MLA assessments on local authorities in the north of England

Via a Freedom of Information request originally made by the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign, the MLA supplied the following information assessing the provision and plans for library services in the north of England. In this report (dated December 2010) library authorities are rated red, amber or green, based upon the plans they have for their library services and the concerns the MLA have for them.

Red = “High uncertainty and / or change. And / or poor capacity to address change”.

Amber = “Medium uncertainty and / or change. And / or limited capacity to address change”.

Green = “Low uncertainty and / or change. And / or good capacity to address change”.

Library authorities with a rating of Red are those the MLA were most concerned about at the end of last year. We have listed them below, with the comments provided by MLA in the report.

Obviously some of the service reviews have now taken place and decisions have been made/carried out, but these comments give an interesting insight into how the MLA felt local authorities were progressing at the end of 2010.

Darlington Borough Council : Small service operating 2 libraries and a mobile. As part of the internal restructure the service has moved to the Place directorate. The transformation team continue to explore options for service delivery with 30% cuts (over 2 years).  This will be presented to cabinet in February together with a user needs analysis. Head of libraries post is at risk.  The severe nature of the cuts across the council has attracted much debate and press coverage locally. Proposed sale of arts venues.  Museum plans tbc – potential to be part of proposed Tees Valley museums service, which has support of CEOs.

South Tyneside Council : Significant concerns. Cuts of £200k in 2010/11.  £500k in 2011/2 – 25%.  MLA supported the council to undertake a library review in 2009/10.  However, since then, little has been actioned, and lack of support at senior officer level remains a concern.  Scoping feasibility for greater shared service delivery with other Tyne & Wear authorities.

Blackpool : Internal proposals only – potential closure of 5 of 8 libraries and loss of Assistant Director of Cultural Services and Head of Libraries posts. Little if any assessment of need / impact at this stage. Also participating in NW shared library services project (phase 2 of FLP). Town Centre being prioritised which will protect Grundy Art Gallery and new BLF refurbished Central Library.

Cheshire East : Not replacing head of library service since taking redundancy. Participating in NW shared library services project (phase 2 of FLP). Small commissioner of museum services. Lack of strategic approach to cultural services.

Doncaster : Previously a poor performing service.  Now taking action to turn things round and meet C&E, but is aware of the distance to travel to keep this transformation on track, particularly at the same time as wider cuts.  MLA has supported the council to produce a strategy; service point assessment matrix; community consultation and member briefings.  Strategy now to go to Cabinet in January. Subject to approval it commits to recruiting HoS; investment in training of staff; rationalisation of service points – relocation rather than loss where appropriate and investing in remaining poor building stock.  The service is likely to come under different directorate and officer when senior staff review is completed. Uncertainty as to which of remaining library trained staff will take voluntary redundancy.  Council has attracted interest of national library campaigners, with some local campaigning.  Participating in Yorkshire-wide review of mobile services.  Museums undertaking MA-funded collections rationalisation.  Admission charges introduced – model needs refinement.  Poor staff capacity.

Even though the MLA highlighted these specific library authorities as a particular cause for concern, there are other authorities who were rated Amber or Green, who also have some worrying comments against them.

Durham County Council (Amber) : Likely to include substantial closures / replacement of static service points, ending of mobile service. Monitoring capacity to respond to change since loss of senior officer and approach to community consultation.

Gateshead Metropolitan Borough Council (Green) : Currently anticipating 10% cuts, however this may increase. Activities proposed for cessation are: schools library service; Explore Music at Sage Gateshead; AIRS (accessible services).  Consultation on the possible cessation of the AIRS service is generating interest.

Hartlepool Borough Council (Amber) : Currently scoping c.22% cuts in year 1, with a further 9% next year, followed by two further cuts of 3%. The service has taken a harder hit than some other directorates. As building assets are managed at council level, the only options for savings are reducing staff and book stock.  Proposals have been submitted, but no decisions have been taken. To date 2 branch libraries have closed and a further 2 co-located with community centres. At present staff have opted to reduce all staff hours to avoid redundancy: this will be reviewed.  Political support at a member level is good; senior officers are more open to library closures. Renaissance Plans submitted.  Require clearer articulaton of direction of travel.  Potential to be part of proposed Tees Valley museums service, which has support of CEOs. 8.9% cuts announced. Amber due to scale of cuts and query over strategic approach to alternative models of delivery.

Middlesborough Council (Green) : Currently modelling 15% cuts for implementation in 2011/12 (£325K), but this may change.  Service point closures will be considered in the next iteration of cuts.

Newcastle City Council (Green) : Next round of cuts likely to affect libraries.

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council (Green) : The medium term financial plan will go to Cabinet on the 16th December, together with a council-wide Asset review, which will inform future delivery points.  This includes fewer service points and some co-location. May elections.  Reduction in housebound vehicles from 3 to 2.

