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Freedom of Information Act Request

EXTRACTS FROM FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST :
TAXPAYERS' ALLIANCE TO MLA : May 2009

FOI request from Taxpayers' Alliance to MLA, 1st May
Extracts : from material included in Correspondence Released
Note : these items copy-typed by Shirley Burnham from hard copies received

CONSULTATION

18th March Timed At 07:01. Subject: Consultation. Roy Clare (CEO of MLA) to Jon Finch, MLA
"Jon, Swindon really do need to do this right, or we would have to break cover again. Thoughts? Roy"

18th March Timed at 09:01. Subject: Consultation. Jon Finch to Roy Clare, MLA
"I agree, but we do need to consider the timescales on this.  Officials first got to know about this on Friday, and it was somewhat of a shock, they have asked for our advice around consultation and we shall feedback to them in the next 24 hours and I do think they are waiting for this.  The consultation period only started on Monday and clearly needs further organising, but I do think we need to give them a few days at least to get their act together after what has been, politically at least, quite a climb down.  I am certain that they will involve Shirley, but as you say, we need to ensure the consultation is appropriately wide ranging, and I will keep the pressure on in the coming weeks.  On the subject of Shirley, you will have seen that our analysis of Coates' report is blunt and clear.  She has placed significant capital on the report and if, as is likely, she gets wind of our assessment there may be some fall out.  I think Shirley sees things in very black and white terms."

'LEAKED' DOCUMENT

19th March Timed at 10:26. Subject: Leaked Document. Allyson Jordan (Head of Libraries)
to Jon Finch, MLA
"This document was given to Tim and was about VFM savings considered by corporate board and the cabinet. This was the option for saving 280K.  I have talked to Stephen Taylor, the borough solicitor, this morning and explained about the MLA analysis of Tim's report.  What do you think we should now do as the solicitor feels that continuing to work with Tim is an option we should not pursue but we are coming under pressure from Shirley and others to do so.  They feel that Tim has proposed savings that are deliverable."

19th March Timed at 09:56. Subject: Leaked Document. Stephen Taylor (Borough Solicitor)
to Gavin Jones (CE0 Swindon Council)
"As it is all now in the public domain, there is no point in seeking injunctions etc."

19th March Timed at 10:52:23. Subject: Leaked Document. Jon Finch, MLA to Allyson Jordan
"I would suggest that this apparent breach of confidence, coupled with the MLA assessment of the research itself, gives the council every right to say they no longer wish to work with Tim.  Do I detect a sub text around you wishing to say MLA would support you if such a position was taken?"

20th March Timed at 07:18. Subject: Leaked Document. Jon Finch, MLA to Allyson Jordan
"I will ask Roy to have a quiet word with Shirley to begin outlining some of our concerns about the work.  If voices persist during the consultation process, perhaps we can re-evaluate."

CONSULTATION

30th March Timed at 13:59:44. Subject: FW Formal letter protesting Conduct of Consultation : Old Town Library. Allyson Jordan to Jon Finch (MLA)
Ms Jordan's original email was addressed to Bernie Brannon (Director of Housing & Leisure), Councillor Roderick Bluh (Leader), Stephen Taylor (Borough Solicitor) and others

"Comments I have made on Shirley's email.  Thought I would share them with you.  Also note that Shirley's public meeting is for Tim Coates to to now talk for an hour!

I have put comments against each point in blue.

As the email is addressed to Roy Clare I am not sure how we should respond

----  Original Message  ----

From: Shirley Burnham (saveoldtownlibrary@live.co.uk)
Sent: 27 March 2009 13:50:21
To: Roy Clare; Anne Snelgrove MP; Sarah Bush; Mr Bernie Brannan; Allyson Jordan; Councillor Nick Martin; Councillor Fionuala Foley; Councillor Mike Bawden; Councillor Brian Mattock; Gavin Jones; Councillor Roderick Bluh; James Wallin; Stephen Taylor Director of Law & Democratic Services
Attachments: 1 attachment

To : Roy Clare CBE
Chief Executive, Museums Libraries and Archives Council
27th March 2009

Dear Mr Clare

OLD TOWN LIBRARY, SWINDON, 'CONSULTATION' - COMPLAINT

I am writing to you, with a copy to Stephen Taylor (Director of Law & Democracy) with copies to other addressees, to lodge a formal complaint about the consultation which is supposed to be in hand with regard to Old Town Library, and to request that the formal consultation's termination date be extended by at least 2 weeks, for the following reasons:

(1) Community Groups and Residents' Associations :
As of the morning of today's date, the Secretary of The Old Town Group has received NO materials with regard to the Consultation. Mr T King has confirmed this and you are aware that his Group represents some 15,000 members of the South Swindon community and is the principal protagonist in representing residents.

