Tag Archives: privatisation

The Community Right to Bid

The Community Right to Bid , along with ‘Community Asset Transfer’, ‘Community Right to Challenge’ and ‘Community Right to Build’, is part of the Localism Act and came into force in 2012. Under the Act, voluntary and community organisations and parish councils can nominate an asset to be included on a list of ‘assets of community value’ which is managed by the local authority. If the owner of a listed asset wants to sell the asset, a six month moratorium period will be triggered during which the asset cannot be sold. This period gives community groups some time to develop a proposal and raise the required capital to bid for the property when it comes onto the open market at the end of the moratorium period. The Act does not, however, give community organisations the power to force a sale. Similarly, the vendor retains the right to reject a community organisation’s offer in favour of another offer.  This is all in accordance with Part 5 Chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011 (Assets of Community Value) (“the Act”) and The Assets of Community Value (England) Regulations 2012 .

In order to advise communities the My Community Rights online hub and advice service has been set up along with a £19 million Community Ownership of Assets programme offering grants to communities wanting to take control of a local asset such as a pub, shop, or library. In Brent, campaigners have been successful in adding Kensal Rise Library to the Brent Local Authority “List of Assets of Community Value”. The owners of the building, All Souls College, may now have to rethink their deal with property developers to build flats on the site, but All Souls can appeal against the decision. In West Somerset the owner of a pub that was recently listed has challenged the decision on the basis that he has lost money due to the property having to be taken off the market, so it will be interesting to see what All Souls do in this situation.

The TUC and the National Coalition for Independent Action have recently produced a report in which a range of contributors discussed the Localism Act.  In particular, concerns were raised in the report about the ‘Community Right to Challenge’, which was seen by many to be a ‘trojan horse’ for privatisation but another general concern was:

“…the lack of capacity within local community and voluntary organisations to make effective use of powers to buy community assets or produce neighbourhood plans. To many, this is seen as a way of empowering those in the community with the loudest voices, the most resources and the sharpest elbows to influence local decision making.”

In the article below from the ‘Local Government Lawyer’ website concerns are raised about the financial and time constraints forced on Local Authorities trying to administer the ‘Rights’.

“Worth noting is that land that used to further the social wellbeing and social interests of the local community ‘in the recent past’ will still be caught by the definition if it is realistic to think that there is a time in the next five years when it could be used to further (whether or not in the same way as before) the social wellbeing or social interests of the local community.

This definition is potentially very wide and would include amenities that have closed ‘in the recent past’ (which is up to the local authority to decide) but could be re-opened as something else, as long as the new activity still serves the community.

The net effect of this is likely to cost local authorities both time and money, as they will need to set up (in a form to be prescribed by regulations), publish and maintain, a list of nominated assets and a list of unsuccessfully-nominated assets, deal with requests to add or remove assets from the list, act as an intermediary between the landowner and the community group wanting to bid for the asset, publicise notices of disposal, compensate landowners and enforce the provisions.”

All in all, the right of the property owner to challenge a listing linked with the communities lack of power in forcing sales and the right of the vendor to reject an offer appears to put the whole basis of the ‘Community Right to Bid’ on very shaky ground!

Running libraries the Anythink way

Anythink Libraries banner photo by Davidking / Flickr

Anythink Libraries (c) Davidking / Flickr

If you believe what you read then a miraculous transformation has taken place in Rangeview’s Libraries since gaining independence in 2004 from Adams County Public Library and becoming Anythink in 2009.

According to a recent Guardian article;

“Anythink Libraries in Denver, Colorado, have quadrupled circulation and visitor numbers in seven years by connecting with users and raising its own levy”

And from an ALA article comes the bold statement:

“it looks like Rangeview, led by director Pam Sandlian Smith and a forward-thinking board, has the library equivalent of the Midas touch.”

In 2010 Anythink were invited to talk at the PLA Conference, were awarded a National Medal for Museum and Library Service and Pam Sandlian Smith was named the Colorado Association of Libraries (CAL) Librarian of the Year.

They have also managed to build or renovate 7 new libraries and according to a recent article in the ALA Magazine this has caused an “economic ripple effect” on the surrounding communities.

So what is the Anythink model?

Well they don’t charge fines, don’t use Dewey, they don’t use traditional titles for staff preferring instead to call them a ‘wrangler’, ‘concierge’ or ‘guide’ and in 2009 re-branded their libraries as the Anythink concept and logo. As you can already tell it’s not exactly a conventional set up for a public library service, they even have their own staff manifesto which tells employees that they are “part wizard part genius part explorer”. In their brochure they also state “ideas should have no boundaries” and that the libraries are “a building with no walls”. Anythink claim too have taken their inspiration from the Idea Store concept in the UK and from the Apple Store.

“They’re discernibly libraries but with some tweaks. Most important, there’s no reference desk but a “front perch” and “back perch” (and sometimes another), stand-up stations where librarians (er, Guides) and Concierges offer quick assistance. The buildings—the product of a stutter-step process that began eight years ago—are organized for flexibility, not for books.” In the Country of Anythink – LJ – 15.10.10

So it’s all wonderful in Anythink land. Well maybe not! According to an article published in LJ in 2010 the use of self-service kiosks means that there are no desks so staff are expected to roam or as we know it ‘floor walk’ for a considerable part of the day prompting this comment on the LJ website:

“Posted by Carol Kunzler on November 17, 2010 01:41:07AM

I would be especially interested as to how, as they age (not easy to opt out of that one), staff “hold up”, physically, since they seem to be expected to be on their feet almost continuously(60 hours per week? Really?!). Are there any “disabled” or physically challenged staff, or does one have to just “fade away” as their bodies age and they can no longer accomplish the task they were hired for (is that when they can “opt” for a “lesser” title, and pay?)? Or will segways (segues?) be issued to improve mobility? Perhaps the library’s “leaders” got their heads stuck in the “cloud” too long—wake up and drift down to earth and the very real looming problems (challenges!) that lie ahead. (Does that make them “Didn’tthinklongandhardenough”-ers?) “

The whole model operates on a very tight budget with great emphasis put on self-service and ‘lean’ staffing, which according to the LJ article, mentioned above, can cause confusion and a lack of focus:

“such a proactive service has its trade-offs, since there may be no one discernibly in charge. LJ observed some kids scampering around the main part of the Wright Farms flagship library, unchecked, and one neighboring librarian, visiting as a patron, says other customers invariably ask her for help finding books.” LJ 2010

A comment from their Human Resources Director Susan Dobbs also paints a picture of tight budgets and short staffing:

“Human Resources director Dobbs likens Anythink “very much to a start-up,” with a lean staff working long hours, fueled by passion.” LJ 2010

Also:

“With a significant chunk of its budget devoted to building expenditures, Rangeview keeps personnel expenditures costs to about 60 percent. The staff is relatively thin, but front-line staff did get raises this year, thanks in part to careful fiscal management, such as discounts on benefits and from vendors.” LJ 2010

When the Anythink model was launched all existing staff had to re-apply for the newly re-branded jobs, 95% got jobs and one of the 5% who didn’t left due to her shock at seeing that the reference desk had gone.

An other contentious issue could be that Anythink don’t require a Branch Manager to hold a library qualification or to have a public library background:

“A library degree isn’t required to run a branch. In Brighton, one of the region’s fastest-growing communities, Todd Cordrey serves as Anythink Manager/Experience Expert. A former real estate broker and president of the local school board, he’s finishing his master’s in public administration.” LJ 2010

So to summarise Anythink’s model has delivered increases in issues and usage and has excited and delighted many but at the same time their use of retail concepts and ‘lean’ staffing could give some cause for concern.

Mia Breitkopf sums up the concept“One public library system in Colorado has completely rethought how it does business. The Rangeview Library System in Thornton, Colorado, has branded itself “Anythink“, as in, “I think I’m going to head over to the Anythink in Bennett, play guitar hero for a bit, grab a book of one of the bookstore-like categorized shelves, and record my oral history story with the mixed media artist so she can use it in the public history project.”

The Privatisation of Public Library Services

The following guest post about the privatisation of public libraries was kindly sent to us by Alan Wylie.

At the moment a storm is raging in California over the privatisation of public library services and the proposed introduction of Bill AB 438, a Bill that would require a city/authority to hold a referendum before handing its libraries over to a private firm to run. What has this got to do with the situation here? – well the biggest private provider in the US, Library Systems and Services (LSSI),   just happens to be looking for business in the UK.

LSSI are currently talking to a number of authorities in the UK including Wokingham and Croydon; they have stated that they are looking for a 15% share of the sector but have not to date signed any contracts — as far as we know?   It is also worth pointing out that another private firm John Laing Integrated Services currently runs Hounslow Libraries which have latterly suffered significant staff cuts and threats of closures .

