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Written submission to the Sieghart Panel on Public Libraries

The attached response was submitted by Voices for the Library in response to the William Sieghart Panel call for evidence to inform the report on public libraries.

The independent report was commissioned by The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Specific areas that respondents were asked to address included:

  1. What are the core principles of a public library service into the future?
  2. Is the current delivery of the public library service the most comprehensive and efficient?
  3. What is the role of community libraries in the delivery of a library offer?

Written response by Voices for the Library to Sieghart Panel call for evidence

Major concerns over government inaction and lack of leadership

The following press release from UK public library campaigners highlights major concerns surrounding library cuts and the current inaction of the government and its partner organisations to address the issues or provide any leadership in this situation.

DANGER: 1,000 LIBRARIES TO CLOSE

That’s a full quarter of the total in England – all of them small
branches that cost peanuts to run, & are located where people need
them most.

HOW DO WE WORK OUT THIS FIGURE?
201 library service points were closed last year.
A further 336 are threatened with closure (to date) this year.
Arts Council England predicts a further cut of at least 40% by 2016.

WHY ISN’T THE GOVERNMENT TELLING YOU THIS?
These are figures you will not see on any official website or press
release. They are compiled by a librarian in his spare time* from
local press reports.

That’s just one example of what is NOT being done by the bodies

responsible for public libraries – the government (DCMS, Department
for Culture, Media & Sport) and Arts Council England (ACE).

AND CLOSURES ARE NOT THE ONLY BAD NEWS
Many libraries have been dumped on to local communities, to run as
best they can.

Many more stay open under council control, but are losing books,
opening hours and skilled staff.

CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?
Yet, say library campaigners, the government simply denies there is
any problem. It points to a handful of new library openings, as if
these compensate for mass closures and downgrading.
It ignores all evidence presented to it.
Even worse, it has powers to help – but chooses to do nothing.

WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING
Many campaign groups and hundreds of reports in local media show that
the real situation is bleak. Check the website for yourself*.
For instance….
= Lincolnshire plans that 32 of its 45 libraries, plus an unspecified
number of mobile units, will either close or be passed on to
volunteers. That means losing 170 highly-trained staff (55 FTE) and
177 public access computers.
= Herefordshire decided to close ALL except its one central library –
and is now dealing with a huge outcry from the public.
These are only the latest to see their library service dismantled.
Mass closures have already taken place, from Newcastle to the Isle of
Wight, Gloucestershire to Brent. And about 3,000 professional
librarians have already lost their jobs.

QUOTE
Library campaigner Shirley Burnham says: ‘The Minister, Ed Vaizey, was
vociferous in defence of libraries when in Opposition. But he has
been frozen into inaction since coming into office.
‘He and his officials are in denial, muttering “What crisis?” as
hundreds of libraries are closed, or the keys handed to volunteers –
with no support.’

QUOTE
The Library Campaign is the national group for library users.
Laura Swaffield, its chair, says: ‘Library users have appealed time
and again to the minister to intervene against mass closures. He has a
legal duty to “superintend and improve” the service**. But he does
nothing.
‘And he does nothing about libraries that stay open but now provide a
far worse service. Scotland and Wales have national minimum standards,
but not England.
‘Finally, many communities are now trying to run their own libraries,
as the only way to save them. They get no national help or advice. Not
from the government, not from Arts Council England (ACE).’
At the recent Library Campaign conference in London, Jim Brooks of the
Little Chalfont volunteer-run library in Buckinghamshire reported that
130 volunteer groups have found their way to him, desperate for help.
Laura says: ‘Jim is the only national resource giving advice. It’s absurd!’

FUTURE? WHAT FUTURE?
Brian Ashley, who holds the libraries portfolio for ACE, admitted at
the Library Campaign meeting that libraries face a further 40% cut in
funding. But ACE has no shared plan to help local authorities manage
their resources – or focus on users’ needs.
At most risk are rural
areas and deprived urban areas. If a local library closes, travel to
another one is difficult and expensive. And few have the time, money
or skills to take it over themselves.
Yet libraries offer a lifeline to many people in need – especially to
those with no internet access, families with small children, those in
education and older people. Libraries are the last refuge of a
civilised society and cost next to nothing.

