Agenda item

Questions with Notice from Members of the Public


Question from Mr Chris Henderson to Councillor Lorraine Lindsay-Gale


On 10th May the Government released its roadmap for exiting lockdown, at which point it became clear that Libraries would be allowed to open to the public from the 4th July. Local authorities around the Country worked towards this date, Neighbouring Buckinghamshire, for example, established a select and collect service from 22nd June and had their entire library network open on 6th July.


Oxfordshire in contrast seemed totally unprepared. A decision to phase re-opening was made in early May but it remains unclear upon what basis. Despite a late change in timetable with the opening date for the first tranche of libraries brought forward from the 31st July to the 13th July there are at present only plans to have 11 sites open by 20th July with no date given for the rest of the network (at time of writing this question).


Members of Library staff, keen to provide a service to their public, were repeatedly told they should say absolutely nothing about re-opening to the public who pay their wages or to their Library Friends Groups with veiled threats of repercussions for anyone who stepped out of line.


No information was available on the County website until 7th July, in marked contrast to almost every other local authority.


Can the Cabinet Member explain what exceptional circumstances exist in Oxfordshire that make it so difficult to re-open their library service?




Oxfordshire County Council is in step with other local authorities in taking aplanned approach to reopening its public libraries and public facilities in a prioritised way, making sure all staff and our communities are safe when they return to our buildings.


Public Library services across the UK are taking a slightly different approach to reopening their services.  Some library services have not yet reopened, some libraries have opened some of their libraries and some have offered a click and collect service only.  


Derbyshire for example have reopened a very small number of its libraries initially with residents having to book an appointment to visit their library, Cambridge / Peterborough reopened less than 1/4 of its libraries.  Dorset will continue a click and collect service for the foreseeable future. Kent has reopened 12 of its 99 libraries for a click and collect service. Milton Keynes and Wiltshire don't yet have a date for their libraries to reopen.


We are pleased that our planning will deliver a return to some of the things our residents value and have missed over the last few extraordinary months. While some library authorities are just planning a click and collect service, our priority is to get people back into libraries in a safe and socially-distanced way, so that they can choose their own books and access the range of other services that our libraries offer.


They will be able to browse, select their own materials, check these items out and of course return the items to the library. All returns will do  72 hours in quarantine.  Customers will be able to use the public computers, and for our vulnerable residents libraries will provide the bus pass and blue badge validation service. With visits restricted to 30 minutes, we are maximising the opportunity for all members of our community to access our libraries. 

The first set of libraries opened yesterday; something I am sure you will join with me in celebrating. And I can reconfirm we will continue a very measured programme to open subsequent libraries in a planned and carefully controlled way. 


During lockdown our library staff have been very busy behind the scenes supporting frontline customer services including:


·        Making calls to vulnerable residents shielding

·        Supporting Registration services with critical document distribution

·        Marshalling traffic when the Household Waste Recycling Centres re-opened


I am proud to say that the Library service has also enhanced its ebook provision by £20,000, and has been delivering story times, a creative writing series, book clubs, Lego clubs, poetry competitions, origami sessions, podcasts, online homework and study resources, our digital summer programme and of course our summer reading challenge. 882 people joined online between April-June.


The Service have issued various social media and print press releases advising the public that we are working on a phased re-opening.  Library staff have been supported in responding to online queries.


It would be inappropriate of me to comment in detail on internal staffing matters however please be assured that my senior managers have thoroughly reviewed information shared with staff both verbally and in writing and can confirm our staff have been kept fully updated with plans for reopening and key messages they can share with members of the public and friends of the library groups. They are disappointed to receive your allegations of behaviour they do not recognise.


