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Agenda item

Deputation Requests

1)    Karen Barrett-Ayres for item 9.1 in relation to libraries

2)    Laurie Mackay for item 9.1 in relation to libraries

3)    Alasdair Ross (ACVO) for item 9.2 - to ask members to consider the results of the Third Sector’s recent discussion on the Council’s budget consultation and to accept the conclusions of our report (copy attached)


(A)      The Council received a deputation from Karen Barrett-Ayres with regard to agenda item 9.1 - Libraries and Bucksburn Swimming Pool Consultation Results.


Ms Barrett-Ayres reminded the Council of the events that had led to this stage, which included the judicial review. She highlighted a number of deficiencies with the consultation process - it had happened too late, in a hurry and without proper public spaces to host it in (like a library) with limited reach. Reliance on social media excluded much of the public who do not use social media. There was also confusion as it ran in tandem with other library consultations and it required people to provide their full names which put many people off from participating. Despite these issues, Ms Barrett-Ayres highlighted that the consultation had garnered more responses than the budget consultation.


Ms Barrett-Ayres questioned the reliance on consultation responses to characterise local communities and suggested that Councillors should look at census data to determine those figures more accurately. She added that she would welcome if Councillors could re-examine existing data held for each of the closed libraries to assess whether there were more elderly or disabled users for a particular library and use that data to inform the decision.


Ms Barrett-Ayres stated that she had read the revised impact assessment and noted with interest that some protected characteristics had been increased in level from low impact to medium impact. She added that she would like to ask for an outline of what types of mitigations had been put in place that specifically addressed the needs of those with disabilities, mobility issues and the elderly who cannot get to an alternative library that is too far away.


Ms Barrett-Ayres drew on her own experience as a person with a disability who had been a frequent user of Ferryhill Library prior to its closure. She had since tried going to the Central Library with her child but found it too tiring so had registered with the home delivery service. Although the home delivery service was very efficient, it was not the same experience of visiting a library in person and choosing books. Her child’s experience had also been diminished as their school library did not provide access to books and the home library service was not suitable for their needs. Although she was happy to buy books for her child, many children from disadvantaged backgrounds were not in the same position.


Ms Barrett-Ayres referred to research by the Scottish Book Trust, as well as Scottish Government guidance and the city’s Local Outcome Improvement Plan and stated that the Council’s actions did not align with its ambitions.


Ms Barrett-Ayres concluded by questioning why the libraries were being lumped together as a job lot - they should be assessed individually, it should not be all or nothing. Ms Barrett-Ayres also questioned why the decision was being taken at this stage when the more detailed review of future library provision was awaited - the decision should be put on hold until that report was available. Nevertheless, Ms Barrett-Ayres emphasised that Councillors had the power to vote for option 2 - to reverse the decision, to recommission the libraries, stave off further legal action and save their tarnished reputation in the process.


Members asked questions of Ms Barrett-Ayres and thanked her for her deputation.


(B)      The Council received a deputation from Laurie Mackay also with regard to agenda item 9.1.


Ms Mackay advised that many of the points she had intended to make had been made by Ms Barrett-Ayres. She thanked library staff for their work in carrying out the impossible task of overseeing the consultation, however she emphasised that the consultation should have been carried out while the libraries were still open, rather than after decisions had been taken to close them.


Ms Mackay referred to data contained within the report and information within the Integrated Impact Assessments. It was noted that library usage figures had increased, however she felt that the figures would have been even higher had the six libraries remained open, with Ferryhill and Cults libraries having enjoyed comparatively high levels of footfall prior to closure. Ms Mackay highlighted that the report referred to libraries within schools, however not all schools had libraries and lack of space was an issue that had been cited - she underlined that a book shelf in a classroom was not the same as a library.


Ms Mackay stated that she was very worried about the impact the library closures had on people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with protected characteristics - people had made themselves ill trying to get the Council to listen to them. She added that the attitude of the Council to those who were disadvantaged was very worrying.


Ms Mackay highlighted flaws with statistics within the report - for example there was no average footfall pre-pandemic; there were geographical differences between the libraries which needed to be taken into account; and many people with protected characteristics would have been less able to take part in the consultation - for example due to lack of access to a computer. In addition the focus groups that had taken place during the day had taken place during the school holidays when many parents would not have had access to childcare to allow them to attend.


Ms Mackay urged Councillors to consider a third option, which was the reopening of some of the libraries, however prior to that she asked the Council to pause taking its decision until all Councillors, not just those Councillors on the Communities, Housing and Public Protection Committee, could consider the report on the review of the library service in January 2024.


Members asked questions of Ms Mackay and thanked her for her deputation.


(C)      The Council received a deputation from Alasdair Ross (ACVO) with regard to agenda item 9.2 - Budget Protocol: Phase 2 Consultation and Budget Update.


Mr Ross explained the purpose of Aberdeen Council of Voluntary Organisations (ACVO) and their considerable experience of working with and representing the third sector in Aberdeen. He advised that in November, voluntary organisations discussed the impact of proposals in Aberdeen City Council’s budget consultation, which led to the production of a report which had been shared with elected members. In addition, elected members had also received a letter with regard to Fairer Aberdeen Funding and the impact cuts would have on organisations.


Mr Ross emphasised that there was a real absence of a comprehensive assessment of the repercussions of the proposals on organisations, individuals and communities, which was a huge worry to the third sector. He added that loss of services would lead to pressures on other services, including statutory services as a provider of last resort. Furthermore, there would be an increase in social isolation and an increased toll on the mental health of staff and volunteers in the third sector, as well as an inevitable loss of jobs. This would lead to a ripple effect throughout the community resulting in communities being at greater risk of harm.


Mr Ross highlighted that the third sector had considered mitigations and this required a multi-faceted approach - working together to provide sustainable solutions was essential. He added that there needed to be a shift towards diverseness and preventive services, with an emphasis on sustainability rather than short term fixes - the integral role of the third sector must be recognised in financial planning.


Mr Ross concluded by calling upon the Council to take immediate and decisive action. It was vital that measures were implemented to safeguard the most vulnerable individuals in our city. The preservation of the Fairer Aberdeen Fund was critical for maintaining a lifeline for essential services and must be a priority in the Council’s considerations. He implored the Council to sign the Volunteer Charter and emphasised that collaboration with ACVO was essential, which was recognised as a policy commitment for the Council. Mr Ross underlined that ACVO wanted to work with the Council on fair funding and to explore opportunities that existed. He stressed that meaningful engagement with the third sector was crucial, however it must extend beyond mere consultation. Mr Ross urged members to consider ACVO’s report and accept its conclusions.


Members asked questions of Mr Ross and thanked him for his contribution.

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