When Clive Fox appeared before Suffolk County Councils Scrutiny committee last year talking about Aldeburgh’s proposals for its library he sounded like a cheer leader for the Big Society policy which even David Cameron no longer mentions.
Library campaign and blogger James Hrgrave remembers that Mr Fox told the committee library campaigners were “rent-a-mob”.
The news today that the county council has appointed Mr Fox as chairman of the co-operative to run the county’s libraries was, to me, a shock. He is going to have to work very hard to prove that he is not the devisive figure that he appears to be.
The process by which he and two other board members have been appointed is obscure. The press release provides no clue to the basis on which they were chosen.
James Hargrave writes: “I think Clive Fox will have an uphill struggle to get credibility amongst local library groups”
The other two appointees to the interim board of the Industrial Provident Society to run the libraries are Mike Hosking, former director of libraries, learning an culture at Cambridgeshire County Council, and Shona Bendix, chief executive of Suffolk Association of Local Councils.
A further four board members will will be selected from nominations by community library groups. There will be a “selection process” (unexplained) before are appointed by the council. A member of the library staff will also be appointed.
I suppose Clive Fox has been chosen to chair the new board by Judy Terry, council cabinet member responsible for libraries, as almost the lone voice who offered unstinting support to her original plans for the libraries.
Those original plans were overthrown with the promise that no libraries would close. The virtual council plans, The New Strategic Direction, were also ditched after the resignation of the council leader, Jeremy Pembroke (he remains a member of the council) and chief executive Andrea Hill.
Support for the discredited policies was shown in the tone of the Aldeburgh response to the libraries consultation, put together by a steering group of which Clive Fox is chairman:
Suffolk County Council (hereafter SCC) has invited public response, by 30 April 2011, to its proposals for changing the basis of the County Library Service. These are driven by two policies, which also reflect national Government priorities; although the immediate public reactions to the initiative have understandably tended to assume they are a single issue.
The first is the need to reduce public expenditure, to tackle the unsustainable national structural deficit. All Local Authorities have to find ways to make significant reductions in public service expenditure. SCC has chosen to include library services in their solution.
The second is the County Council’s policy of divesting itself of responsibilities for managing public services directly, including all library services, by transferring those responsibilities to other front-line providers.
This initiative also reflects the Government’s policy to change the balance between central and local control of public services, and the conviction that local people are better able to assess local issues and priorities, finding a diversity of solutions that can be better matched to people’s needs. This is now often called ‘the Big Society’, or ‘new localism’.
The key concepts of this are empowering individuals and communities, encouraging social responsibility, and creating a State that is enabling and accountable. It requires devolution of responsibilities and resources to local levels, and confidence in the capacity of local communities to manage things for themselves.
Clive Fox promises an “open, listening and learning organisation”. I hope it is.