[Allyson Jordan] : letter to Terry King is being sent out today.  His group is not on our database of community groups.   This is being amended.  Terry King was and is aware of the consultation as Fionuala sent him an email but his group should have been sent a letter.

(2) Consultation Termination Date :
I was advised in the library today that 'consultation' terminates on 5th June 2009.  This date is not given on the Posters, Flyers and Letters to Community Groups (even if these had been properly distributed, which they have not).
The date of 5th June gives Swindon Council time to redeploy staff and close the facility, but does not give time for proper consultation, given their failures listed herein.

[Allyson Jordan] : Shirley has already apologised, as the date is on letters and posters.

(3) No formal announcement of Consultation Start Date :
Please find attached messages I received from Councillor F Foley which suggest that no formal announcement of Consultation was exhibited in the local press, nor in any other media before it supposedly 'started'.  The public were, therefore, not notified and had received flyers announcing the library's closure, in the very same week.

[Allyson Jordan] : Consultation was ongoing from December with Shaun Smith meeting with the friends of Old Town library and I know various groups in the area were consulted by Councillors.  The Swindon Advertiser carried a large article about the consultation date being extended and I think Fionuala mentions this in an email.

(4) Flyers and Posters : Existence & Distribution
(a) Existence of Flyers & Posters :
I protest that it would seem normal to print Flyers and Posters ahead of consultation.  A very few Posters were delivered to Old Town Library towards the beginning of this week.  More Posters had to be requested, arriving only today (27/3) : 2 full weeks after the 'extension of consultation' was deemed to have 'begun'.

[Allyson Jordan] : The flyers and posters were sent to councillors and the MLA to agree the wording and were modified in the light of comments received from members and the MLA.  This put a slight delay on the production of the posters and letters.

(b) Distribution of Posters & Flyers :
Library staff are not permitted to leave the premises to distribute posters or flyers to locations where they are requested or required. Furthermore, the library opens only 2.5 days per week for people to have access to flyers.  The staff are advised by their managers not to initiate conversation with customers to direct them to take flyers or to view the Posters.  The library windows are smothered with other materials and the consultation posters are easily ignored.  People are, therefore, entering and leaving the library without taking flyers from the counter or looking at the Posters.
I reiterate that Mr King, Secretary, Old Town Group, has received no materials to date which is shameful.

[Allyson Jordan] : Staff have distributed posters to some schools and residential homes in the area and did give some to Shirley Burnham, who offered to distribute the posters.
We are happy to post out the posters and did so to Rosemary Earle, who has a newsagent shop in old town. Rosemary requested some posters.
Staff have been directing people to take flyers and view posters encouraging their participation in the process, whilst ensuring that they do not encourage people to campaign either way.

(5) Council is relying on non-Council staff to do their job re Consultation :
I and other supporters have organised the printing of 490 small slips for Lethbridge School, at our own cost.  Needless to say, Lethbridge is only one of 3 primary schools affected by the library's proposed closure.  NO materials have been received from the Council by these schools at the date of writing.

[Allyson Jordan] : If extra flyers were needed for any location we would supply a reasonable number, although I think 490 for one school is not a cost effective way of targeting parents.  I think the school probably has a newsletter that could have been used.   Bernie and I ensured that the posters were in the library as soon as they were finalised.

Supporters are having to assist with distribution of Posters.  The writer is receiving these piecemeal and must advise library staff who have been asked to note where they will be put up.  This seriously limits the distribution of Posters and will not allow the public sufficient time to arrange to attend the first 'drop-in' consultation session on 7/4.

[Allyson Jordan] : We have asked staff to note where posters are being put up by Shirley, so we can avoid duplication and wanted a record of where we have displayed the posters.

