Shirley Burnham's Blog : 21st March 2011


How to Hobble the 1964 Act ?

What's a hobble ?  It's a device that prevents or limits the locomotion of a human or an animal by tethering one or more legs.  By carefully placing the the hobbles around one leg at a time the creatures become used to how it feels. The hobbles are then twisted to take up the slack.  Most will panic the first time they feel the constraints, but in time will not be aware they have been applied.

Have I lost my marbles, you might legitimately ask, with these allusions to hobbles and (burdensome) beasts ? Then you must have missed DCLG questionnaire published this month that included three key references to the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.   Respondents are asked to "comment on the duties and challenge government on those which you feel are burdensome or no longer needed".

Whilst public fears that rendering the Act at one blow to the status of dog-meat, by a humane shot to the head, have been described as a "fiction" or a "non-story" by both DCLG and the Minister, Ed Vaizey  ....  We must ask ourselves :

What, then, is government attempting to do ?

Here is a possible clue : the Sutton Guardian (17/3/2011) reports that representatives of one of the three surviving "Big Society" councils recently visited 10 Downing Street to discuss the government's pledge to break down bureaucratic barriers.  Sutton Council Leader, Sean Brennan, stated : "This was a very positive meeting.  We talked about the types of red tape that ties local government in knots and prevents councils from getting things done quickly and cheaply."

Hence my suspicion, and it is entirely without evidence, that their talks included the "burdens" that the DCLG has put up for review, including the Libraries Act.

If the 1964 Act is to be hobbled, without actually withdrawing the "comprehensive and efficient" element  --  then it is premature to emit sighs of relief that it will remain in force.  We must seek firm assurances that red tape will not be cut by allowing councils to ignore the information-gathering aspects of the Act.  We must seek further assurances that "divested", community-run libraries are not surreptitiously included within the terms of the Act.  We must demand that communities not be allowed to charge the public for using libraries that residents are being coerced into "running" themselves.

Vigilance, not complacency, is needed.  Gelding or hobbling the 1964 Act in any way will render it impotent and useless.