Monday, 12 December 2011

Scrutiny and democracy

You know the members are not effectively scrutinising a proposal when they are nodding along with what the officers they are supposed to be challenging are saying.

Even the scrutiny committee didn't realise that this wasn't going to be passed by the full body of county councillors. They had to seek advice from the legal officer. The decision was passed by cabinet vote only. For my bit, they spent more time challenging me on my data than actually putting any of my points to the officers.

Only at the end of the consultation process did they start using the phrases "statutory" and "non-statutory" libraries. They made no mention of this to the people being asked to consult on the proposal. People would have been up in arms if they realised that the position of the council was they weren't obliged under their interpretation of the act to provide these rural libraries.

What we are left with a fudge that I don't believe saves any money. I am going to be forced to volunteer my time knowing that the "savings" are not savings at all and the money they have made from cutting the staffing to our library will going into the cost of the self service machines, volunteer coordinator and training the volunteers.

We already have some volunteers in the library, they do the coffee mornings, knitting groups, computer group, chair fitness for the elderly, monthly reading groups for both adults and for children, visits to take books to residential homes and various other things.  It will be very difficult to find extra volunteers to sustain these "big society" value added extras and run a library that OCC doesn't consider to be statutory.

Below is the text verbatim I read out to the scrutiny committee. John Jackson had clearly prepared to answer the questions on my previous blog post on the size of the back office verses the front. The costs of this proposal and the points I raised below were put under no scrutiny at all.

I actually cried when I got a lift from the train station. I am 5.10, 14 1/2 stone and from the North and I cried.  I have my own personal reasons for loving libraries, I might write a post on it one day.

They really have no idea about what libraries are for.

"Oral submission to scrutiny committee by Trevor Craig. 12/12/11.

OCC claim that by making the proposed cuts to the library service it will save £313 thousand per year. In actual fact it won’t. None of the figures stack up.
  1. OCC’s back office is larger and more inefficient than other similar sized rural authorities.
A.      For example the service support costs, which include human resources, property recharges, directorate recharges, finance, ICT, Legal etc. are far greater.
Oxfordshire has 43 libraries and spends £2,4 million on service support. Staffordshire spend £712 thousand for 50 libraries. This means the cost per library is 14 thousand for Staffordshire and 56 thousand for Oxfordshire. This equals 67p per head of population for Staffordshire and £3,76 for Oxfordshire. Both Notthinghamshire and Worcestershire have similar spends in this back office area to Staffordshire.

Since 2004-2005 this back office cost has increased by 24.36%.

If these proposals go through, the non-library’s spend in Holton and County Hall will be £4.5m. With a greater proportion of the library budget going to the back office if this and the modest savings in back office go through.

The library service was asked to save two million. They proposed closing libraries, some of which they now consider to be statutory. This was rejected. They were asked to save 1.7 million. Eight of the libraries that in the first proposal were considered statutory are now non- statutory.  How can the council believe it has it right second time? It said it had it right the first time too. Even now the current plans for the library service mean the savings required are 714k short. Other options that have been ignored should be considered.
OCC will be providing neither a comprehensive nor efficient service for the taxpayer, as it is required to do by law. Alongside this the affected libraries will no longer be statutory a carefully hidden secret until now .

The 313 thousand pounds savings could easily be found in within county hall and Holton’s 4.5 million spend, which would be in line with the government’s policy on finding savings in back office areas.

Other ways to make the 313 thousand savings are:

OCC are looking to share services and make back office savings with other authorities in other areas. They are doing this with Buckinghamshire in trading standards. This should also be pursued with the library services which is very back-office heavy. A regional back office hub would make great savings for the taxpayer across all counties and would save the vital statutory front line provision.

And finally the 313k savings don’t take account of all of the costs associated with these proposals.
OCC have said the cost of first aid and fire marshal training alone will work out at £19.75 per volunteer per year. The actual costs per year on OCC’s site would work out at 82.50 per person per year. If OCC have found new ways of making this training cheaper, should they not be using this method to make savings in their entire training budget? The self-service machines £629.94 per machine per year (31 required).  And the cost of the volunteer coordinator will be 61 thousand a year. On top of this they will pay the costs for the volunteers to travel to the training. We have estimated the savings will be somewhere in the region of £177,629.57 based on 700 volunteers and friends running the libraries. This isn’t all the training.
The same “savings” could be achieved by losing a further 3 of the 60 in management and professional/service support.

3 back office jobs (Assistant county librarians) verses 700 volunteers

OCC have said the volunteers will receive all of the training that is provided to their own staff. They haven’t provided the in house costs for the following which I am sure isn’t anywhere near a complete list:
  • Induction
  • Ancestry training course (library staff all go on this)
  • "Cracking displays course" (how to display books)
  • Manual handling
  • Risk Assessment
  • "Dealing with difficult customers" course
  • Cashing up and till management
  • Insurance cost per volunteer per year
  • Cost to process the HR, CRB, Travel expeneses
  • Training in the 11 page volunteer job specification
  • 23 Library service byelaws
  • 11 Different council policies for volunteers
OCC will also be doing an annual appraisal on each volunteer-adding hugely to the already large admin costs. We believe there is no savings in this proposal, you are forcing rural voters to volunteer and transferring the costs to the back office.
OCC ‘s legacy will be remembered as ‘The Beeching Effect’ devastating the education,   social cohesion and equality to Oxfordshire rural communities for generations." 

