Rger McMaster, the head of Suffolk libraries, has resigned, apparently taking early retirement. James Hargrave has the story. I understand he will be leaving his post in June. I know he was well regarded by everyone he met and wish him an enjoyable retirement.
I am grateful to Robert Johns, the photographer whose pictures of Andrea Hill have been causing a stir, for his comment on my post. He writes:
The pictures were originally licensed to Suffolk County Council for their editorial PR use. They were never licensed to the Evening Star for stock use to be used at will for any story about Andrea Hill. Absolutely, the correct position is that if the Evening Star want to use that set of pictures to illustrate their stories then they have to pay for them. The Evening Star and other publications need to understand and respect copyright. It is the cornerstone of our profession and is necessary for our survival.
I leave other journalists to ponder this.
George Orwell, who spent some of his formative years in Southwold before writing two great novels about totalitarianism, wrote that political language, “…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
He was born Eric Blair and took his pen name from the river which, a short distance from Endeavour House, home of Suffolk County Council, changes its name from Orwell to the Gipping.
The quotation in the first paragraph is taken his essay, Politics and the English Language, which was written in 1946, after he had written Animal Farm but before publication of 1984.
Now, the political debasement of the English language is continuing in the headquarters of Suffolk County Council.
Late last year the council launched its “Suffolk Care Homes Consultation 2010“.
Now the results have been published, but it is no longer a “consultation”. It has become a “conversation”.
The two words are not interchangeable. If I say I am going to the doctor for a consultation, it means one thing. Having a conversation with my doctor is something else.
The Oxford Dictionary shows the difference:
- Consultation noun [mass noun] the action or process of formally consulting or discussing: they improved standards in consultation with consumer representatives [count noun]: consultations between all sections of the party [count noun] a meeting with an expert, such as a medical doctor, in order to seek advice.
- Conversation noun a talk, especially an informal one , between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged: she picked up the phone and held a conversation in French [mass noun]: the two men were deep in conversation
The source of this change is not difficult to guess. Earlier this month, Andrea Hill, chief executive of the council, wrote to employees (on libraries):
Our consultation document – intended to be honest and early publication of a future scenario for libraries – has been interpreted as a definitive proposal to close 29 libraries. With hindsight I don’t think we should have called it ‘consultation’: it is rather information to stimulate a ‘creative conversation’.
It seems that we are first being consulted and then told we have only had a conversation.
Kathy Pollard, the Lib Dem leader has blogged on the substance of the consultation results.
A report in today’s East Anglian Daily Times demonstrates the confusion that is resulting from Suffolk County Council’s failure to make a public statement about changes in the basis of its consultation on the future of libraries.
The morning paper reports on events at Debenham, where a 28 hour read-in was held and a protest in defence of Stowmarket library.
In the consultation documents libraries are in two groups. The first is county libraries, which everyone belived were safe. Stowmarket is one of those.
The second group is community libraries, smaller ones including Debenham, which would only remain open if the community came forward with plans to take them over.
Nearly a month ago the council told campainers for libraries that the categorisation had not worked and was being abandoned. Instead they talked about three core libraries, Ipswich County, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft.
Since then there has been silence from Endeavour House. They have made no formal announcement of the change but have not denied what they said at the meeting with campaigners, nor clarified it. They refused to make any changes in the consultation.
This leaves people in places like Stowmarket in a surreal limbo.
Town councillor Duncan MacPherson, who helped organise the demonstration, told theEADT:
It went very well and there was a lot of people of all ages, including a good number of children.
The crucial thing is that we don’t want the library classification to change. At the moment we hope it will stay open – but we don’t know what will happen to staff and services.
It is totally unfair to leave communities in doubt. It makes it look as if the county council itself does not know what it is doing. The situation needs to be clarified urgently.
A couple of things which have caught my eye in the past few days.
Louis Goddard at the 6th pip blog has looked more deeply into his earlier post about the energy efficiency of Suffolk County Council’s headquarters. He finds electricity use is the biggest problem. In other words turning off lights and electrical equipment is the priority.
Kevan Lim suggests that the reduction in the number of committees at Suffolk Councty Council means many of the 75 councillors are effectively unemployed.
Users of Debenham library were asked why they value the library during a 28-hour read-in to support continuence of a library in the Suffolk village in the face of county council spending cuts.
James Hargrave from Stradbroke has an extensive story about the read-in, with photos and video, at his blog. I will be posting my reflections later today.
The credibility of Suffolk County Council is in tatters as it claims that its own responses to a Freedom of Information Act request was “misleading”.
It took the Evening Star in Ipswich five months and four FoI requests to discover the council had paid £1,474.74 for photographs of chief executive Andrea Hill.
The story was published on Friday and it soon became apparent that this was being followed-up by most national newspapers. The council’s communications team went into action and, according to the Sun started backtracking.
