Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Who's in charge of the deck chairs?

I stuck a question in on the Arts Council’s live chat with Alan Davey that took place at lunchtime today. I wanted to understand from him what ACE understands to mean when E-Vaizey said they are:  “responsible for superintending and promoting the library service”. Below is my initial question and Alan’s response:
Rubymalvolio: Ed Vaizey has said in the house of commons that ACE is: "responsible for superintending and promoting the library service" How is this even possible with only five library relationship managers?

Alan Davey: To Rubymalvolio: I think this must have been a slip of the tongue. We are very clear that we do not have a superintending role and nor did the MLA before us. We are, however, about promoting the importance of libraries and their development. We will maintain a presence in all parts of the country despire our current cuts. That's important.

I wanted to post a follow up and the moderator very kindly told me that it wouldn’t get in by the end so I should put my follow up in an email. I did and here is what I sent, it includes correspondence between the MLA and the tireless campaigner Shirley Burnham and an email exchange between me and the DCMS:

Hi Alan,
There is a lot of confusion on the role of the Arts Council and libraries. I know the minister has the statutory responsibility under the libraries act but it appears that the head of the MLA did believe that they had some responsibility to superintend (or provide oversight) and clearly the minister Ed Vaizey believes this too.  One of my fellow campaigners had an email from Roy Clare CBE in 2010 that implied this:
Hello, Shirley, yes happy for you to circulate.
Wirral’s key features were a “perfect storm” of the following factors:
#. Stated intention for large numbers of closures
#. Driven by asset-review, not social outcomes
#. Ineffective consultation with public (and staff) *
#. Potential of library services not well recognised *
#.No workable strategy for service improvement *
#. ‘Good Practice’ elsewhere not being considered
It was the combination that led us to consider appealing to Secretary of State.
In our view one or two of these factors on their own would not be sufficient grounds to cry ‘foul’. Each is important, but those marked * are fundamental.
Hope that helps?
Roy Clare CBE
CEO, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council”
I also asked the DCMS what Vaizey meant when he said the line  "A £6 million fund has been provided by the Arts Council, which is now responsible for superintending and promoting the library service"
“Dear Mr Craig,
Thank you for your email of 14 November to the Department about the supervision of library services. I have been asked to reply.The Minister’s comment about the Arts Council was reference to the responsibilities they assumed in October 2011 for the development of public libraries.As I mentioned in my letter of 13 November, The Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, has a duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to superintend the delivery of library services by local authorities and to ensure that public library authorities in England provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service in accordance with their statutory duties under the 1964 Act”

Which doesn't say it was a slip of the tongue it actually backs it up and the minister and the DCMS believe ACE is responsible for superintending and promoting the library service. As you are no doubt aware up and down the land there is massive anger at the cuts to libraries, even your own department has been cut hard and there is no way 5 library relationship managers could possibly supervise the 151 library authorities on top of the envisioning the future of the libraries program and the 6 million in arts grants. I hope you can give some clarity on this as it seems that libraries are being slashed and there is confusion about who is overseeing them.
With kind regards,

To which Alan very kindly replied very promptly a few hours later:
Dear Mr Craig,
Thank you for your email.
As I mentioned today in my live chat, it is not the Arts Council’s role to superintend libraries and report back to the DCMS on whether a library service meets the statutory requirements of the 1964 Act or not. As your letter from the DCMS made clear, the Arts Council assumed responsibility for the development of public libraries in October 2011, and the superintending of whether a public library service is deemed ‘comprehensive and efficient’ lies with the Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Maria Miller.
I also mentioned in my live chat that the MLA did not have responsibility of superintending the 1964 Act. This is strictly true, although MLA library staff did analyse local, regional and national library data collated by CIPFA, and feedback this information to DCMS. We were very clear when we assumed responsibility for libraries that reviewing library performances would not be a role that we would be undertaking – and that the definition of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ public library service should be defined at a local level, and be superintended by the Secretary of State.
I hope this clears up any confusion you may have on this matter. If you would like any further information on the Arts Council’s role concerning libraries, please check the Arts Council website here.