Clearly the issue of privatisation is one that polarises opinion, especially in the US where most commentators are pro-privatisation with the counter-protest coming from places like Santa Clarita and the ‘Privatisazation Beast’ campaign set up by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

In the UK there is evidence that the majority of opinion is “anti”.  Reasonable people of all economic backgrounds and political colour do not welcome the piecemeal destruction of their valued public library service.  Some of my own reasons for opposing the privatisation of public libraries are listed below :

 

  • Private companies are accountable to their shareholders.  They exist to make profits and this, to me, in relation to running a public service is a fundamental conflict of interests. (LSSI are majority owned by the private equity firm ‘Islington Capital Partners’)
  • There is always a real risk that a private company could fail, leaving the service and users high and dry.
  • Public Libraries are perceived by most to be a ‘haven in a heartless world’ that offers a ‘neutral’, ‘public’, ‘non-judgemental’ and ‘safe’ environment.  Privatisation introduces a commercial element into the equation which radically changes this status.
  • LSSI, the main player, has a reputation in the US for using non-unionised staff, not paying pensions, cutting terms and conditions, deprofessionalising the workforce and paring the service back to the bone.

http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA456252.html

http://www.ila.org/pdf/0111pg4-7.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/27/business/27libraries.html

If the reader does not find the above arguments persuasive,  then the following quotes from LSSI’s founding father, Frank Pezzanite, and Jim Lynch, Vice President LSSI UK, might be a wake-up call :

“A lot of libraries are atrocious,” Mr. Pezzanite said. “Their policies are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.”

The “slacks and trainers mentality” among librarians will be abolished, Mr Lynch says. In its place will be “a rigorous service culture”.

Need I say more?

Alan Wylie

Librarian

www.dontprivatiselibraries.blogspot.com

The views expressed in guest blog posts are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of  Voices for the Library

Concerns Over Brent Campaigners Volunteer Run Libraries

As many library campaigners in the UK probably know, the judicial review raised by Brent library campaigners began earlier this week. It looked very promising that campaigners had forced their Council into this position to save their local libraries.

However, it appears that one of the main reasons for taking this to court is that local campaigners put proposals to Brent Council to run these libraries as volunteer managed/community led libraries and these proposals were rejected by the council. (See here for more details.)

This came as a bit of a surprise to other local campaigners, including Voices For The Library team members, who have not only been defending the value of libraries, but also the importance of the roles trained library staff and librarians have in providing these services. The outcome of this judicial review could have serious implications for other campaigners who are not campaigning for volunteer run libraries, including those whose judicial reviews (such as Gloucestershire and Somerset) are due to be heard.

It also raises the question about whether high profile supporters of Brent’s library campaign, such as Philip Pullman, Alan Bennett, Zadie Smith and Michael Rosen were aware of the campaigners intentions?

The Guardian, (Monday 22 November 2010) stated:

Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, said he was “greatly concerned” by developments. “The librarian is not simply a checkout clerk whose simple task could be done by anyone and need not be paid for,” he said. “Those who think that every expert can be replaced by a cheerful volunteer who can step in and do a complex task for nothing but a cup of tea are those who fundamentally want to see every single public service sold off, closed down, abolished.”

Surely this statement of support for librarians is at odds with support for the Brent libraries campaign.

Alan Benett also talks about concern for the privatisation and selling off of local libraries:

“It’s hard not to think that like other Tory policies privatising the libraries has been lying dormant for 15 years, just waiting for a convenient crisis to smuggle it through. Libraries are, after all, as another think tank clown opined a few weeks ago, ‘a valuable retail outlet’.”

One of the Brent campaigners concerns was the rejection of the proposal for Library Systems and Services UK Ltd, a private company to take over the running of some libraries. Even the move towards volunteer libraries could be seen as a step towards selling off the library service and “discharges [Brent] of their obligations.”

We also wonder if other supporters of the campaign, such as Michael Rosen and Zadie Smith, are happy to support this situation, bearing in mind that the value of libraries they used when they were younger – the libraries that played such an important part in their lives – were built up on the work that librarians had undertaken to develop the service?

It’s also interesting to note that the Brent campaigners cite CILIP in their reasoning behind their plans, indicating how library services should be provided. CILIP is the professional body for librarians and library staff, and as such, it’s doubtful that they would also advocate the removal of trained library staff and librarians as the main providers of public library services, and replace them with volunteers.

We are very concerned about this situation!

UPDATE: Since publishing this post a number of Brent campaigners have commented on it and we welcome the discussion this has led to. Please see here for more details.