TWAM (Green) : Require clearer direction of travel.  Serious funding challenges: Loss of DCMS and Creative Partnerships contracts.

Bolton (Amber) : …early consideration of closure of ‘several’ libraries.

Bury (Amber) : …engagement at senior level of local authority is more passive ‘watching brief’. Library service leadership gap giving sense of ongoing complacency, despite FLP.

Cumbria (Amber) : Reluctance to engage in shared services discussions with Lancashire or outside of North West. Districts and county not taking forward discussions on shared services or joint work following improvement strategy work with cultural agencies.

Lancashire (Amber) : Large number of libraries that will need to be reviewed and concern that no major review yet established.

Liverpool (Green) : Lack of strategic engagement in absence of head of library service (on sick leave to January 2011).

Rochdale (Amber) : Libraries under consideration to join Link4Life cultural trust. New central library still planned as part of municipal offices.  Part of GM FLP.  Link4Life cost pressures reported as disproportionately affecting heritage and arts services.

Sefton (Amber) : Huge pressures on cultural services – 30%.  Potential of shared services not fully understood at senior level.

Trafford (Amber) : Library services absorbed into wider information and advice services with library service contributions not present at senior level in authority.

Wigan (Amber) : Consultation started on future of library service. 25% cut over 3 years.  Potentially  6 libraries to close in December 2011.

Barnsley (Green) : Officers pressured to close libraries.  Plans are being developed – local press have speculated the loss of 8 service points.

Calderdale (Amber) : Culture is likely to be cut disproportionately to protect other services.  Council sought views of the public on what services they would prioritise – small sample of responses with libraries in top half of priorities.  New BLF King Cross library demonstrating value of investment in right places. Have made savings so far – staff review in consultation – will lose 12% posts, including managers.  Proposals for second phase of savings in February.  Previous library changes have met with vocal protest.

Kirklees (Amber) : Closures proposed, but decisions not taken yet.  Currently scoping 25% cuts over 3 years (15% in year 1). Proposals to all party ‘star chamber’ in December.  Solutions rely heavily on community-run service points.

Leeds (Green) : Will consult on reducing service points from 53 to 33 service points (20 of these are only open 8-15 hours per week, which does not maximise use of resource.  Staff restructure is central to this has been undertaken. It was intended to undertake public consultation starting in October.  However, the council called in the plans.  They will now go to exec on 16th December, and then if passed out to consultation.

North Yorkshire (Amber) : The council aim is to maintain a core infrastructure of 18 libraries, 2-3 in each district, which have 80% of the users and 70% of the issues.  Alongside this the council has been piloting a range of community library models.  It is now consulting with local people on how 24 of these smaller and largely rural service points will be delivered in future.

Sheffield (Amber) : Decision making process is not clear cut: Libraries moved directorate mid budget planning process, but still reporting to old portfolio; hung council multiplying decision scenarios; May elections.  At present c30% cuts: 2011-12 £1.5m; 2012-13 £0.5m; 2013-4 £0.5m. Options range from loss of 14 libraries and most mobiles, but increased hours at other service points to no mobiles and service-wide reduced opening hours across. Community-run service points likely to be taken forward.

Wakefield (Amber) : As part of the strategic review closures are proposed and the council recently issued an open invitation to community groups and partners across the area asking for expressions of interest in running service points.  Response has not yet been overwhelming and has included expressions form commercial companies.

However, the comments aren’t all worrying and here are some of the more positive ones.

Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council : Clear plan of action in place to deliver revised service model. Slowly pursuing SLA with Middlesbrough to address gap of professional strategic input and service development. Seeking relocation of libraries rather than closure moving to a Community Hub model.  Relocation of central library to ground floor of refurbished council officers planned for 2011/12.

Cheshire West and Chester : Cultural services a priority for Council. Good engagement with cultural agencies (recent briefing with Director).

Halton : Cultural services a priority for council and taking strategic approach.

Knowsley : Cultural services reasonably highly regarded within authority.

Manchester : Library services a major part of the authority’s approach to supporting its communities. Central and City Library and Archive redevelopment on schedule for 2013. Cultural services seen as significant part of helping Manchester realise its economic ambitions through tourism.

Oldham : Library service seen as significant part of community provision.

St Helens : Library services seen as contributor to skills gap in borough and completely focussed on this agenda.

Stockport : Library and Museum services seen as an important part of the authority’s offer to its residents.

Obviously, these comments were made by MLA at the end of last year and situations change over time. For example, Manchester recently announced closures of five libraries and reduction in hours, despite the positive stance given in the report. It would therefore be interesting to see how these library authorities have progressed in relation to this report, what their plans are now and how MLA/DCMS have reacted to those authorities classed as “Red”.

The “Save Doncaster Libraries” campaign have further details of the Doncaster reports (covering October 2009 to February 2011) on their blog.

It would also be interesting to take a look at the reports for other areas of the country. How were other library authorities regarded around this time by MLA and which direction did their plans go in the end.

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