responsible for in ruins. 

The libraries, instead of being subject to a coherent plan are seeing 21 of their outlets just close.  The remainder are seeing opening hours being cut, sometimes to three days a week, which is close to a full closure in all but name.  The result will be a collapse in service, and Nick Poole may well be right in saying that Northants is breaching its section 7 duty for a comprehensive and efficient service.  It may also be breaching its equalities duty under the Equality Act.  The trouble is that even if the Secretary of State were to institute a Wirral style enquiry, or some one issues a legal challenge, Northants seems incapable of spending the money necessary to fulfil the duty.

In other words it has gone past the point in the graph of doom when its budget can meet its minimal legal responsibilities.  It has been long predicted that this would happen somewhere, and Northants is likely to be the first of several. 

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