The data:

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Common sense and the people before party

I keep thinking that the blog post I write will be my last. Then I keep looking at the data or hearing a new announcement and my brain starts whirring off again. In Oxfordshire such is the majority the Conservatives have in the county council that if they have decided to vote this through the other parties don't have the numbers to stop them. Since this proposal is from the cabinet a lot of people are assuming it is a forgone conclusion. I actually don't, I still think we have a chance to get the right decision for the people in rural libraries across Oxfordshire. I revisited the CIPFA data again and when looking at in with fresh eyes it is very clear that the savings could easily be made within the service support area of the council. Compared to the other shire authorities on the foi based "What Do They Know" website the OCC back office efficiency is terrible:

This is really, really poor compared to the other three. OCC should be on the phone begging to know from the others where they are going wrong.

The other thing I did was look at areas of savings I have found within the library service itself. To my knowledge none of this has been examined in great detail by OCC and hasn't been presented to the public for discussion as a option to make the savings:

I'm not going to waffle on about the numbers, they again speak for themselves. I don't like to see anyone lose their jobs but I really feel the structural deficit has to be tackled and the library service must take its share. The bit of the library service is the question.

I hope when the scrutiny committee and councillors look at the proposal and the independent response from cipfa they ignore the leading questions that you could only respond to with a yes and instead read the conclusion:

"Many locally-specific points were made; however key issues are relevant
to all group 4 and 5 community libraries. Most notably that: there is
little support for using volunteers for roles currently performed by paid
library staff; there is a genuine feeling that the consultation was biased
against those residing in rural areas; there is a concern that communities
will struggle to recruit the required number of volunteers, and that they
will not be able to retain those volunteers over time; and that the ‘pain’ of
the library cuts should be shared equally across all libraries, both urban
and rural."

Please restore my faith in politics and do the right thing.

"Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the highroad to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction."

Margaret Thatcher

The links:

Cleaning costs are here:

Previous post on the lights:

Hillingdon savings:

Back office savings (25% of 8m is 2m)

Cipfa data:



Friday, 2 December 2011

Missing costs from proposals

They have upped the volunteer group from 66% staffing cuts down to 50%. They are now saying the savings from the proposal are 313k. In Wychwood library this means the cuts from 27k to 9k are now 27k to 13.5k. Obviously its a bit better but still not good.

I have been through all the documents for the revised library proposal and it is missing three crucial pieces of information.

1. How many volunteers are required?

2. How much per year to train them?

3. The annual costs of the self service machines?

OCC have provided no such calculation other than to say in the document that they encourage the groups to recruit more volunteers than they need to cover for contingencies. We did our calculations early in the year and came out with a figure or about a 1000 for all libraries.

OCC have provided no costs on the training per volunteer per year. We did our own, based on the costs of the certificates on the wall in the library and this came out at £509 per volunteer.

OCC have not mentioned anywhere the cost of the self service machines. In Warwickshire they have provided the friend groups with the costs and it is 1500 per unit per year support costs (includes VAT). They're putting in 21 of these, one for every cut library.

You can do some very simple maths with these numbers:

1000 * £519 = £519,000k (or £0.519 million as OCC likes to express numbers)
21 * £1,500 = £31,500 (or £0.031,500 million)

This gives a total of £540,500 (0.540,500 million)

This doesn't include the cost of the volunteer coordinator. We were given a figure of 60-70k in a meeting with the head librarian.

You have to push the numbers or the costs we have worked out quite a long way before this proposal breaks even.

I have FOI'ed the actual costs from OCC, I don't think they have even attempted to work out the numbers. There is nothing on these costs in the proposals to go before cabinet or the scruity committee. How can they vote on something if they haven't been given the information on whether it saves money or not? And if they have been given these costs why are they not in the documents? I will have another read through, it is possible of course I have missed them. I doubt it though, there is very little in the way of spreadsheet data in the whole thing. Just lots of meaningless corporate waffle. I looked on one of those sites that tell you how many days a year you have to work until your taxes are paid. Mine was 149 days until the money I earn is actually mine. If I do two hours a week in the library this rises to 165.5. George Bush senior once said "read my lips, no new taxes". The big society is a new stealth tax.

OCC response to my previous blog

I had a email as follows from John Jackson the Director for Social and Community services :

"Dear Mr. Craig,

It has been drawn to our attention that you have made a number of assertions about back office costs. Your assertions have been seen by a number of politicians. We believe that the assertions are incorrect and have provided a briefing note which sets out why. I have attached a copy of that briefing note. In the interests of accuracy, I am asking you to consider whether you should publish this note on your website or alternatively revise the content of the website in the light of this additional information.

Yours sincerely
John Jackson
Director for Social & Community Services
01865 323 574"

To which I responded:
"Dear Mr Jackson,

In the interests of putting the OCC side of the argument I will publish your note in full on my blog. This doesn't mean I agree with its content or as Mr Mitchell has advised I should apologise for misleading people. I believe the issue is that we disagree on what the definition of back office costs is. I still maintain the opinion that the library service will be top heavy, and the back office bigger than front if these proposals go through (especially with the extra costs of volunteer training and self service annual costs). I am also of the opinion that OCC have made a hash of the entire process and have done the taxpayers a great disservice with these proposals. Other library services around the UK spend a far smaller amount on these "other expenditure" costs and management and professional/service support. Yet I believe these are being protected and the mainly rural libraries are being penalised. To borrow a phrase, turkey's are never going to vote for Christmas.

All the confusion and anger around these proposals would have been mitigated in part by OCC being open and transparent from the start on these proposals.

I will post the letter later tonight on my blog after I have visted my local library that you propose to cut the staffing funding to by 66%

With kind regards,

Trevor Craig"

So here is there letter in full:

This note has been prepared by Oxfordshire County Council to respond to assertions made on the blog of Trevor Craig who is an individual concerned at possible changes to Oxfordshire libraries.

Mr. Craig incorrectly asserts that library budgets are currently split £6.2m front office and £4.8m back office and that, after the implementation of the savings plan, the front and back office costs will both be £4.5m. This note sets out the full position to ensure that the public is not misled.

All of the costs that he has described as ‘back office’ are integral to the functioning of the library service and the provision of that service to its customers. Within ‘back office’, he has included for instance:

• The staffing and transport costs of the mobile library service
• The pay costs of professional librarians
• The cost of maintaining the library management system
• The running costs of the library buildings including business rates and repair & maintenance

Using an accepted definition of ‘back office’, the cost of providing support services to libraries such as payroll, finance, ICT and legal advice would total around £0.9m or 8% of the total Library Service budget.

Mr Craig tries to demonstrate that after the budget has been reduced following the restructure of the service, front office and back office budgets will be equal in size. This is incorrect. Spending on library management, professional and service support (all of which he classes as ‘back office’) will fall by £273,000 as a result of the reorganisation already announced. Spending on other support services will also reduce over the next three years.

There is an assumption in the blog that front line services are being cut and back office services are being protected. This is not correct. Oxfordshire County Council has a continuing programme of efficiencies for its central support services which will reduce costs by at least £8.6m per annum by 2014/15.

The next two pages sets out the detailed financial analysis that supports what we have said above.


Table in Mr Craig’s Blog:

Before Cuts
£ After Cuts
Management / Service Support 1,700,000 1,400,000
Internal Head Office Costs 3,100,000 3,100,000
Libraries 6,200,000 4,500,000

Total Back Office 4,800,000 4,500,000
Total Front Line 6,200,000 4,500,000

Analysis of what is contained in the £4.8m ‘back office’ costs:

Library service costs
Management 620
Professional librarians 540
Service support 270
Transport 130 Employee costs of the mobile library and delivery services
Library management system support 140 Galaxy book issuing and record system
Computing 320 Galaxy third party support & other IT costs
Supplies & services 260 Miscellaneous non book purchases, most of which are of direct benefit to library users e.g. photocopiers, printing & stationery.
Transport 155 Running costs of the mobile library fleet and delivery vehicles
Total direct costs to the library service 2,435

Costs incurred elsewhere and recharged to the Library Service
Property Recharges 1,729 The property budget is recharged to directorates on a rate per square metre of floor area occupied. It includes repair & maintenance, business rates, rents, service charges, insurance, facilities management and professional property fees.
Directorate Recharges 110 Directorate management and support

Human Resources 243 Payroll, health & safety, Human Resources support & advice, recruitment, learning & development. The recharge is based on the number of full time equivalent employees within each service.
Finance 80 Accountancy, accounts payable, income collection. The recharge is based on the size of budget, number of invoices processed, the invoices raised.
ICT 190 System support & development, help desk, data management & storage, licensing. The recharge is based on the number of users.
Legal 3 Legal advice
Other 10 Customer services, corporate services etc
Total Recharges 2,365
TOTAL 4,800

Obviously this has wonkied up all the formatting, if you want to read it as intended you can here:

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Plenty of #fail to go around

Finally some good news that at least someone in Westminster is listening to the library groups and taxpayers. Ed Vaizey and Jeremy Hunt have both completely failed to exercise their duty under the law in my opinion, I personally think they are a pair of useless morons. My left big toe with a little face painted on it would make a better culture minister. The other big fail apart from the DCMS and the now defunct MLA is the LGA. At a time when the budget cuts to councils mean they do have to look for savings, the LGA (local government association) should have been bringing the councils together and helping them set up ways of working together. Nearly all councils belong to the LGA, it is paid for via subscriptions from councils and in its own words is a "voluntary lobbying organisation". It spends millions every year (27 million in 2010) on consultants and contractors yet seems to do very little to actually help taxpayers or protect services. It seems to exist to issue press releases rebuking press releases from the taxpayer’s alliance or when Eric Pickles goes off on one. I hope the select committee will come up with some sensible recommendations that will protect front line library funding and the LGA brings some of its vast taxpayer funded resources to bear to help the councils work together to achieve it. We don't need any stupid "initiates" from the government or the LGA, just find a way to stop closing the libraries.