WHITEHALL FARCE
The government’s refusal to intervene verges on the farcical. Bolton
campaigner, retired solicitor Geof Dron, says: ‘The council did not
believe volunteer-run libraries would be sustainable, and simply
closed five libraries.
‘Local campaigners and the Civic Trust asked the Minister to use his
legal powers (ii) to intervene. First his officials lost part of our
submission. Then they refused even to meet with us.
‘The Minister, from the comfort of his Whitehall office, has refused
our request for an inquiry. He expresses no interest in the needs of
the young, the elderly and the disadvantaged of Bolton for literacy,
education and access to computers. He is not prepared even to talk to
us.’

WHAT’S MISSING?
At the same time, many libraries still under local authority control
have lost much of their bookstock, professional expertise and ethos as
cost-free, neutral places of study, reading for pleasure and access to
information (both physical and digital). 
A multiplicity of
consultancy studies and official reports are gathering dust in
Whitehall.
What is missing, however, is any plan by government or its partners to
address the issues or to provide an iota of leadership.
This is despite pleas by the All Party Parliamentary Group, senior
politicians and the professional bodies that represent librarians. As
a speaker at the recent Society of Chief Librarians’ conference said,
the Minister ‘needs to smell the coffee’.

WHAT’S NEEDED?
Campaigners say that much can – and should – be done to halt the
hollowing out or collapse of public libraries. Destroying libraries
signifies incompetence, not necessity.
Notably, a handful of local authorities are protecting or even
enhancing provision under the same economic constraints as others. The
DCMS ignores this evidence of best practice and refuses to contemplate
national standards for libraries, a postcode lottery of service
provision is inevitable. The minister (or ACE) should find out what
works, where and in what circumstances, and use his powers.

DIVIDENDS
Other countries are investing in libraries – from Australia and New
Zealand to China and South Korea.
A high quality public library service that serves the common good and
underpins the nation’s literacy will, campaigners insist, reap
dividends for the national economy.

But only if those responsible for libraries take their heads out of the sand.

===========================================================

www.publiclibrariesnews.com gives a daily breakdown of news reports,
and summaries by local authority area.
No official source does anything like this.

** The Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 makes it a legal duty for
every council to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library
service. The Secretary of State at the DCMS has a legal duty to
‘superintend and improve’ this service – and legal powers to intervene
if council libraries are failing.

Arts Council England Live Chat and responsibility for libraries

Last week Alan Davey (Chief Executive of Arts Council England) took part in a live chat, during which he answered a number of questions related to the organisations responsibilities for libraries. The questions and answers are republished below:

Questions (from Gary Green)

  • How do ACE aim to ensure that the non-arts aspects of libraries is developed as much as the cultural and arts aspects? Areas such as (but not only) support for education & literacy, community & social aspects are as important as the cultural and arts focus of libraries.
  • Will the ACE charter and mission statement be amended to reflect your new responsibilities that go beyond the arts, as indicated above?

Response (Alan Davey):

We are already working hard to ensure that we join up arts and cultural activity with the wider libraries agenda, mainly through the Libraries development initiative announced in January. Areas such as education and literacy will be targeted through projects like the one led by the London Borough of Richmond, which tests the delivery of adult learning in libraries. The Books on Prescription project will also help libraries address health and social care issues by prescribing books from a list of high quality self-help manuals for people suffering from common mental health problems. It is also worth noting that most of the artistic activities going on within libraries will be used to support education and literacy, and will involve local communities. In answer to your second question, our mission statement has already changed to reflect our wider cultural remit and is very much embedded in our decision-making framework Culture, knowledge and understanding. Our charter has also been updated.

Question (from Silent Pete)

  • What experience does the arts council have to oversea museums and libraries? This seems a sector where the expertise of the MLA is missed.

Response (Alan Davey)

We’ve taken on a significant number of former MLA staff and recruited new people with the right knowledge to enable us to look after these new sectors. We’ve sought to engage both sectors in a constructive way and have listened very hard to their concerns and needs. We’re getting good feedback from the sectors about the way we’ve done this and so I think you cannot say we lack the right expertise.

