TWENTY-FIVE head teachers have written a letter of protest at council plans to shut down all but a handful of our libraries, writes BARRIE HUDSON.

They are among thousands of people who voiced their horror during the consultation period, so you may be wondering why the local authority hasn’t thrown the scheme out like something mouldy from the back of a fridge.

After all, the sum of money needed to keep the libraries open is a drop in the ocean in local government terms.

There are two answers to this question.

One is that we, the general public, fail to realise that the word “consultation” has a special meaning among local politicians and officials.

When you and I think of a consultation, we think of the conventional meaning of the word. We think it means asking people for their thoughts on a matter and then acting on what they tell us.

For example, if we had a cake shop and wanted to make our range of cakes more appealing, a good strategy would be to ask our paying customers what they liked and didn’t like, and then adjust our selection accordingly.

“Hmm,” we might say to ourselves, “it seems the clientele really lean toward summery fruit flavours but aren’t so keen on my whelk and gherkin flavoured fondant surprises.”

Or if we ran, say, a pet grooming business, we might ask our clientele to fill in a little form or send us an email, telling us which styles they preferred.

That would be a consultation according to the commonly accepted meaning of the word.

To understand the council’s definition of a consultation, we have to use our imaginations.

Let’s go back to our cake shop and grooming parlour examples.

Now imagine that instead of customers coming to our businesses voluntarily, they were forced to use them on pain of having their possessions seized and possibly being thrown out on the streets or into jail.

We would then be able to run our businesses and treat our customers exactly how we wished.

We might, for example, decide to replace every cake with small pebbles dipped in cowpats and carry on charging the same amount of money for them. In our grooming parlour we might arbitrarily decide that every animal would be shaved bald and given a going-over with purple emulsion.

Before adopting these new policies, we might decide for one reason or another to ask our customers how they felt about broken teeth or Fido and Tiddles ending up looking like objects from some old hippy’s acid flashback.

Our customers would be free to voice their utter horror and loathing at what was about to happen, and to demand that we put a stop to the nonsense.

We, of course, would be free to ignore their requests, as we knew they’d be obliged to keep giving us their money regardless.

That is how councils define consultations.

The other reason why the library plan will go ahead, of course, is that the people most seriously affected are too vulnerable to fight back. Those who suffer will include people who are unable to afford books, people who rely on library facilities for job searches and information about vital services, and children from families in poverty.

If libraries were the habitual haunts of the affluent, the well-connected and those with the resources to make all hell break loose, you can bet that none of this would be happening.

  • IT SEEMS we’ve got a small infestation of Nazis in Swindon.

    Apparently the local branch of an organisation called National Action had a bit of a social do with some of their chums from London a while back.

    Quite what a Nazi social do entails I don’t know. Perhaps they sing about white power and secretly wonder what it’s like to be kissed.

    Although National Action has been associated with some nasty violence and intimidation, if the history of other racist organisations in this town is anything to go by I’d bet the Swindon branch consists of about half a dozen unhappy blokes and a dog called Himmler.

    In the unlikely event that one of these creeps is seen performing a Nazi salute, everybody nearby should remember to shout: “Oi, mate – lost your yoyo?”

    It really hacks them off.

  • ARE you as bewildered as I am by the borough’s refusal to go into detail about the 10 restaurants and takeaways given zero star ratings by its hygiene inspectors?

    Apparently doing so was deemed contrary to the public interest.

    It’s important to state at the outset that those inspectors are heroes. They may not march on to battlefields or wield any weapon more formidable than a swab kit or a pair of tweezers, but they see things and smell things that would make ordinary people’s entire digestive tracts turn spontaneously inside out.

    They wade through muck, mouse droppings and species of fungi previously unknown to science.

    It’s impossible to calculate how many bouts of illness they have averted, how many lives they have saved or how many millions of pounds they have saved the local economy in what would have been lost working hours.

    Their bosses insistence that not giving details of the zero star ratings is in the public interest doesn’t make any sense, though.

    It is in the public’s interest to know what the inspectors found, and it is in the zero-starred businesses’ interests for the public to know what the inspectors found.

    If it were announced, say, that a certain business failed its inspection because a cooker wasn’t properly cleaned or meat was stored too near vegetables, the public would say to themselves: “Well, I daresay the business will now sharpen up its regime.”

    In the absence of such an announcement, however, the public are more likely to speculate inaccurately about all manner of horrors up to and including dead dogs in the fridge and certain ingredients of the special sauce.