In Oxfordshire the Conservative group will be meeting soon, no doubt Keith will think he can dazzle them with his "Social care or cuts" argument. I hope the councillors of Oxfordshire really understand how very ill-conceived and badly thought through the proposal is. I don't know if Keith is pushing this "Big Society" nonsense because he wants it to fail to embarrass Cameron. If voted through, it will fail. Lots of people will be miffed, the Tories will lose loads of seats and they will in all likely hood lose the seat Nicola Blackwood won by the skin of her teeth over Evan Harris. If any wannabe councillors need any help leafleting or need some donations to help fund their campaigns in 2013 let me know. I can point you in the direction of the councillors seats who have let their libraries close.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Aftermaths: The epic failure of epic epicness

I had a FOI come back today that confirmed the other expenditure figures. If Keith and his Conservative colleagues vote this proposal through it will represent everything Tories say they are against. The back office cost of running the library will be the same as the front line if not higher. If a chain of retailers had 42 shops that cost them 4.5 million to run. You can be sure the costs of management, HR, IT etc in head office wouldn't cost 4.5 million. But this is the library service if the proposal goes through:

This really is an EPIC fail. There is no other words to describe it. If OCC keep making efficiencies like this we will have to all join the party and start referring to each other as comrade. The service is suppose to exist for the benefit of the taxpayers who pay for it not as a jobs program that provides a limited service to users.

Don't forget this hasn't factored in the 1000 volunteers, they all have to be trained and coordinated by their volunteer coordinator on 60-70k a year. This is going to cost in total 438k pa.

I am so very, very angry. This proposal is a complete and utter failure in every single way. No wonder the county is in the state it is in if public services and regulation are managed by politicians in this way.

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. 
Sir Winston Churchill

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Save the back offices at all costs

I was thinking about the back office costs and why they aren't shared with other authorities. I thought to my self, it must be political. Then I checked and actually every single county that surrounds Oxfordshire has a Tory administration. This is very disappointing because I presume via the LGA and the party all of the county leaders actually know each other. The MLA has suggested that authorities sharing the back office can save up to 25% of costs to the library service. I think in borough's this is probably true as they sit right next to each other. In shire counties I appreciate that because of the distances involved not all back office functions can be shared. The fact remains though, if you don't physically touch the books as part of the role there is no requirement for that role to be within the actual area of the libraries you manage. I don't know the full situations or have the detail on the other authorities but to get a rough idea I have used the OCC back office costs and did a few calculations on how much the savings would be if Oxfordshire became a back office hub for the surrounding counties. The officers would argue that the counties are too big and the distances are too great. I'm sorry but for office based jobs this point doesn't hold water. Some back office functions do require a physical presence, for this reason I have pushed the library hub cost up to a generous amount so the percentage savings would be 15%. This coupled with the self service savings in large libraries would mean Oxfordshire would save 30% of the cost of running the library service. I am aware there would be start up issues and it would take a while to setup but I am certain it would be easier than trying to manage a thousand volunteers in Oxfordshire alone. Obviously these are all based on the spend in our county, some may have higher some lower but its worth further looking into further. I suspect the officers haven't consulted with their colleagues in the shires on this and give a "no it won't work" when asked by their political masters. The services are provided for the benefit of the taxpayers not the staff. If this is the case then they are destroying the library service to save their own skins and I find that very sad. If councils were FTSE250 companies as they keep telling me, there is no way they would be so close together in the private sector and not have shared staffing costs, Sir Humphrey wouldn't like this though, his empire is only allowed to grow.

 Below is the data:

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Officer leaves, gets 110k pay off

It has been widely reported that a strategic director at West Oxfordshire District Council parted ways with the council and was given 110k for loss of office.

The latest twist here is that in minutes from a meeting it was said that she had decided to leave of her own accord. Obviously because of this it is very peculiar that a staff member can leave of their own accord and also receive a hefty financial payment.

Without transparency on this people have been making up their own conclusions about a cover up to protect councillors.

I emailed the leader of WODC Cllr Barry Norton and put the question:

"Again I have to ask why if someone leaves of their own accord do they have to be paid off? If you still cannot tell me can you give me your assurance that no elected official was involved in the reason for her leaving? Its all very murky and taxpayers have a right to know."

And to his credit he did come back with a straight answer:

"I can assure you that to the best of my knowledge no elected member was involved in the reason for Miss James leaving the council.

Best wishes

Barry Norton"

Since he has categorically said it isn't anything to do with a elected member then I think that is probably fair enough not to push further. I am of course annoyed about the 110k which could have been put to better use. I hope that if another officer(s) has acted in a inappropriate manner that necessitated Cath James having to leave then that person or persons has been disciplined appropriately. 

Letter to Keith

Dear Keith,

As per my constant stream of tweets, will you please set out the reasons why this proposal is the only one on the table? I agree completely on the need for cuts within the library service but obviously disagree with the way the cuts are being made in the mainly rural libraries. I have no idea if you have been reading my blog or not but I have tried to show other areas that I don't personally thing have been explored. I want to understand the real arguments for this proposal. The QA isn't worth the paper it is written on, it is misquoted and the data derived from it uses a faulty premise that is biased against rural areas.

I cannot speak for the library groups but the feeling I get is there isn't the volunteers to sustain this, even if they tried all the other good work they do which makes Oxfordshire's library service one of the best in the country would be lost. Not only that, the nonsense of health and safety would mean the training costs would cancel out any savings by making staff cuts, on top of that the volunteer coordinated on 60-70k salary would further erode any savings.

There are plenty of other arguments that I could list but don't want to send you a email that would run to pages and pages. Not only is it obvious the cuts could be made in the management and support and the internal recharge, a back office share (full or partial) with other authorities could easily make the savings required. Other things unanswered are why the good work in Hillingdon that has seen massive improvements to the service (and increased issues and visitor numbers) within existing budgets been ignored? They have half the libraries of Oxfordshire and have made 250k savings alone on letting the local libraries purchase the books they want directly from the suppliers. I don't know all the detail, I presume you do. But this way forward has been completely pushed aside. The other avenue where we weren't given detail on was why it wasn't pursued to get a private company to run the service, I have no issue personally with this but would imagine your "leftie" friends in Oxford City wouldn't be pleased. 

