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: