Sunday, 20 March 2011

Those pesky laws! #libnews digest number 8

I've been thinking of The Simpsons Amendment song this week. A sideways dig at American politics and how laws that could be considered to be against the bill of rights can still be passed by amending the bill.

The key story for me this week has been our government's review of statutory duties placed on local authorities. I first found out about this from a note posted by VfTL on Facebook and it's since got quite a few column inches in the book trade press and the popular press. Fears of the removal of the statutory duty on councils to provide a 'comprehensive and efficient' library service have been downplayed by the Government. The fact remains though that the duty is under review despite Ed Vaizey's promise that the act is safe.

Thinking a bit more broadly than the library situation for a minute, this review could have massive implications for all sorts of services. I guess my concern is not with the concept of reviewing statutory services but with the way it's being carried out. My impression of the review when I completed it was that the survey is a bit leading - it suggests that, rather than thinking about what services are important, we should all look to identify services that could be cut. I think the language of the survey puts this spin on it and even the URL for the review is suggestive of cuts ( - notice the "tacklingburdens" bit?

It's almost as if it's suddenly dawned on the government that these pesky laws, that have been laid down over decades, might actually do the job for which they were intended i.e. protecting vital public services. So the obvious answer is to scrap the laws. That might not go down to well politically so the answer is to get the public to identify the statutes to be amended.

The flaw with this way of thinking is that the duties don't apply to us all. Lets take an example - one of the statutory duties under review is that councils consult their tenants before selling their home to a private landlord. As I'm not a council tenant this duty doesn't apply to me and I could comment that I'd like to see it scrapped (I won't by the way!). For others, this duty is really important but this review gives me (someone who's not really affected by the duty) the power to comment on a service that is vitally important to others. And if there is a subtext to the review suggesting that we all think of things to cut... well it doesn't take too much forward thinking to see where all this could go.

I think this is one to watch and, as well as having our say in the review, I think we also need to keep a critical eye on how these processes are being carried out. You can comment on the review here.

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