Also why do the city libraries not have to join the big society? They are densely populated and it would be a lot easier for them to find volunteers. Not only that the CRB, first aid, fire marshal etc wouldn't be required because professional staff would always be onsite (unlike in the case of the small libraries under this proposal). Most of the existing volunteers in the rural libraries are retired, I don't think it is fair for retired people to have paid taxes all their lives to then be asked to provide front line services to themselves.

I think I and the other library groups would welcome you setting out the position on why OCC are pressing ahead with this proposal and ignoring other possibilities. Since most of the cuts in the proposal are to rural libraries I would imagine it is going to be a hard sell to your own side, in quite a few seats where libraries are being cut your colleagues have very slim majorities. Cllr Fateman, Cllr Heathcoat and Cllr Rose in the cabinet alone look very vulnerable come 2013.

With kind regards,

Trevor Craig,

p.s good luck with whatever you decide to pursue after May, maybe you can get your piano grades up and audition to join the Oxford Philomusica? :D

p.p.s you are welcome to put this on your blog, I am going to put it on mine.

p.p.p.s you could get volunteers to do the cleaning instead of Quest and save more money than under this proposal

Monday, 14 November 2011

Yet more places to look for savings

There was a Oxfordshire County Council good news story in the Oxford mail today:
The basic gist is they have spent some money on replacing schools lights new energy saving LED lights. This has saved them (or in fact us) 40% on their electricity bills. 

In a totally unrelated article, Keith the other day quashed any suggestion of spending the five million released from the Icelandic banks on libraries saying:

“It could go into a capital project such as a school or a road scheme, but it will not fund youth services or library services because it is one-off money.
“Given the current state of the finances, if there is a bit spare we have to hang onto it for a rainy day, because it is going to pour down for the next years as far as I can see.”
Now here is a mad idea: why don't you use the five million and put those same lights in all the libraries? That way you could save money each year on the library budget and would be using the money in a way you suggested. This one off money would make savings each year and decrease the councils carbon output. The prices are only going to continue to rise so it is a very sound investment. Here is a link to the data:
If the 40% figure is correct, the actual savings on electricity costs would be £51,721.09, this is based on 09/10 data . Since then electricity has gone up quite a bit. If their electricity has gone up as much as most peoples has, the saving could be up to 60k. Since OCC have the cash, why not put these lights into as many other buildings as the 5 million will stretch too? Obviously I don't know the electricity costs for all the buildings but I would imagine with a initial one off investment of our cash from the Icelandic banks then the 350k to save all the rural (and one city) library would be easily achievable. 
The problem is are they listening at OCC? Yes it is a representative democracy but they are supposed to listen to our views not just ignore them. You are allowed to change your mind Keith, Thatcher once famously said "The lady is not for turning" but in reality when the facts change she saw reason and changed her mind, don't try and push this through. It won't save money, there isn't the volunteers and you are going against your own policies.  
Replacing staff with volunteers isn't what the big society is supposed to be. The big society stuff we already do and it will be lost because we will be too busy stacking the shelves and trying to teach the elderly how to use the stupidly expensive self service machines. 
There are lots of other options, if one of the assistant county librarians left and wasn't replaced for example, that would save around 70ish, depending on the pay grade, pension and other perks.
There are 32.11 staff in the management and professional, the top 15 of them are on 700k salary between them.  Below is the structure:

No leaning out here? Or do you need every one of the customer service people or all those principle librarians? They cannot be shared with another county? It wouldn't take much sharing to save the front line. Then there is the 3.2 million internal recharge, this cannot be leaned out either? The only option is the one on the table, take it of leave it? I will leave it if its all the same. When the volunteer thing doesn't work and you come to close my library down,  I will be the one handcuffed to the heating pipe in the toilet in our library. You send your boys down and try and move me.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Breaking: Democracy breaks out in Oxfordshire. Maybe

Keith intends to leave in six months, to give his replacement 12 months before the local elections. I expect the new leader with need more time than that to detoxify the Tory brand in Oxfordshire. 

My first experience online of Keith was him to correcting the sytax on one of my tweets. I didn't warm to him it has to be said. I then saw him at the "Big Debate" in Witney and neither him or the Chief Exec impressed. Despite my almost constant dismay at the poor representation we have politically in this county I have been routinely shocked by the contempt with which Keith Mitchell holds the voters in Oxfordshire.

Here are a few Keef quote highlights:

"A dangerous infection in our country which needs to be stamped on"
On students protesting about the university cuts

"County Hall like a mini St Pauls today with a gaggle of deficit deniers parading around outside. Do they have jobs or are they on benefit?"
On Sacked youth workers who dared to protest outside of county hall on losing their jobs.

" I have led the County Council since 2001 and, during that time, I have put Oxfordshire on the map locally, regionally and nationally."
From the bio on his blog

"Sorry - taxis are public transport.  When I go to London for meetings, I use taxis to get from one part of London to another quickly and in comfort.  I have not the slightest intention of getting on a bus or a tube train."
In response to one of my early blog posts on waste at OCC.

"I was saddened that, deficit deniers apart, these largely well-heeled worthies refused to accept that reducing library cuts would add to the cuts to other services – most likely social care and highways."
His response to people who dared to voice dissent on the library cuts.