Question (from nolarae)

  • The Rumor Mill is pretty active at the moment, saying that the DCMS will be split up after the Olympics. What potential threats does this pose for Arts Council not having DCMS holding ‘holding back the wolves’, i.e. other Govt Depts taking funding away from the Arts?

Response (Alan Davey)

Well, I’m not sure that wolves get much from DCMS budgets – it being the smallest department in Whitehall by far. Whatever happens, they’d need to protect budgets for arts and museums and there would need to be a place in Whitehall to represent their interests. In the past this has been the Cabinet Office, the Education department or even the Treasury direct. Some other countries such as Australia put arts and culture as part of the Prime Minister’s office, reflecting their importance. So if there is a proposal to abolish the DCMS there will need to be a convincing alternative so that the interests of arts and culture remain at the heart of government. And that is the case we – the sector and the Arts Council – have to argue as strongly as we can. It seems to me to be a false economy to abolish a body if you then have to reinvent it elsewhere.

From these responses it is welcoming to read Alan Davey’s commitment to libraries, and it’s also reassuring to hear that A.C.E. will still continue to employ staff to focus on libraries and museums. However, it’s not clear how many members of staff there are in comparison to previous M.L.A. staff numbers and how many of them have a specific focus on libraries.

With regard to Alan Davey’s mention of the updated A.C.E. mission statement, the focus is still clearly on the arts (below) and a welcome addition would be the acknowledgment that libraries have a wider focus than this.

“Our mission is ‘great art for everyone’ and we work to achieve this by championing, developing and investing in arts and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives.”

“We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. 

Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. 

Between 2011 and 2015, we will invest £1.4 billion of public money from government and an estimated £0.85 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.”

#tds11 Arts Council England Talent Symposium by Amplified2010

#tds11 Arts Council England Talent Symposium (c) Amplified2010 / Flickr

It’s also reassuring that A.C.E. are continuing to fund development initiatives for libraries and we look forward to A.C.E. building upon these initiatives, both in terms of the number of local authorities receiving funding for development work and the projects being funded. It’s hoped that successful pilots will be expanded throughout other library authorities and supported long-term. In the past some excellent projects have been left to find support elsewhere after the original funding ceased.

It’s also important to note that the structure of A.C.E is currently under review . The review runs until mid October 2012, with a decision on the final structure being made by November. The new organisational structure will be in place by July 2013. This review was primarily brought about by the need to cut administrative costs by 50 per cent by 2014/2015. Current proposals for the future structure of A.C.E. admit that there will be fewer staff, implying that there will be even less staff charged with focusing on libraries, especially as the number of regional councils will be reduced.

The review and proposed model takes the Arts Council England reports “Achieving great art for everyone” and “Culture, knowledge and understanding: great museums and libraries for everyone.” as its key focus. Voices For The Library team commented on “Culture, knowledge and understanding” in September 2011 – we were encouraged by A.C.E. acknowledgement of the role libraries play beyond the arts and A.C.E. commitment to support and assist in the development of libraries. We also raised the point that even though funding was being made available to libraries, certain aspects of the Future Libraries Programme “aren’t necessarily seen as successful by local communities or the library profession, especially when they involve reductions in service.”

At this stage the key features of the proposed A.C.E. structure are:

  • A national organisation with major offices will be in London, Birmingham, Manchester and the South West. National functions will be co-located in Manchester, Birmingham and London.
  • Five porous localities covering London, the South East, the South West, the Midlands and the North that replace our current regions and areas.
  • Smaller local facilities will keep us close to and connected with the organisations we fund whilst significantly reducing our property costs.
  • An Executive Board of five members, reducing from nine, accountable for strategy and national priorities.
  • Leadership of art form and cultural policy expertise distributed across the Arts Council. Everyone will have a local and national focus.
  • Core funding streams of National portfolio, Grants for the arts, Major partner museums and strategic programmes, supported by an Investment Centre that will help us streamline our investment processes.
Unfortunately, there are no specific mentions of libraries in this proposal, and sometimes it does feel as if libraries are the poor relation in this arts focused family. We understand that A.C.E. will be talking to representatives from the library sector during the review and we hope that these discussions will help the organisation gain further understanding of the purpose and benefits of successful library services. A.C.E. will have a key role to play in the future of libraries and we look forward to it developing its role as their champion.