Yesterday the Evening Star reported a council spokesman saying:
It is true to say that the figure of £1,474.74p for photography supplied in a recent FoI request was assigned to the name of the chief executive.
Unfortunately and on reflection, that was misleading. The actual invoice supplied by the photographer shows that £1,474.74p was the total figure charged for two separate pieces of work on June 25 and July 3.
The work also included portraits of 14 councillors, the election of the chair and vice chair of the council and coverage of a community seminar.
It is entirely wrong to suggest that £1,474.74 was spent solely on photographs of Andrea Hill.
This came at the end of the week when frustration in Whitehall came to the surface, with local government minister Grant Shapps directly criticising Ms Hill.
Daily Telegraph columnist Alison Pearson wrote:
Eric Pickles [communities and local government secretary], that delectable love-child of Humpty Dumpty and Ena Sharples, may talk tough, but he is hamstrung by the Government’s strategy of devolved localism. Is it really such a good idea to give even more power to the regions when a sense of grandiose entitlement has spread like fungus through councils across the land? Suffolk is closing libraries, has sacked lollipop ladies and cancelled children’s travel cards. Meanwhile, Freedom of Information requests reveal that Andrea Hill, Suffolk’s chief executive, who is paid £218,592 a year, spent £14,188 of public money on a leadership adviser who gave her lessons in how to “liberate herself” to do her job better. For £525 an hour plus VAT, I’m sure we’d all be delighted to suggest how Mrs Hill might liberate herself. Slashing her own monster pay packet in half and distributing the excess to starving librarians would be a start.
That is the crux of the matter, Suffolk has become a damaging embarrassment to the Conservative-led government’s plans for localism and the big society. Insiders talk of “tension” between Whitehall and Endeavour House.
Monday, March 21: Robert Johns, the photographer, has now responded on his own blog under the heading The Truth Behind the Andrea Hill Portraits. It generally confrms that the county council FoI response to the Evening Star was “misleading”. But his attack on the Evening Star seems to be misguided, probably because he has only read the online version and did not have access to the full detail printed in the paper.
He also writes:
I have worked with Andrea before when she was the Chief Executive of Bedfordshire County Council. Under her leadership the Council went from no stars to 3 Stars in less than 3 years. I shot a very iconic picture, a portrait of the council to illustrate the journey upward. The picture was shortlisted in the British Press Photographers Awards 2006 for Business, Industry and Technology.
A Suffolk photographer was used prior to me being commissioned and he didn’t do a great job. I make no apology for the fact that I am good at what I do. I’m not a photographer who turns up and simply ’snaps’.
Until this week I had never got around to finding out more about the house called the “Old Library” near where I live. It turns out it was once the home of the Debenham Mechanics Institute library and reading room.
But a little online research found mention that in the 1860s it found an early home in the Market Cross, the best known building in the village. Originally believed to be a market building it became a school in the 17th century and then lay empty in the mid-19th century after a new school had been built.
Debenham institute was one of many around England formed by people who believed that eduction was hugely important and access to books and papers was an essential part of that.
So, I found myself in Ipswich Institute, the only library of its kind remaining in Suffolk. And on the shelves John Glyde’s Suffolk in the 19th Century, had much to day about libraries. It is based on data from the 1851 census and it is no wonder Glyde was passionate about libraries: he had left school at the age of nine. It would be fascinating to know more about him.
This is how the chapter on Literary and Scientific Institutions starts:
WE have seen that Agricultural Suffolk is celebrated for Schools of inferior quality, and, as may be expected, institutions for carrying on the means of instruction among adults are neither numerous nor flourishing in this county. Newspapers and cheap publications have but a small circulation in Suffolk. The educative influence arising from the contact of mind with mind is denied to a scattered population, and the agricultural mind in this district lags in the rear of a large portion of England.
In 1851 Suffolk was a very different place, but in that last quoted sentence he echoes concern we have at present. The closing of rural libraries would deprive many of that “contact of mind”.
When he wrote there were 20 libraries in Suffolk: Beccles, Bures, Bury (2) Clare, Framlingham, Haverhill, Ipswich (4), Leiston, Lowestoft, Melford, Needham, Stowmarket, Sudbury, Woodbridge and Yoxford.
At Debenham, he writes that an attempt had been made to form an institute, but Bungay, “to its disgrace, has no library for the people”.
Suffolk was not well provided and Glyde tells us:
By the Census Educational Report, we find in the West Riding of York, one Literary Institute to every 867 persons: in Suffolk there is one to every 22,481 persons.
These institute libraries were small and had very few women members. They required subscriptions and generally reached the already educated tradesmen and middle classes.
The chapter is fascinating with much detail including the numbers of members and books for each library as well as the subscription rates. I have scanned it and it can be downloaded here.