The announcement last Friday that Doncaster Council will not close the 14 libraries under threat for twelve months was greeted with celebration. Had the council finally given way to public pressure and opinion?
Initially the answer had been a resounding yes. However, this success has been achieved not through the concern of our councillors or the commitment of our elected Mayor, but rather through the determination of the 15,000 people of Doncaster who put their names to a petition demanding a halt to the proposals to close 14 out of 26 of the town’s libraries.
The Save Our Libraries group in Doncaster have over a number of weeks held stalls in the town centre to inform people what the proposals were and to collect signatures in opposition to them. The group identified the 14 libraries under threat and produced a banner with the names of all the affected libraries.
The strategy of creating a high visibility campaign in the town centre paid dividends, as many people who spoke to us were unaware of the extent of the proposals. The result of this was that a number of separate groups were formed in the villages that were to lose their library. These groups then began petitioning in their own areas and their efforts were included in the petition, handed to the Democratic Services department on 4th February. Ten thousand signatures were needed to force a full council debate. We handed in over 13,000 and still have at least 2.000 in reserve in case they are required.
It was the anger people felt on the streets and their determination to overturn attacks on their communities, that became vital to the success of the campaign. A number of angry residents even suggested we need an ‘Egypt type’ demonstration.
The Save Our Libraries group have also been contacting local Members of Parliament. We have three Labour ones, including Ed Milliband, and local councillors to gain support. We have received much media attention and have raised the profile of the campaign through articles in both local and national newspapers and interviews on regional and national television and radio.
The result of our efforts was that the original Council Cabinet decision to close the 14 libraries was called in by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee with the decision being referred back for reconsideration - thus resulting in the 12 month deferment.
The petition has enabled us to make representations to the full council debate on 9th March and has forced a more effective consultation process to take place.
We’ve made a good start, thanks to more than 15,000 people who put their names to the petition telling the council that they will not sit back and see their vital services decimated, but the fight must and will go on. Libraries were the first target but they won’t be the last. People power works, so let’s use it to fight any further attacks on our communities.
We know that the next target in Doncaster is primary education with one school, Cantley Sycamore Primary School, already identified for closure, with a further six in the pipeline.
This latest attack demonstrates the insanity of the cuts programme. Doncaster is below national average for literacy and has high unemployment levels. To reduce the opportunities for our young people in the ways planned give little hope for the regeneration of a town already decimated by the industrial destruction of the 1980s that saw the mining industry effectively closed down with nothing put in its place.
The success of the libraries campaign is a start but now we must build on the experience gained in that campaign to fight the next attack on our services and on our communities.
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