Library closures – challenging the DCMS

We have been asked by Geoffrey Dron of Save Bolton Libraries Campaign to publish the following, regarding intervention requests made to the DCMS by library campaigners and the lack of response to these requests.  Geoffrey asks campaigners to contact him if they feel joint complaints ought to be made on behalf of the affected groups to the Parliamentary Ombudsman. Please read his full request below for further details.

 

Many groups protesting against the closure of libraries in their respective areas will have lodged requests with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for intervention under its statutory duties and powers by, in particular, directing the holding of an inquiry into the library authorities’ proposals, in many cases executed in the time which has elapsed since the requests were lodged.

By way of example, Save Bolton Libraries Campaign and Bolton and District Civic Trust lodged their requests, which relate to the closure of five of Bolton Council’s libraries, by 1st February 2012.   In spite of reminders and a letter from the MP for Bolton NE, the DCMS has taken no action in relation to the requests other than seeking further information from the Council, which the latter supplied in February.  The Council’s proposals have been implemented.

It is thought that other groups have been faced with similar inaction on the part of the DCMS.  Indeed, its website reveals that in only one case (Brent) has the DCMS even gone so far as to issue a letter indicating a provisional view (in that case that it is minded not to intervene) but inviting further representations.  It is becoming difficult to escape the conclusion that the DCMS has adopted a policy of inaction in the hope that library user groups will get fed up and go away.

Whether attributable to deliberate policy or incompetence, the delay by the DCMS in dealing with the requests, even allowing for the engagement of Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State, in matters such as the Olympics and the Leveson Inquiry, has reached the point where action to compel it to express its views in ‘minded to’  form is required.  There is a strong case for suggesting that joint complaints ought to be made on behalf of the affected groups to the Parliamentary Ombudsman alleging maladministration in relation to the failure to deal with the requests in a timely manner.  Such complaints, which require endorsement by local MPs and ought to be preceded by advance notification giving a relatively short period to deal with the requests, ought to be lodged with attendant publicity and before the Olympics.

Representatives of groups whose requests for intervention are currently imprisoned in the limbo of the DCMS are asked to contact Geoffrey Dron of Save Bolton Libraries Campaign (geoffrey.dron@gmail.com) if they consider the approach suggested might have merit.  It is hoped to start a discussion on how to move matters forward.   Consideration might be given to a meeting of representatives at a mutually convenient venue, but the first step is probably to find out what the overall appetite is for complaints of maladministration.

Update

In reference to the above request we have received the attached letter as follow up to Jeremy Hunt from Save Bolton Libraries Campaign, which we have been asked to publish here.

Save Bolton Libraries Letter June 2012

Evidence sessions for Parliamentary Inquiry into library closures

The second evidence session for The Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry into library closures will take place on Tuesday 21 February (Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster).

The Committee will hear evidence from representatives of Arts Council England, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), Isle of Wight Council, Leicestershire Library Services and the Local Government Association.

Further details of the session can be found here.

The session will be screened on the internet via Parliament.tv

The first session saw Abby Barker (Voices for The Library),  Sue Charteris (author of the report on Wirral library closures), Andrew Coburn (The Library Campaign) and Miranda McKearney (The Reading Agency) give evidence.

Below are some of the comments and points raised during that session (paraphrased).

