After more than three hours of a council meeting about libraries yesterday afternoon, I wake up this morning still wondering whether the outcome might have been different if a loo break had been called.
The scrutiny committee of Suffolk County Council was breaking new ground by examining the issue before the cabinet makes a decision.
Colin Hart, who chairs the committee with flexibility and humour, said beforehand: “I’ve long called for the Scrutiny Committee to be given the opportunity to have a say on key issues before they are decided on by Cabinet.”
At a crucial moment yesterday he said to the non-council people called to give evidence (I was not taking a note but believe this is a fair summary): “We [the council] have got ourselves in a hole. Will you help us get out of it?”
The suggestion was for all those with an interest in the issue to sit town together and try to find a solution, but it got lost in the surprised and equivocal responses. Quickly, the momentum was lost.
If there had been a short break in the meeting at that point the idea of talks before the cabinet decision is made might have got somewhere during the meeting. It is not too late now to open a dialogue.
One concern among campaigners is that Judy Terry, the cabinet member responsible for libraries sometimes gives the impression that she wants to get through a policy as close as it can be to the old New Strategic Direction idea.
In fact she made a significant change in the amended version of the policy which was announced after Mark Bee became leader of the council.
She avoided saying they intended to set up a Community Interest Company to provide core services and instead talked about a “social enterprise”. A CIC would be a social enterprise, but so are other models of organisation and governance.
But this significant change in her position seemed to pass unnoticed by members of the committee who continued to talk about the Community Interest Company.
Sometimes Ms Terry’s use of language does not help. Many of the councillors seemed surprised to learn that the differentiation between “county” and “community” libraries had been dropped.
Library campaigners had learned this more than three months ago during a meeting at Endeavour House, but it had never been unequivocally announced. Probably there was a fear that it would make the drive a fatal nail into the consultation.
And yesterday, Ms Terry stuck to her formula that she had always made it clear that all libraries were subject to the consultation. The problem is that the consultation documents led most people to believe otherwise and that the bigger libraries were outside the consultation.
There does seem to be a basis for talks which just might result in a cabinet decision which is more widely acceptable.
This is a very subjective look at the meeting. For a traditional report (as a journalist, I would have written much the same), read Paul Geater in the East Anglian Daily Times.
Further links since this post was published: James Hargrave, from Stradbroke who gave evidence at the meeting, blogs about it. Alasdair Ross, an Ipswich labour blogger sees no change. And Andrew Coates, also sees a continuation of the New Strategic Direction.