SAVE SHEFFIELD LIBRARIES
Do you care about your library?
They should not be shut.
They cannot be run by volunteers.
They are not businesses.
Libraries are a public service
and they need your support
19th Feb 6.30pm
United Reform Church
(Norfolk St/Chapel Walk)
Join us for a public meeting:
SAVE SHEFFIELD LIBRARIES
Library Workers For A Brighter Future
Save Sheffield Libraries campaign meeting
Love your library? Think any cuts are bad? Feeling overwhelmed and not sure what to do about it?
Come and talk about what we can do to protect libraries in Sheffield, at the Quaker Meeting House, Wednesday 29th Feb, 6.30pm onwards. (Donations for room hire very welcome!)
Just because there are no libraries closing doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems - the cuts are affecting the service, and there are more to come.
Likely format will be:
informal go-round with people’s concerns for libraries, small groups to talk about solutions, then coming together to get an idea about how we can take these ideas forward.
Please pass this on!
See you there…
P.s. Facebook event is here
#NLD12 - UNISON “Save Sheffield Libraries” Petition Launch
As part of National Libraries Day UNISON Sheffield will be launching a petition against cuts to library services outside the Central Library on Saturday 4th February. The text of the petition (which can be downloaded and printed from here) reads as follows:
We the undersigned oppose the cuts to library services in Sheffield. A well-funded library service is an integral part of a functioning democracy, providing access to information for ALL. Cuts to opening hours, decline in book stock, lack of new equipment and increased workloads for library workers reduce the capacity of the service to meet the needs of the community. We recognize that cuts to libraries are part of a wider, equally destructive and unnecessary attack on public services.
We call upon our elected representatives to lead a campaign to stop these proposed cuts.
Volunteers will be collecting signatures from 11am onwards.
To follow on from this a public meeting has been organised to launch the “Save Sheffield Libraries” campaign. This will be on Wednesday 29th February at 6.30pm at the Quaker Meeting house on Saint James’ Street near the Cathedral.
Mayday! Mayday! Save our libraries!
To celebrate International Workers’ Day Library Workers For A Brighter Future and Sheffield Uncut would like to invite you to the opening of the Sheffield Peoples’ Library. The exact location is yet to be confirmed, but we will meet in Cathedral Square at 1pm and proceed to the venue which we will occupy and transform into a library.
Bring a book, sit down and read. In honour of Mayday, the theme is ‘Trade Unions and workers rights’, so if you don’t already have something to read on that subject, get down to your library and see what they’ve got in stock.
Who? Library Workers For A Brighter Future and Sheffield Uncut and you
Where? Meet in Cathedral Square to go on to a high street venue to be announced on the day
When? 1pm-3pm, Saturday 30th April
What? Create the Sheffield Peoples’ Library! For one lunchtime we will create a library, complete with Storytime, reference service and real librarians!
Why? Because our libraries and public services, and the livelihoods of those who work in them, are under threat while billions of pounds, enough to clear the deficit and then some, is lost to tax avoidance by multi-national companies or handed out to save banks from their own ineptitude and corruption.
Click here for the Facebook event page.
Private Finance Insanity
In the second of our series of blog posts about cuts and and savings that can truly be called progressive we look at Private Finance Initiatives.
Private Finance Initiatives (PFI’s) were introduced by John Major’s government as a way of funding public works such as schools, hospitals and new roads through the use of private capital.
In practice this meant contracts were handed out to private firms who would then persuade investors to finance the building of a new school or hospital. The private firms then extracts rent from the government thereby providing investors with very healthy returns.
In opposition the Labour Party were critical of the new policy. Indeed future Chancellor Alistair Darling voiced concerns that "apparent savings now could be countered by the formidable commitment on revenue expenditure in years to come."Darling’s warning have proved to be prophetic, but once in government New Labour began to view PFI’s in a different light.
So why the change of heart? Along with the usual rhetorical bluster about private firms being more ‘efficient’ than public service providers, New Labour were particularly keen on PFI’s because it allowed them to spread the cost of new builds over a series of years rather than having one big splurge on their budget for any single financial year. However, as with anything bought on credit, the debt begins to climb.