  • Miranda McKearney: The passionate work of campaigners over the past 18 months has started to shift the debate about what libraries mean to us all.
  • Abby Barker: A lot of people making these cuts don’t understand what a library is, or what it does, or what librarians can offer.
  • Andrew Coburn: In local areas libraries offer a social place to build communities, based around services they provide.
  • Abby Barker: Local libraries are important. Not all people can get to the central library branch. There is room for both large ‘destination’ libraries and small libraries to provide services. They complement each other.
  •  Abby Barker: The cuts are focused on books & buildings. Librarians aren’t just there to stamp books. Librarians are there to enhance your experience of the library.
  • Andrew Coburn: A lot of what library staff do is about direction, mediation & assistance. The fewer library staff there are in the system the more difficult it is to get an answer from anywhere in that system.
  •  Miranda McKearney: Even though ‘you clearly have access to the things you need to live your life. Lots of people don’t’. (Response to MP about why libraries are needed)
  • Abby Barker: If comprehensive & efficient could be more clearly defined, local authorities may be able to make better decisions.
  • Abby Barker: Library consultations are being run from the top down and local authorities are not listening to or taking into account users needs.
  • Andrew Coburn: What’s the point of the Secretary of State having powers of intervention if they aren’t used? He needs to “grasp the nettle.”
  • Andrew Coburn: How will volunteer run libraries affect the statutory duties?
  • Abby Barker: Volunteers can add value to a library service, but they shouldn’t be seen as a replacement service.
  • Miranda McKearney: Partnership working on a national level with librarians is difficult because there aren’t enough of them.
  • Miranda McKearney: There are some things you can only do nationally to improve library services – we need a national strategy!
  • Sue Charteris: Local authorities need to look at equalities assessment of local needs.
  • Sue Charteris: Isn’t keen on having more regulations, but feels local authorities need guidance from Secretary of State & Arts Council England.
  • Sue Charteris: Library services need proper communications teams to sell their benefits.
  • Sue Charteris: There has to be a prominent role for librarians in providing public library services. They are key.
  • Sue Charteris: Volunteers are well-placed to do certain things in libraries, but a sound policy on volunteering by local authorities is key.
  • Sue Charteris: The Secretary of State role needs to be more pro-active nationally.
  • Sue Charteris: Current public library legislation needs to be looked at, because it is “cumbersome” and out-of-date.
  • Sue Charteris: Believes that some kind of peer review would be useful to ensure library services are heading in the right direction.

Parliamentary Select Committee Inquiry

Voices for the Library are delighted by the news that the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport will be holding an inquiry into library closures.  Such a move, due to the unprecedented cuts in library services throughout the country and the inaction of the relevant ministers, is timely.  For too long have library users been told that the DCMS is keeping a watching brief and they will act when necessary, only for no action to be taken.  We fervently hope that the committee will take into account the views so strongly held by library users and campaigners that public libraries are an essential part of community life and democratic societies, provide a highly valuable social service and are essential for the improvement of literacy.

The committee is inviting written submissions and requesting views on what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century, the extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964, the impact library closures have on local communities and the effectiveness of the secretary of state’s powers of intervention under the 1964 Act. Voices for the Library will be submitting evidence to the committee and is happy to provide information to anyone else who wishes to do so. We urge local campaign groups to make their own statements, clearly expressing the impact that library cuts and closures will have on individuals and communities.

A Guide for Witnesses to House of Commons Select Committees is available here.

Alan Gibbons’ Campaign for the Book has called for a moratorium on all closures, saying:

The Campaign for the Book welcomes the decision by the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport to announce an inquiry into library closures. We believe that it is incumbent upon the DCMS, in line with its duties to superintend the public library service, to order a moratorium on library closures.

Even as we write Doncaster is planning swingeing closures. This kind of strategic decision is completely at variance with the conclusions of the Charteris report that prevented a similar closure programme in Wirral in 2009 and the recent Gloucestershire and Somerset legal decision.

The decision of the Select Committee follows in the wake of the High Court decision halting library closures in Gloucestershire and Somerset. Gloucestershire County Council at the time claimed that this it had been ‘tripped up on a small technical point.’ In fact, the judge said that: “the decisions under challenge were not just unlawful but bad government.” He ordered the total quashing of the library plans and told the library to completely revise its plans. The judge said the council’s behaviour was a: “substantive error of law” and a: “substantial breach.”

We stand at a crossroads. Will the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport give clear leadership in ensuring the health and vitality of the public library service or will the effective dismantling of much of its branch network continue?

It is time to act to save our ‘comprehensive’ and ‘efficient’ service.

Voices for the Library support this request and believe that local authorities should not implement reductions to services during a period of major investigation into the detrimental impact of cuts to library services.

 ————————————————————————————————————-

Call for Contributions

We need your help in order to draft an effective response to the inquiry by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport into library closures. We are looking for evidence that planned closures have had an impact on  your library service as per the Public Library And Museums Act 1964.

  • Have library cuts and closures affected your community?
  • Have they had an effect on staffing, opening hours, services provided, IT provisions and/or book/DVD/CD/printed music  etc. selection?
  • Have you set up or joined a Friends group in response?

Your experience is invaluable. Please contact us via our website, our Facebook page, on Twitter @ukpling, or email us at contact@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk.

Please make sure your evidence gets to us by 20th December.

DCMS Taking Part survey: Imagine what could be achieved if we invested in our public libraries

This month the DCMS released their annual Taking Part survey.  The report covers the 12 month period from April 2010 to March 2011 and includes participation in culture and sport, volunteering, digital participation, and cycling and swimming proficiency.  Included in this is usage of public libraries by both adults and children.  As you would expect, it highlights some interesting data about the state of library usage in this country which should certainly be of interest to library campaigners across the country.

One of the most interesting statistics to come out of this report reflects the usage of libraries by people in both the most and least deprived areas.  Whilst The Bookseller chose to headline their coverage of the findings ‘Better off more likely to use libraries’, the reality is much less clear-cut.  The report found that 43.5% of people from the least deprived parts of England used a library last year, compared to 39.5% of those from the most deprived.  Whilst there is clearly a difference, 4% is not sufficient to conclusively argue that the ‘better off’ are more likely to use a library than the most disadvantaged.  In fact, what is most stark about these figures is that social background appears to have no bearing on library usage.  This rather contradicts the belief expressed by some that ‘libraries cater for the middle classes, not the deprived’.  The figures very much demonstrate that they cater for both.

The report also demonstrated the importance of public libraries for children, not least considering the increasing cull of school libraries.  It revealed that 76.4% of 5-10 year olds had visited their local library in the past year, up from 72.2% in 2008/9.  The impact library closures would have on literacy levels is clear and unambiguous.  With an increasing demand from the 5-10 age group and the closure of school libraries across the country, the public library has never been more important for the social and economic wellbeing of future generations.

Rhymetime Across Ediburgh

Rhymetime Across Ediburgh (c) Scottish Libraries / Flickr

The report also reveals that against a backdrop of supposed decline in library usage, adult library usage has in fact remained static.  For each of the past three years the percentage of adults using the library has remained at approximately the same level.  In fact, the proportion of adults using the public library has increased by 0.3% on last year to 39.7%.  The fact that this figure has remained constant for three years, in spite of already significant cuts to library services, also rather suggests that those arguing that libraries are ‘irrelevant’ are out of touch with both what libraries are offering and the needs of library users across the country.  If authorities are threatening to close up to 50% of libraries when usage has remained stable, will similar cuts be applied to other council services?

Overall, the Taking Part survey clearly demonstrates that reports of the rapid decline of public libraries has been greatly exaggerated.  They are not an institution solely catering for the middle-classes as some politicians and commentators have argued. They are as much used by people in the most deprived areas as those from the least, and draw users from across the whole of our society – the quintessential universal service.  Children are drawn to the library in increasing numbers, alone, with school groups and friends, and with parents, who rely on them to support their child’s literacy and development.  Despite the growth of the internet and the availability of popular ‘books in supermarkets’, people still make significant use of their free access to a wide range of books and other resources. Despite suggestions to the contrary, adult library usage is not in terminal decline.   If usage has remained stable while budgets have been slashed, imagine what could be achieved if we invested in our public libraries.  Councillors and politicians may be keen to argue that libraries are becoming irrelevant, in order to justify closing them or staffing them with volunteers. The facts suggests otherwise.

Libraries and the Big Society: round-table discussions revealed

Earlier this year, on 25th January, the DCMS held a round-table discussion on Libraries and the Big Society, chaired by Ed Vaizey.  After a series of Freedom of Information requests, we can now reveal what was discussed. The following is the text as supplied by DCMS in response to our FoI requests:

Note of Libraries Roundtable

Ed Vaizey opened the discussion by setting out his view of the current state of the sector in relation to local authority budget cuts, the requirement for radical innovation in service delivery including through enacting Big Society principles. Lord Wei then set out some background on the Big Society policy, and the support being offered to people to take greater control, and to shift and share resources to create services which better fit the needs of each community. He said that he is keen to promote diversification in the use of community assets (including buildings), and raised the need for intermediaries to help to distribute resources form the Big Society Bank.

