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:

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