Our focus now must be to get our staff into the libraries set to reopen our doors to Oxfordshire residents in the weeks to come.  As of yesterday,


The following libraries are open:

·     Oxfordshire County Library with new enlarged lifts…

·     Abingdon

·     Thame

·     Witney

·     Bicester

·     Didcot

The following libraries will reopen on the week commencing 20 July 2020

·     Banbury

·     Cowley

·     Carterton

·     Henley

·     Kidlington


Dates for the reopening of libraries elsewhere in Oxfordshire will be published

in due course.




I am delighted that we now have dates for the opening of 11 Libraries in Oxfordshire.  Can you tell me when you will haves dates for the opening of the other 33 Libraries in Oxfordshire?




No, I’m afraid I cannot at the moment, but we will be announcing them as soon as they are ready to open.  The staff were working hard as a task force, putting in all the safety measures that were now required in a calm and measured way.


Question from Mr Peter Barnett to Councillor Yvonne Constance


Following the disappointing allocation of Tranche 1 Emergency Active Travel Funds (EATF) from DfT and, while I understand the laudable intention of OCC to spread the funds in the bid evenly across the county, will OCC commit to fully involve and consult, not just county councillors, as in the EATF Tranche 1 bid, but also the various cycling and other expert groups such as Cyclox and Build Back Better - Oxford, in the development of the bid for EATF Tranche 2 funding, and further will OCC commit that these groups will actually see the EATF Tranche 2 bid before it is submitted so that further mistakes are not made.




The Emergency Active Travel Fund was intended to enable walking and cycling as lockdown restrictions were eased through ‘swift and meaningful plans to reallocate road space to cyclists and pedestrians, including on strategic corridors. Oxfordshire was given an indicative allocation of £597,000 for tranche one. The conditions we were asked to comply with included spending the money within eight weeks, and we were given 1 week to submit our proposal.

In developing the Oxfordshire proposal, officers started by reviewing the outputs of the recently undertaken active travel member survey to ensure that our bid reflected their priorities. We then shortlisted these based on the measures we believed were consistent with the grant conditions and those that were aligned with the priorities of the district and city councils. We also ensured that the needs of the entire county were considered. In addition to new temporary measures, we also proposed that we would add to any money from Department for Transport (DfT) by reprioritising our maintenance programmes, and also sought other funding to enable more to be done, including the use of developer’s contributions. This process was designed to ensure that we developed a package of measures that would best meet the needs of Oxfordshire’s residents and communities as lockdown restrictions were eased.


When we received formal notification of funding, we were advised that DfT had decided to award authorities either 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% of their allocation. In some cases, authorities could receive more than their indicative allocation. This was not stated in the original grant conditions.

Oxfordshire received 50% of its indicative allocation. Feedback from DfT, suggested that they didn’t feel all of our measures would achieve the meaningful shift to cycling and walking. They said that “we did not see sufficient evidence of this in your proposal and noted that a number of measures were around maintenance of existing lanes and repainting of existing cycle lanes which is not the primary purpose of the fund, so were not able to agree to the full indicative allocation”. We suspect the approach of looking across Oxfordshire as a whole rather than concentrating on main urban areas may have also had a bearing. This does seem to have been an issue across the country, with many counties receiving approximately 50% of their allocation, and many urban metropolitan areas receiving either 100% or 111% of their allocation.


As set out above, the Active Travel Fund was just one of a number of funding sources that we are using to deliver this programme, and I can confirm that all the measures we identified for the tranche one programme will be still delivered. It is clear from the feedback from DfT that any additional funding we could have received from them would have had to be spent on measures that are in addition to what is already planned, and so wouldn’t have reduced the financial pressure to deliver our current programme.

We will be looking to increase our funding in tranche two, for which our indicative allocation is £2.3m, and we will liaise closely with DfT to ensure we maximise our chances to achieve that. We have not yet received any information from DfT on tranche 2, but are told that it is imminent.




Will you commit to involve the coalition of Oxfordshire of Healthy Streets and Active Travel (CoHSAT) in the development of the Tranche 2 plans?




We will consult with as many groups as possible in the time allowed.