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: