Tag Archives: consultations

Abolition of the Advisory Council on Libraries to go ahead

In 2010 the Government announced the intention to abolish the Advisory Council on Libraries (ACL). The ACL was established as part of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, its duty being “to advise the Secretary of State upon such matters connected with the provision or use of library facilities whether under this Act or otherwise as it thinks fit and upon any questions referred to it by him”. However, almost 4 years later (early 2014) DCMS held a public consultation on this proposal and the Government response to the consultation was published last week.

The summary response from the Government appears below:

the Government notes that almost all respondents, i.e. six out of the seven that answered the individual questions, do not think the advisory function of ACL should be transferred to another existing body and that a slight majority i.e. four out of the seven respondents consider the ACL should be retained and improved.  While noting these comments the Government preferred option remains to abolish the ACL. The Government considers that the function of advising the Secretary of State does not require a statutory body and in the absence of the ACL, DCMS works closely and meets on a regular basis with relevant stakeholders to discuss library sector issues

We are extremely disappointed by this decision to abolish ACL, especially in light of the responses highlighting the role an improved and re-invigorated ACL could have performed in relation to England’s public libraries. We believe that the development of the ACL role could have provided independent strategic leadership and guidance for the development, support and sustainability of public libraries in England, as well as a means to enforce statutory duties and ensure comprehensive and efficient service requirements were met.

The full government response can be found here: ACL_Govt_Response__final_version_.

Voices for the Library response to the consultation can be found here: VFTL response Abolition of Advisory Council on Libraries


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.

Update on legal action for libraries

Library campaigning moved up a gear recently, with announcements about legal challenges coming in from a variety of locations throughout the country.

Brent : Campaigners in Brent received legal permission to have a judicial review in the High Court in just a couple of weeks’ time.  This, if the funding for the case is found by the campaigners, will be the first into court and will set the vital “precedent on library closures across the country.” The review will start on July 19th.

Isle of Wight : Campaigners on the Isle of Wight have been told they will receive funding to go to court and there apply for a judicial review. The case will be funded on grounds that cuts breach the “comprehensive and efficient” requirement of the 1964 Act and also that an equalities impact assessment was not done. Leigh Day solicitors say “We have advised our client that she has a good case and expect the Court to grant permission for a full judicial review.”

Somerset : A local library user  is taking legal action against Somerset County Council’s move to close 11 libraries in October, unless volunteers step forward to run them.

The above information was taken from the Public Libraries News site and further details of the campaigns can be found there.

Gloucestershire : Voices For The Library were pleased to hear yesterdays announcement that there will be a judicial high court review of cuts to Gloucestershire library services. The review was granted on all three of the grounds made by the claimant. Delighted Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries commented that “This scrutiny has never been allowed within GCC’s own procedures, where party politics has appeared to be prioritised before the needs and concerns of service users.”

(More details here)

Not only are these actions giving hope to the above campaigners, but also to campaigners throughout the country. The cases highlight the fact that in some cases there are enough grounds to question library closures and that local authorities should take note and consider their actions with them in mind. As Doncaster campaigners stated, in regard to cuts being proposed by their local council:  “At the very least, DMBC ought to put a halt to its plans to close libraries, make staff redundant and cut opening hours until a precedent has been set by these legal challenges.”

(More details here)

On Sunday “The Politics Show” (BBC1) will be discussing the implications of these legal actions for campaigners and local councils around the country.

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.

Guidance to Councils and Legal Challenge to Secretary of State for Culture

In December 2010, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey sent a letter to all councils, reminding them of their statutory duties to provide “comprehensive and efficient” library services. You can read the letter here. In the letter, Vaizey says:

“I want to emphasise the importance I place on compliance with the statutory duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service uner the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. As you know, the Secretary of State last exercised his statutory power to intervene in April 2009, by commencing a local inquiry into Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council’s compliance with its duties. The inquiry determined that the ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service that local authorities are required to provide is a balance between meeting local needs within available resources in a way which is appropriate to the needs of the community.”

He also lists key considerations for councils and says that the council should provide:

  • A statement of what the service is trying to achieve
  • A description of local needs, including the general and specific needs of adults and children who live, work and study in the area
  • A detailed description of how the service will be delivered and how the plans will fully take into account the demography of the area and the different needs of adults and children in different areas (both in general and specific terms)
  • The resources available for the service, including an annual budget

Vaizey goes on to suggest some areas to look at: “transferring control of some library services to communities to run, merging services provided by two different authorities into one cross-boundary authority and locating library services in retail stores.”

On 1st March 2011, Campaign for the Book launched a legal challenge to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport’s failure to comply with his duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act, which are as follows:

1 Secretary of State to superintend library service.

(1) From the commencement of this Act it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England and Wales, and to secure the proper discharge by local authorities of the functions in relation to libraries conferred on them as library authorities by or under this Act.

(2) Every library authority shall furnish such information, and provide such facilities for the inspection of library premises, stocks and records, as the Secretary of State may require for carrying out his duty under this section.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) responded with a letter to law firm Leigh Day & co., the firm taking Campaign for the Book’s case. In it, the DCMS argue that through the Future Libraries Programme, the Secretary of State is helping library authorities with the “development and modernisation of library services”. You can read more about the Future Libraries Programme here. They also claim that “More generally, the Secretary of State has in place arrangements to ensure that he retains oversight of library authorities”, which includes working with the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) to monitor and help library services (The MLA is to be abolished by March 2012 and responsibility for libraries will pass to Arts Council England (ACE), with severe funding cuts for support to libraries).