The Council has arranged no adequate Public Meeting(s) : (see Point 7, below)
It is appalling that the writer is being begged by those who wish to keep their library open, with its professional staff, to do the Council's job for them.  If she does circulate materials to residents groups and to the wider public and arrange an adequate Public Meeting, the Council can say that it has consulted properly, when it has definitely not.

[Allyson Jordan] : The following sentence is in the letter to groups and we have offered to visit community events : "If there are any particular community events that you would like us to attend as part of the consultation process, then please let us know and we will do our best to attend."
A separate public meeting and more drop in sessions were being planned but we did not want to delay the letter and posters, so they were sent out with the first two drop in sessions having been arranged.

(6) Letters and E-mails to Allyson Jordan :
The Council does not concede that it had not consulted residents - insisting that it is 'extending' Consultation:
I must, therefore, insist that all earlier correspondence sent by residents to any officer or councillor be forwarded to Ms Jordan, as part of the 'ongoing' process that the Council describes, and be counted as valid. It is insulting to residents to be told that their former correspondence sent in good faith is worthless.  It nullifies the 'consultation'.
Individuals who asked Old Town library assistants today why they had to write another letter (to Ms Jordan) when they had already written to councillors and officers, were told that none of their former correspondence would be taken into consideration.  I therefore make the strongest protest that all correspondence directed to any officer or councillor to date is disregarded in this cavalier manner.

[Allyson Jordan] : I have not asked staff if they made the comment about earlier correspondence not being taken into consideration but I don't think they would have said this.

(7) PUBLIC MEETINGS
Two 'drop-in' sessions at Old Town Library : Inadequate as 'Consultation'
Old Town Library is required for Health & Safety purposes to allow no more than 30 individuals to enter it, and that only if furniture is removed to the sides of the room.  The wider public (traders etc) with an interest in the future of the Old Town community has not been informed by the Council about consultation or the 'drop-in' sessions.

[Allyson Jordan] : The drop in sessions are for individual customers to talk to council officers about their views and the 30 person limit was for a literature festival event last year.

The writer is attempting to arrange a Public Meeting at her own expense, in order for all those from the community to meet officers, express their views and ask questions.  At the meeting it is proposed that there will be a presentation by the independent consultant, Tim Coates.

[Allyson Jordan] : Shirley has since emailed about a public meeting at the arts centre and I have offered to finalise arrangements with the arts centre.  I have just heard from Shirley and apparently Tim Coates is to talk at the meeting for an hour.   This was not made clear in an earlier email.

[Allyson Jordan] : Shirley's new email says:
" I am very pleased you have answered like this.  That is splendid.  I have just spoken to the Arts Centre and they have pencilled us in for 27th April at 3.00 p.m.  I shall be in touch with their technician this afternoon to sort out detail.
I will send you some formal stuff, as soon as that is arranged.  Many thanks for your offer of assistance and your cooperation with regard to this event.
If you might be able to find 4 stewards, that would be excellent -- but not to worry, if not feasible.  Such stewards would need to meet with the technicians approx half an hour before the event and stay throughout to the end.  If the Library Service would like to assist with printing some programmes (just A-4 sheets), that would be good, too.
I think the half-hour I mentioned for your own consultation with the public is probably a bit short.  What do you think?  It will depend on how many show up.
Mr Coates will give his presentation after the 'consulting' between yourselves and the public.  His participation will last for one-hour, plus questions.  There may be some people attending from outside Swindon.
Allyson, I really hope the council will take on board the strength of feeling of those who are in danger of losing their branch libraries.   Truly, this is not an ego-trip or a battle; it is a sincere effort to turn things around.
Kind regards: Shirley B "

[Allyson Jordan] : I am not sure how we should respond to this latest email.

[original email from S Burnham continues ...]

It should not be the responsibility of a library campaigner to organise a public meeting for a consultation that is supposedly organised by the Council.
I should be grateful for your kind acknowledgement of this Complaint and for comments from all the addressees. These will be appended to my earlier Complaint, for the Ombudsman's consideration.
Yours sincerely
Shirley Burnham "

30th March Timed at 18:51. Subject: Re: Formal letter protesting Conduct of Consultation : Old Town Library.
Jon Finch (MLA) to Allyson Jordan; cc. Roy Clare (CEO of MLA)
"Can I suggest we let Shirley know that we have discussed her correspondence, and agreed that you should respond directly to the email circle she sent out to?"