The list goes on, it basically amounts to insults, emotive obfuscation of the argument or simply accusing people of being "lefties" if they don't agree with him. In my six years living in Oxfordshire he has poisoned political debate and reduced it to playground insults. Interestingly despite "putting oxfordshire on the map" his greatest achievement according to his leaving letter is to have put a road through the middle of a roundabout. <stands and claps>

 I sincerely wish him well in his new life, the next six months of his lame duck period will be a very long time for the people of Oxfordshire. If he wasn't pushed by Cameron as I suspect he was, he has at least done his party a massive favour by going before the election so the electoral damage can be repaired, will one year be enough time for them to do so? It will be interesting to see if he suddenly gets a new found appreciation of quango's, or if he hasn't upset Cameron too much to get a place in the Lords. I hear the libraries and youth centres have had their funding cut, maybe he can join the big society and finally do something useful for the people in Oxfordshire?

p.s its only early days but this speaks volumes:

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Save the back office at all costs

I got the data from one of the other friends groups on the savings being made by the roll out of self service across the larger libraries. No staff are being sacked (unlike the rural libraries) but natural wastage is being used to cull the numbers. It still means less front line staff in libraries though. What confirmation of these figures means is we can see how the cuts are spread within the service with the actual data. My last post on this was projected on the data we had available at the time. It is more or less as expected though. The library service is being cut by 25% and of that 25%  almost all the cuts are to the front line 86.22%.  Keith clearly doesn't understand Tory policy:

So not only are the rural libraries taking a bigger proportion of the cuts to their existing spend 66% & 33% to the 15% in the city libraries and 15% of back office. The back office is only taking 13.78% of total cuts. How this fits with Tory policy and ideology I have no idea.

It does get worse though, this doesnt include the internal recharge costs of the library service. We know OCC are very inefficient compared to other shire authorities as I showed in a previous post:

This is the costs of IT, HR, admin, payroll etc to OCC that are not part of the library service but are incurred costs of running it. Compared to Staffordshire and Notts, Oxfordshire CC are performing woefully. You would imagine they would be bearing down hard on these costs. But no, according to the CIPFA submissions they are only estimating this going down from 3.2 million to 3.1 million:

This is only a 3.1% decrease. This is estimate, but the total has gone up since 2008 and they are only projecting it to decrease very slightly. They have had plenty time to sort out their back office, this is really poor when you consider bigger library services in other shire counties can do it for considerably cheaper.

As a proportion of the total spend the back office is going to increase if this is how Keith does efficiency. In fact under the proposals it is likely the back office spend will end up bigger than the front line spend if you include the internal recharge in the total.

Keith will keep spouting the social care v libraries nonsense to wind the voters of Oxfordshire up and muddy the waters. He should get the back office sorted before a single front line service gets cut. By the time voters get a chance to have their say on his competence in 2013 he will be long gone as his division will have disappeared.

I think any Tory that votes for this proposal should think very hard about what their party stood for at the election, what their party policy is on cuts and should we pay taxes then have to provide services to ourselves.

This is an issue of right and wrong, the savings can be made without touching the front line. OCC hasn't tried.

Friday, 14 October 2011

What would you cut 4.0

Update 24/Oct/2011
Even though OCC are supposedly cutting the back office to save front line services, on top of the 8 new policy officers they are also hiring two deputy directors:

Social care is taking 31 million pounds worth of cuts they can still afford to hire two directors on 98k each. Totting up the pension contributions and the numbers below for the new policy officers the total spend on back office will be going up by approximately  £467,153.75.

I'm sure the youth centres, elderly and library users will be pleased.

Despite the supposed savage cuts and back office efficiencies Oxfordshire County Council OCC still have enough spare cash to recruit 8 new policy officers. I think in the modern political vernacular they call them SPADS. I don't know if these are new roles or replacements. Either way it sounds like a entire new department being created:

I have totted up the numbers based on the average of the roles and the numbers are below:

They obviously need all these new policy officers to drive through the policies of cutting youth centres, cutting adult social care and cutting rural libraries.  Below is the "Main Purpose of Job" bit from each of the roles:

 Senior Policy & Performance Officer X2:
"The purpose of the job is to work as part of a small central team providing a 
framework within which the council can function effectively. The post holder 
will be required to work in a fast paced environment to deliver organisational 
improvement and policy development, driving through business efficiency and 
cultural change. The post holder will lead by example, promote the values of 
the organisation, facilitate others to deliver their objectives and facilitate a 
joined up holistic approach and culture across the Council.
The post holder will lead on the delivery of a range of high profile projects that 
are critical to the organisation. They will work alongside the service areas to 
write strategies and implementation plans, providing support, advice and 
challenge on a range of important issues. They will work flexibly and function 
within a within a matrix management system. 
This post holder is responsible for ensuring that all relevant County policies 
and procedures are adhered to and concerns are raised in accordance with 
these policies"