A prime example is the huge burden of cost PFI’s have meant for the NHS. In August last year the Department of Health revealed that the NHS will eventually pay more than “£50bn for buildings worth just £11bn, with maintenance charges adding a further £15bn.”
Following the financial crisis investors simply stopped funding the projects. In March 2009, Yvette Cooper, then chief secretary to the Treasury, announced that the government would fund the PFI projects with taxpayers money. The government was lending money to private firm’s to fund project’s that they would then be renting back to us at a profit.
This was a state of affairs that even the Conservatives, the original innovators of PFI, admitted was unacceptable. Philip Hammond, the then Conservative Treasury spokesman, described the package as “a good deal for PFI bankers” but “a bad deal for taxpayers”.*
So how much taxpayers money is wasted through these PFI schemes? The answer is an enormous amount. As of March last year, the total cost of PFI’s was reported by the Financial Times to have totalled £210 billion. As the FT pointed out, this amount would run the NHS for two whole years.** £210 billion is also more than 2 ½ times the total of the spending cuts announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
The overwhelming failure of the private sector to provide ‘value for money’ on these projects has still not put the tiresome myth of ‘private is best’ to bed. Even now the NHS itself is faced with new raft of legislation which will seeks to continue this trend. Although there is huge opposition from the general public as well as healthcare professionals themselves.
George Monbiot of the Guardian has written about this subject for some time. He eloquently argues that the huge debts incurred by consecutive government’s should be declared as ‘odious’ and therefore written off.
At a time when we are being told that services for the most vulnerable, including libraries, must be squeezed, how can this monumental transfer of wealth from public to private hands be allowed to continue?
*Taxpayer set to fund fully PFI projects Financial TimesMar 4, 2009; Nicholas Timmins; p. 2
**PFI project costs exceed £200bn Financial Times, Mar 26, 2010; Nicholas Timmins; p. 2
The budget (at last…) and ‘Rage against the Lib Dems’
The budget was finally passed by Sheffield council at a meeting last Friday. We’ve had a quick read through and extracted some of the sections that deal with libraries.
From the main budget report (pages 34-35) we have the following:
138. The Council currently spends £8.5m providing a central library, 28 local
libraries, and four mobile libraries. We are currently considering what kind of
libraries we are going to need for the next 10 years – asking what the purpose
and role of local libraries will be in the future. Certainly, a lot has changed in the
last 100 years since municipal libraries were introduced to improve literacy rates
and provide space for learning in the community.
139. For example, many people now use libraries more for internet access than for
borrowing books, under fives have become key users of libraries, and our older
customers are now visiting libraries rather than using the mobile or housebound
service. In Sheffield, some libraries also host children’s centres and public
contact points like Sheffield Homes’ First Point.
140. Alongside this review of the future of libraries, we are also forming proposals to
bring some of our locally based services together into the same buildings to
save money and join up services for the customer. There is also potential for
working more closely with local community groups on the management and
running of libraries. This partnership working on libraries is not a new concept
for us as we already work closely with a social enterprise in Upperthorpe and
have strong links with voluntary groups at Park.
141. To allow some time for us to develop our plans for libraries and local services
more generally, we are proposing to cope with reduced budgets by reducing the
amount we spend on new books next year and reducing some library open
hours. We will also reduce mobile library routes. However, there are currently
no proposals to close libraries in Sheffield.
Also this, in an amendment tabled by Councillor Simon Clement-Jones and seconded by Councillor Paul Scriven, amongst paragraphs of political mudslinging under the heading “measures to deliver savings included within the present Administration’s budget proposal”:
introducing self-service, use of volunteers and small reductions in hours to libraries, museums and other community resources in order to avoid mass closures (Section g (iv)).
The intention seems clear. To claim a victory in not closing any libraries, whilst simultaneously replacing paid, trained staff with volunteers and handing the management of library buildings over to voluntary groups and private companies. And this is just year one!