31 March Timed at 12:30. Subject: Formal letter protesting Conduct ofConsultation : Old Town Library.
Allyson Jordan to Jon Finch (MLA); cc: Roy Clare (CEO of MLA)
"Have passed your comments on to our Borough solicitor. His comments are below:
[Borough Solicitor] : 'As the email is addressed to the MLA, Mrs B is presumably hoping the MLA will say we have not done things correctly.  We, however, believe the MLA should say that we have followed their advice and are doing things correctly.   It would be helpful if the MLA could draft a response based on Allyson's comments and we could send that out in SBC name.' "

31st March Timed at 14.41. Subject RE: formal letter protesting Conduct of Consultation: Old Town Library. Jon Finch (MLA) to Allyson Jordan; cc: Roy Clare; Bernie Brannan
"I am afraid I have to disagree with your Borough Solicitor.  Shirley raises a number of points of very specific detail concerning the consultation process which we at MLA are simply not in a position to comment on.  I am happy to discuss with Roy the possibility of making a general statement about the progress you have made, however we cannot respond directly to Shirley on such specific, local issues.  In any response therefore we would refer Shirley to you so that you could respond appropriately.
I hope you understand our position."

31st March Timed at 16:54. Subject: RE: Formal letter protesting Conduct of Consultation : Old Town
Library. Stephen Taylor (Borough Solicitor) to Jon Finch (MLA); cc: Allyson Jordan; Bernie Brannan
"Thank you for this and it may be that wires have been crossed.
My intention was not that the MLA respond to the detailed points put by Mrs Burnham as these are fully covered by Allyson's comments.   The issue is what, if anything, can we say in relation to the current consultation process which can be supported by the MLA.   Obviously we do not want to put words in your mouth but it would be helpful if the Council could, for example, say that the MLA are fully supportive of the current stage in the consultation process in relation to the Old Town Library and consider it an example of best practice.   This is very much along the lines of making the general statement you mention."

31st March Timed at 18:28. Subject: RE: Formal letter protesting Conduct of Consultation : Old Town Library.
Allyson Jordan to Stephen Taylor (Borough Solicitor) and Jon Finch (MLA); cc: Bernie Brannan
"Isn't one of the difficulties that there is no defined way to consult and I think we are addressing the concerns on consultation now.
What we define as good consultation is different to Shirley's expectations of consultation.
I think a reply from the MLA saying they have had some input into the consultation documents and support the way we are working would be good. "

1st April Timed at 1:03 p.m. Jon Finch (MLA) to Roy Clare (CEO of MLA)
Suggested content for brief reply to Shirley B
'Thank you for your recent correspondence concerning the consultation process currently being undertaken by Swindon Borough Council concerning the proposed closure of the Old Town and other libraries in the Borough.
As we have discussed in the past, MLA's role is as strategic lead for the public libraries domain, and therefore to advise, guide and challenge where approrpiate, we cannot intervene directly in local decision making processes.  Nor can we comment directly on a number of very specific issues that you have raised about the ongoing consultation process, and I would ask officers at Swindon BC to respond to us both, as a matter of urgency, on the matters you have highlighted.
I can say however that Swindon has asked for our input into the consultation strategy, and MLA commented on the copy material that was to be used, the timetable and the breadth of the consultation.  The evidence so far demonstrates that officers at Swindon have implemented the majority of the suggestions we have made, and we are now seeing a significantly improved consultation process being undertaken concerned the proposed closures.  I would expect that the timescales and processes currently envisaged should enable the appropriate intelligence about the views of the local community to be gathered, and I will ask Jon Finch to work closely with officers in Swindon and monitor the situation.'
Is that sufficient?

Comment from Shirley (28 July 2009) :
To the best of my knowledge, I received no response to my email of 27th March from any party.

Any Comments ?

Councillor Fionuala Foley : Lead Member for Libraries : Mail Councillor Foley

Councillor Rod Bluh, Leader of the Council :
Mail Councillor Bluh

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