 Policy & Performance Office X3:
"The purpose of the job is to work as part of a small central team providing a 
framework within which the council can function effectively. The post holder 
will be required to work in a fast paced environment to deliver organisational 
improvement and policy development, driving through business efficiency and 
cultural change. The post holder will lead by example, promote the values of 
the organisation, facilitate others to deliver their objectives and facilitate a 
joined up holistic approach and culture across the Council.
Working to a project manager, the policy officer will be responsible for 
delivering wide-ranging projects and vital functions in support of the Council’s 
Business Strategy and corporate priorities, based on a matrix-management 
approach. This is likely to cover a wide-range of issues, and will extend from 
early formulation of policy ideas through to a role in delivery and supporting 
others to ensure that change is embedded in the organisation. 
This post holder is responsible for ensuring that all relevant County policies 
and procedures are adhered to and concerns are raised in accordance with 
these policies"

 Policy & Performance Support Officer X3:

"This is a training post and the expectation is that whilst the post holder would 
contribute to the work of the Policy Unit, they would do so whilst learning on 
the job.  The purpose of the job is to work as part of a small central team 
providing a framework within which the council can function effectively. The 
post holder will be required to work in a fast paced environment to deliver 
organisational improvement and policy development, driving through business 
efficiency and cultural change. The post holder will lead by example, promote 
the values of the organisation, facilitate others to deliver their objectives and 
facilitate a joined up holistic approach and culture across the Council.
Working to a project manager, the policy support officer will be responsible for 
supporting the delivery of wide-ranging projects and vital functions in support 
of the Council’s Business Strategy and corporate priorities, based on a matrix management 
approach. This is likely to cover a wide-range of issues, and will extend from early
 formulation of policy ideas through to a role in delivery and supporting others to ensure
 that change is embedded in the organisation. This post holder is responsible for 
ensuring that all relevant County policies and procedures are adhered to and
 concerns are raised in accordance with these policies"

With the prevailing wind at OCC of getting the communities to provide the services for themselves, its clearly vital we have these brave men and women providing "frameworks", "joined up holistic approaches" and "cultural change".  Clearly needed when communities get the one off Big Society grant and have to provide services they have already paid for themselves:

We can all be happy knowing OCC has a top team of policy officers taking up the back office slack. The OCC definition of the big society is to have a expensive team of back office administrators with the plebs delivering the front line services to themselves as volunteers. Remind me what I pay my taxes for again? Below is a OCC run hospital waiting for the volunteer clinical staff to turn up and deliver the services they have already paid for.

P.S it is cut libraries or cut social care. Keith said so.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

What would you cut 3.0?

Update 21/10/2011

They got back to me with the cost of this video:

This single video cost £9950 and has had 1330 views, it cost £7 per view. The content of the video is described by occ as:

"This film details the excellent transport planning that Oxfordshire County Council has previously implemented (Park & Ride, the 'Hamburger' Roundabout) as well as some of the challenges that the council faces over the coming decades. The film has been made for a forthcoming Local Government Association conference."

Anyone who has used public transport in Oxfordshire or driven around the county will probably dispute the "excellent transport planning" that OCC sees fit to spend 10k on a video to boast to other councils about. This obviously bumps up the average cost of the videos and the estimated cost of the OCC youtube channel. I won't do the calculations but obviously if they are still making videos now then this pointless self promotion internally and to other councils via the pointless and costly Local Government Association is more important than social care and libraries.

I just received a partial response to my FOI on the costs of the Oxfordshire County Council You Tube Channel. To stay within the FOI limit I was only allowed the costs of ten videos of my choice. The ten videos I chose were:

  1. Turn It Up! Film Part 1
  2. The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury
  3. Lisa Michelson and Des Fitzgerald - Policy and Review officers
  4. John Jackson's introduction
  5. Transforming learning
  6. Volunteering in Oxfordshire
  7. Spinning the Wheel
  8. Climate Change
  9. Transport planning in Oxfordshire
  10. Oxfordshire County Council's Skills for Life case study

I will post the full FOI at the bottom, I'm just going to extrapolate the costs of the eight videos (Still waiting on costs for 7 and 9) and do some cost per video/cost per channel view statistics. OCC use one week out of 52 to do annual library visits so I think using 8 videos as a basis for the approximate costs of 95 videos is fair.

Of the 8 videos I have been given data for 3 were done externally for free by other bodies as minimal or zero cost to occ, this gives a percentage of 62.5% of the videos had a cost.

In some cases there were internal costs as well and for one of the examples they gave me a cost per hour of £19.3. I will have used this to map to the other examples where they gave me staffing hours but not costs.

Here are the figures, it is worked out on the five videos that have a cost, and the percentage of costs/non-costs videos extrapolated to the entire channel:

Obviously this is extrapolated data from a sample of around 10%. Without the full costs it is impossible to know the exact figure. I think it gives a good indication though, each video they pay for costs thousands, very few people watch them and 62.5 percent of the videos are paid for by Oxfordshire taxpayers.

This hasn't been cut by the way, the spending is still ongoing, they are still uploading videos. The last one was six days ago:

Strategic Joint Committee Toolkit

This video has had 10 views (two of them were me!) and is ten minutes long. It asks the question "why do schools have to work in partnership" and features the Education Transformation Manager and the School Governance and Accountability Manager talking about schools working in partnership. I have a couple of great ideas just on this one video:

  1.  Send the headteachers the words you are speaking and the pictures on the video on bits of paper or via email, they can read
  2. The two managers should focus more on the failing schools rather than filming videos.
This video came out recently and may have cost nothing to OCC, and indeed some of the other videos have actual merit, The building a sandbag wall, making a complaint, becoming a councillor.

But I'm sorry but there is little cost benefit from most of these videos, they have been made at great expense to the taxpayer and nobody is watching them. I know what I would cut.