Libraries are more than the just buildings - they are the staff, the service, the resources, the expertise, the relationships - the list goes on. Promising to keep buildings open at the expense of all these other factors is not good enough. Our events in libraries have shown the support we have in our communities. We can and should continue to oppose these cuts. Nothing is set in stone, nothing is definite - the government backtracked on their decision to sell off publicly owned woodland because of public pressure and they can be made to think twice about these cuts too.
There are many alternatives to the cuts - cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion, a Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions, and making national insurance fair (currently, on earnings of up to £844 a week, you currently pay 11% national insurance, on earnings beyond that point, you pay 1%).
This Saturday at 11am, on Devonshire Green, we will be joining hundreds, maybe thousands, of others from across the UK to march on the Liberal Democrat conference here in Sheffield. We will express our rage at these cuts, at these policies that put the profits of banks and corporations before the well-being of the sick and vulnerable. Make no mistake, the Lib Dems are only one part of the problem, but they’re coming here to our city and we intend to give them them the welcome they deserve.
We hope you will join us.
Posters for the Read-in…
…are available to download here and here.
Download, print and put up everywhere!
Read-in for Sheffield Libraries!
Head down to your local library on Saturday 5th of March for a Sheffield-wide read-in!
Friday 4th of March will see Sheffield City Council finalise its budget (not without a protest outside the Town Hall though…). The proposed cuts to Sheffield Library Service will mean a massively reduced mobile library capacity, reductions in opening hours at most branches and the loss of around 33 full-time staff posts. In small service points many of the activities will have to go - this includes babytimes and storytimes. Linked in with proposed cuts to Surestart this is a double whammy to parents of under fives. Despite the fact that we have been assured that no libraries will close this year, there is still another £1.1 million to come off the library budget in 2012/13 and 2013/14. It is hard to see how this won’t lead to closures.
We have to make our voice heard now! Get down to your local library for 11am on Saturday 5th March, grab a book and start reading. Make signs and banners to explain why you are there, why you value your library service and why you are opposed to ALL cuts to public services.
We have a Facebook event page here. Invite everyone you know!
We are also looking for volunteers who can take photos and/or film the event in their local library. Please contact us at lwfabf(at)gmail.com if you think you can help out.
We’re working on flyers and posters - a link to download them will be posted up here asap.
What Price A Life
In the first of new series of blog posts we look at a series of cuts and savings that can truly be called progressive.
Our first topic is the massive amounts spent by our NHS on patented drugs each year. Like the current government we too believe that the current healthcare system is in need of a major overhaul, but one that results in a diminished rather than greater role for the private sector.
You may have recently come across a story that The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has confirmed there will not be NHS funding in England and Wales for the anti-cancer drug Avastin. This has caused great controversy as research has shown that the drug can add as much as 6 weeks of life for up to 6,500 cancer sufferers nationwide.
So why have NICE taken such a contentious and unpopular decision? Because the drug currently costs the NHS £21,000 per patient. If the NHS took the decision to pay for the drug for everyone who is eligible the overall cost to the health service would be an astronomical £136, 500,000. Although this has generated a great deal of debate it appears that very few people are asking the right questions. In 2008 sales of Avastin in the US alone generated nearly $2.7 billion in royalties for Genentech, the company the owns the patent for Avastin.
Admittedly the cost of research and technology into drugs are not cheap, but the fact is; these corporations get huge subsidies in helping with these costs. As Genentech explain in its 2009 report to its shareholders, many of these costs are ‘reimbursed’;
“We also receive reimbursements from certain collaborators on some of our R&D expenditures, depending on the mix of spending between us and our collaborators. These R&D expense reimbursements are primarily included in contract revenue, and were $227 million in 2008, $196 million in 2007, and $185 million in 2006.”
So who tend to be these collaborators? Well simply put it’s us. According to the Department of Health website the governments budget for health research for 2010-11 is £1025 million, whilst another 120 charitable organisations such as Cancer Research UK collectively contribute over £1 billion per year. Once drugs go in to mass production, they generally cost very little to produce.