The DCMS also argue that because the Secretary of State has sent three letters to councils communicating that the Future Libraries Programme exists on 19th August 2010 and reminding councils of their statutory duties on 3rd December and 24th February 2011 (annex to 24th Feb letter is here), he has been properly fulfilling his duties under Section 1 of the Act.

Campaigners have a lot of questions about the response from DCMS. Alan Gibbons writes: “Here’s a question. If a council rejects some or all of the suggestions in the annex, will it be failing in its duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service? In that case, if the Culture Minister fails to intervene, will he have failed to superintend the service?”

The Campaign for the Book is currently preparing its response to the Secretary of State with its lawyers, more details about which will be posted shortly.

‘Giving communities more power does not mean dumping a problem on them…’ A letter from Carolyn

The following letter was sent by Mrs. Carolyn Carter, a Somerset library user, to her local Councillor in response to the Library Service consultation. Mrs Carter has kindly given us permission to publish this letter.

“8th January 2011

Dear Ms. Lawrence,

SCC Libraries’ Consultation

I am writing to voice my views and great disquiet about the proposed decimation of the Somerset Library Service.  Please note:  I neither work for Somerset Libraries or SCC nor have any family or friends who do; my comments are those of a library user and someone who values their worth to all in society.

I have completed the questionnaire but, like so many, it does not ask the right questions and frequently skews many of the answers.  For example,

Q.2: Which library do you use the most? (select one only)

To this question I answered ‘Yeovil’ and hence nicely bolstered the Consultation Document’s statistic, that Yeovil is one of the libraries “currently account[ing] for about 80% of all library visits, 78% of issues and 78% of active members.”

However, had I been asked why I use Yeovil, my answer would have been illuminating, viz:  ‘because I and my family have long, long ago exhausted our local library service and stock at Castle Cary and, more recently, especially since the cuts in staffing, at Wincanton too’- a very different slant on the former question, I’m sure you will agree?  Consequently, since we cannot possibly be alone in this behaviour, using the 80%/78% statistic as a basis for cuts is both misplaced and actually disingenuous.  Furthermore, just because we have experienced a poor local library service in the past does not mean we now deserve to have it even more curtailed in the future!  This is particularly important for all those users and potential users who do not have the funds, physical mobility or the transport to travel to a library much further away: I have all three, which enables me to undertake the far longer journey to Yeovil library, many do not.  Travel – and its costs – is a genuine concern in such a rural county and, where buses exist, cuts to routes and their frequency have already been announced.

The library service is always a very easy target for cuts and, no doubt, appears attractive as a candidate for ‘giving communities more powers’ etc., as wished for in the government’s Big Society.  However, reneging on statutory duties to provide: “a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof,” does not mean removing funding from a considerable proportion of Somerset residents – residents, I reiterate, who would  have made more use of the service had it not been drastically cut in the past.  Giving communities more power, does not mean dumping a problem on them.

Already, Somerset Library Service has far too few qualified librarians:  getting professional help is already difficult in the larger libraries and virtually or actually impossible in the smaller branches.  Since professional input is also needed for tasks such as stock selection and indexing, the lack of relevant and updated stock in the proposed community libraries can only drastically worsen.

Consequently, the assertion that:  “Savings arising from the reduction in numbers of fully-funded libraries would be matched by significant savings in support, management and professional staffing costs,” simply beggars belief and at a time when more professional help and expertise in the acquisition, indexing, finding, dissemination and utilisation of information will be needed, as unemployment increases and young people drop out of FE from a lack of EMA.

I think it highly likely you will get willing volunteers to run the proposed community libraries, but these will become little more than aging fiction book-swap clubs, being run and used mainly by middle-class, middle-aged, white women (just like me).  These unqualified volunteers will not be able to offer any outreach services, to encourage and cater for young people, offer expertise with information finding and use, keep-up indexes and catalogues to aid searching, assist with ICT and other media (if they still exist!), know what and how to buy new materials – and buy them, etc. etc. etc.

Furthermore, once the Council goes down this road and loses its staff’s expertise and skill base, the service will decline further (which will, no doubt, lead to a reduction in people using the services and the Council saying there isn’t a need for the services because no-one is using them – and so the self-fulfilling downward spiral will continue).  Such dumbed-down, out of date book clubs, with probably very restricted opening hours, will not only be an affront in a civilized society but also will not actually cater for, nor engender, the Big Society: a great many potential users (particularly the young and ethnic minorities) will be put off entering such parochial places, thereby negating one of the most important roles of public libraries, that of being socially inclusive by providing a non-threatening, non judgemental space, with a range of resources freely available to all.

These proposals are a backward step per se, would appear to contravene the Council’s statutory duties and their timing is both retrograde and a wasted opportunity in the current climate:  more people will have less money and increased (albeit enforced) free time and hence will actually need greater access to local services and the skilled help necessary to find and utilise up to date information and leisure resources.  Having a mere 14 funded libraries in a county the size of Somerset is nothing less than a shaming scandal.

Yours sincerely,

Carolyn Carter (Mrs)”

Following on from this letter, Mrs. Carter also posted an email to a discussion list, with another key point about her local library.

“Castle Cary library  is not small, it is tiny and hence the stock and lack of/access to qualified staff means it cannot offer a full service (NB. this is not a criticism of the CC staff). Ever since living in the area we have been promised a new libary but this has not happened (in fairness, latterly due to local councillors’ location concerns).  It is well documented that improved library services raise use and hence increase the all-important usage statistics.  Consequently, had CC had a new library before these cuts there is every likelihood that it would have entered the ranks of being worthy of continued funding.”