Here are a couple of examples of videos on youtube that actually get watched and have merit in my opinion:

Keith annoying the students:

Keith talks about democracy! And it shows him with the picture of Maggie on his desk watching over him

And a tip to OCC on youtube videos and getting views:

Include funny cats:

Seriously watch the cat video, its what you tube is for and if it doesn't make you laugh then you are dead.

Here is the link to the FOI on the videos:

Remember if they don't cut libraries they have to cut adult social care, Keith said so.

Monday, 10 October 2011

What would you cut 2.0

So annoyed with the flawed premise put forward by the leader of Oxfordshire County Council I have decided to put another few graphs together showing the adult social care budget, library budget and some other areas of spending from CIPFA submissions and the > £500 spending data.

Here is the library service spend with the adult social care spend:

The library service with other areas of spend in OCC. The last two are the cuts to the rural libraries and city.

And zooming in further the cuts to the rural and city libraries under their proposal.

And Keith's line is there has to be cuts to social care if cuts are not made in the library service. Are you sure Keith? The back office spend on libraries, internal library recharge, redacted spending, mobile phones, consultants and expenses etc are all running at 100% efficiency?  Really?

And as we have already proved thanks to "elf and safety" forcing volunteers to run the rural libraries won't actually save the 350k, the training required for the volunteers and the 60k volunteer coordinator mean the proposals actually make a loss every year.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Increased efficiency, the OCC way

There is lots of nonsense coming from Keith Mitchell with the old chestnut that adult social care has to be cut harder to save the libraries, he blames the "lefties" for this. For this argument to hold water, every single bit of spending that isn't necessary or ring fenced has to have been cut within the council. I would love him to be able to prove this, obviously it isn't actually possible. That's why the choice isn't binary and simplistic as Keith argues. The Conservative part of the government are urging public bodies to resist making front line cuts and to make efficiencies in the back office and on expensive salaries. Numerous quotes from Pickles and the Cameron support this position.

Below is the basic salaries of the head of the civil service in the United Kingdom, Prime minister and the executive team at Oxfordshire county council:

The head of the civil service is in charge of every single public sector employee in the country, I think the figure is 6-7 million depending on whose figures you trust. The prime minister is politically accountable for all those civil servants and the population of the UK which is 61 million. The head of OCC is responsible for 22 thousand employees and 680 thousand members of the public in Oxfordshire. For fairness I will include Keith in this, he gets 31k allowance which to his credit is quite competitive compared to some council leaders I have looked at. One of the arguments when executive salaries are questioned is they are running a company with a big budget, they are the equivilent to a FTSE 250 company and the you pay peanuts you get monkey's line. 

Its another false argument. The FTSE 250 companies are there because they are the biggest 250 companies on the stock exchange outside the FTSE 100. Their executives get paid lots of money because their companies are performing well, if they stop performing and drop out of the 250 they would be held accountable, I.E they would get the sack. Just because the figures involved financially may be similar, it doesn't make them worthy of comparison. Not only are chief execs not accountable for performance in the same way as the private sector, they don't actually take the big decisions, councillors do this and they are held responsible by the electoriate. The officers don't have to give quotes to the media on bed blocking issues, cogges link road, or the school failures in the county. The cabinet councillor responsible for the department has to do that. For these reasons I have used the average chief exec salary that comes from the Office for National Statistics figures, I believe this is a fairer benchmark to measure the salaries against.

I understand there are legal reasons why the pay for executives cannot be cut, but if they were subjected to a 25% pay cut in line with what the front line services are having to take then OCC would save 170k which could be plowed into adult social care, youth centres or dare I say it libraries. This is based just on their basic salary, there is also pension contributions and other perks that I don't have exact figures for. Other councils in the UK are getting rid of senior execs or actually sharing them with other councils. I don't know how well this works but I think people would rather see the money spent better.

One of the other things I am concerned about is the tier further down. By law councils have to release the numbers of staff on over 50k. They make it difficult of course by not giving job titles or the actual salaries. Below is the non-school numbers:

Because we only have the banding's we cannot do exact figures. We can do maximum, minimum or average. What is clear that from the financial year 2009-2010 the numbers on over 50k basic salary actually went up by five. They lost a couple of the 100k people, I would imagine through natural wastage but the numbers went up. On the actual salary spend, despite loosing the two 100k people the salary spend on this group actually increased. Not a massive increase but it still went up. This is in the context of the leader telling us they can only cut libraries or adult social care, the county is broke and all the rest of the stuff he comes out with. A increased headcount and a increase salary spend on the over 50k staff isn't "savage cuts" or efficiencies in the back office, it is quite the opposite.

Another area I had a another look at was the spending data. Between November 2010 and July 2011 OCC has spent £3,064,941.66 on consultants. That's a average of £340,549.07 a month or approximately 4 million a year. Again I'm not stupid enough to say this isn't all legitimate spending but when the leader argues its one thing or another I get angry. 

Even within the library service itself they spend far more on back office that other shire counties. One of my previous posts goes into detail on this:

Looking at all this I see why Keith resorts to childish insults and nonsense binary arguments that have no basis in reality, he cannot argue on facts because he doesn't have any. He has failed to make OCC more efficient or to save the front line as he is instructed to by his own parties position. He has poisoned debate in Oxfordshire to cover for his own failings and I think he should be cut.