Jim Brooks spoke about his experiences of running a community library. He said that until recently the Council had not provided adequate support to the community in taking over the library, and that where an asset is devolved councils need also to make resources available and share knowledge about what is involved. He said that the additional work and process involved in running a “library business” was prohibitive, and noted that their council had charged them a £1k per annum management fee to be able to seek advice from them, [section redacted] . They have invested heavily in the bookstock and use the library for a broad range of events and activities, delivering an increase of 25% in footfall and 20% in issues. He said that they charged for fewer services than the authority libraries, as they found that this increased their revenue through donations, and noted that in his view the model would only work in affluent areas. He noted that he had been contacted by people from a broad range of areas saying that their authority had said that their local library either had to be taken over by the community or would close.

Cath Anley noted SCL work to improvement in the use of volunteers across the country, breaking this down into the involving model (where volunteers add value to the core service) and the devolving model (where groups take over the service). Other attendees spoke about experiences or plans in their local areas, including libraries being retained but becoming local government contact points; proposals around use of volunteers; shared spaces with Post Offices, supermarkets and children’s centres.

Further concerns were raised about communities in disadvantaged areas losing out through lack of a voice or lack of awareness about the value of the service, and also about councillors’ failure to recognise the value of the reader development work undertaken by library staff. Yinnon Ezra suggested that capacity building resources from parent authorities could enable disadvantaged communities to take forward ownership of an asset, and Miranda flagged TRA’s Lottery grant to support reader development work in 20 disadvantaged communities to improve literacy.

Lord Wei said that there is a push and pull dynamic with communities, outlined some of the legal and policy steps being taken to encourage change, and asked what else could be done to help, particularly before these new powers are enacted. There were suggestions for BIG funding for capacity building among communities; for a public service scheme for the unemployed which could include libraries; and for support in joining up policy between Ministers. On the latter point, Lord Wei suggested taking the topic to a Cabinet Office ministerial group.

Ed Vaizey said that he wanted to provide guidance to Authorities and community groups, using agencies to help people build on others’ experiences and to encourage LAs to have an enabling attitude. AnnemarieNaylor said that the ATU want to facilitate the sharing of material across the library network, and to develop a single portal for processing the growing number of requests they have for information. Roy Clare noted that while more proposals for closures are likely to follow the May elections.

Action points:

  • DCMS to discuss development of guidance with MLA and ATU (Action: Junior Official already progressed and linked up to discussions with Oliver Letwin)
  • DCMS to approach BIG (Action: Junior Official, can you discuss with Junior Official the best way to open discussions with BIG, drawing in EV as appropriate)
  • DCMS to contact Lord Wei’s office to follow up idea for Ministerial discussion (Action: Private Office to follow up)

List of Attendees

Lord Wei, Government’s Big Society Adviser

Annemarie Naylor, Head of Assets at the Development Trusts Association which delivers the CLG funded Asset Transfer Unit

Christine May, Head of Libraries, Archives and Information Services in Cambridgeshire

Jim Brooks,  Chairman – Friends of Little Chalfont Library

Cath Anley.  Head of Libraries & Archives, Kent

Alison Baxter,  Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action

Terry Ryall,  Chief Executive, V – the national young volunteers’ service

Yinnon Ezra, Hampshire Director of Culture, Communities and Rural Affairs

Miranda McKearney, Chief Executive, The Reading Agency

Cllr Liam Maxwell,  Windsor & Maidenhead – a Big Society Pilot Authority

Roy Clare,  Chief Executive, MLA

Richard Mollett, CEO, Publishers’ Association

Antonia Byatt, ACE

 

In the accompanying e-mail, the DCMS observed that, ‘we have redacted part of a sentence in paragraph 2 in accordance with section 35 of the Freedom of Information Act (Formulation of Government Policy), because Mr Brooks felt it to be incorrect, and misrepresenting his views on the matter could impede this policy development’.