It wasn’t always like this however. In 1955, Jonas Salk was interviewed after the news broke that his team had discovered a vaccine for polio, when the interviewer asked who owned the patent on this vaccine, thoughts turned towards the huge potential financial rewards Salk and his team could receive for their momentous discovery. “Well,” Salk replied, “the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
So the next time your at your local chemist and pick up some pain killers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (don’t be fooled in to buying Panadol or Nurofen. They are just the same drugs with more attractive packaging) for just a few pence, think a little on why the NHS is expected to fork out £21,000 a pop on drugs that could extend people’s lives simply because they are still under patent.
Its sad that today Salk’s reply seems such a remarkable response. When it was announced that NICE were to make this sad decision not one commentator questioned whether it was appropriate that such a vital drug was the source of such outrageous profiteering, a drug whose discovery was overwhelmingly funded by the public purse. Instead we appear to live a world were one person’s pain and suffering is the basis of another’s huge dividend payment. We feel strongly that when profit is so literally put before people, it really is time to act.
Not “the end of the world” apparently…
Last week Councillor Paul Scriven, Leader of Sheffield Council, went on the World at One on Radio Four and announced that there would be no library closures in Sheffield. In the rush to announce to the nation how great the cuts will be in Sheffield (despite the pay freeze, job losses, etc., those of us on under £21000 are being offered a £250 pay rise - crumbs from the table), they neglected to inform frontline library staff about any of the points made regarding non-closure of libraries. An interesting way to find out about the future of your service.
In that same week 88 local Lib Dem heads wrote to The Times to voice their concerns about the cuts being imposed by central government. Among other things they state that:
"These cuts will have an undoubted impact on all frontline council services, including care services to the vulnerable”
"Rather than assist the country’s recovery by making savings to the public in a way that can protect local economies and the front line, the cuts are structured in such a way that they will do the opposite."
(Full text of letter available here)
Councillor Scrivens name isn’t on the list of signatories. According to his interview these cuts aren’t “the end of the world”. Such a glib attitude seems inappropriate to say the least in the face of cuts to vital services such as respite care. He also quotes a figure of around “270 jobs” that “will have to go” in Sheffield. This figure is misleading as it doesn’t include around 300 staff who have volunteered for redundancy and 161 empty posts which have not been filled, meaning the workforce is set to be reduced by somewhere around 800 at least. In the context of libraries, not renewing temporary contracts and not filling vacant posts will have a profound effect not only on those individuals thrown to the mercy of the jobs market, but on the level of service we can offer.
However, favourable comparisons have been made with the much larger numbers due to be made unemployed in Labour-controlled cities such as Manchester. So why the discrepancy between councils? Could it be that the cuts are being used as a political weapon by all parties? Manchester (Labour) announce massively damaging cuts (“Look how bad these government cuts are! We’d be much gentler”), and then Sheffield (Lib Dem) announce what are presented as slightly less damaging cuts (“See, we can be fair in how we cut services”) - this despite the fact that, at the time of writing, the budget still has to be voted on in Sheffield. Surely no one could be so cynical as to use cuts to services people rely upon for their well-being to score political points? Could they?
All of this goes on against the backdrop of another move by our government to help business ahead of people. An excellent article by George Monbiot shows how the government is effectively cutting corporation tax and encouraging private enterprise to relocate out of the country - the very same private enterprise that should be re-employing all of those made redundant from the public sector. How is this happening? To quote Monbiot’s excellently referenced article:
"Almost all the members of the seven committees the government set up “to provide strategic oversight of the development of corporate tax policy” are corporate executives. Among them are representatives of Vodafone, Tesco, BP, British American Tobacco and several of the major banks: HSBC, Santander, Standard Chartered, Citigroup, Schroders, RBS and Barclays."
None of the major parties disagree about the 'necessity' of these cuts - they’re only arguing over the speed at which they should take place. So we have point-scoring with peoples lives and corporate control of government policy - this isn’t just about cuts, this problem is systematic.