Which is very clear, ACE have NO responsibility to superintend and promote the library service, they are not monitoring libraries adhere to their duties under the act it’s down to Maria Miller, Ed Vaizey and the 4.5 staff they have at the DCMS.

It isn’t possible for 4.5 people to monitor the 151 library authorities, no way. Ed trying to take credit for keeping the 1964 museum and libraries act is just smoke and mirrors, it’s meaningless if the act isn’t enforced. The iceberg approaches, there isn’t even enough people to move the deck chairs never mind dodge the iceberg and the captain has locked himself in his cabin with his Xbox.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The bridge is empty, the captain has abandoned ship

Despite my anger at the rather large back office and management costs in my local library authority. I was shocked when my "They work for you" Ed Vaizey alert came through today because he had answered a question in the house on staffing at the DCMS.

I find this really, really shocking but for the 151 library authorities the DCMS currently only has four full time staff members and one part-time (the new guy I guess). We know poor Dempster probably spends his day batting back campaigners emails but this means the minister has each person watching roughly 33.5 of the 151 library authorities. No wonder they have to rely on public library news, they don't have enough staff in the DCMS on libraries to realistically have a handle on what is going on. Even if you take E-Vaizey at his word and the Arts Council have some responsibility to superintend, they are being culled hard and are working on the pointless "Envisioning the future of the library service" and administering the six million of funding for arts projects in libraries, also pointless and misguided in the current decimation of libraries in my opinion. Even if their 5 library relationship managers they have left were not working on this stuff and were full time making sure along with the DCMS that the 1964 act was being enforced this would still leave each person with 15.8 library authorities to monitor.

I'm all for small, efficient back office spending in whitehall but this really shows, in my opinion that the ministers in the DCMS don't know and don't care what is happening in libraries. Considering the library spend across these authorities is somewhere in the region of one billion, you would imagine they would have a few more staff to ensure libraries are comprehensive and efficient. This is probably why most library authorities are neither, nobody is looking.

Friday, 23 November 2012

We don't measure our success by results but by activity

I have been chasing the DCMS to get some information on what E-Vaizey meant when he said in the house of commons:

 "A £6 million fund has been provided by the Arts Council, which is now responsible for superintending and promoting the library service"

The very nice Mr M from the DCMS responded (I put in the bold text):

“Dear Mr Craig,
Thank you for your email of 14 November to the Department about the supervision of library 
services. I have been asked to reply.The Minister’s comment about the Arts Council was reference to the responsibilities they assumed in October 2011 for the development of public libraries.
As I mentioned in my letter of 13 November, The Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Maria Miller 
MP, has a duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to superintend the 
delivery of library services by local authorities and to ensure that public library authorities in 
England provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service in accordance with their statutory 
duties under the 1964 Act”

Which as far as I can tell means they are standing up what E-Vaizey said.  It might just be me being a bit thick but the act clearly states:

“From the commencement of this Act it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England and Wales,”

So according to Ed both the secretary of state and the Arts Council are responsible for superintending and promoting the library service.

The MLA’s Roy Clare CBE clearly thought it had some responsibility as the comment Shirley added on one of my other posts says. ACE doesn’t though have the statutory duty or the resource to superintend and promote libraries. It’s responsibility of the minister and the DCMS. I have come to the conclusion that either E-Vaizey is a massive idiot with a single digit IQ or he is deliberately trying to obfuscate so when he and his department are finally brought to account over their/his inaction he can do what all politicians do, pretend to forget stuff and say the issue is confused.

I have been quite critical of the Arts Councils Envisioning the future of libraries project being just an exercise in creative inertia. They are being cut hard and are going to be even more ineffective will incapable of supervising or promoting an egg and spoon race never mind 150 library authorities. The whole useless churn of initiatives, reports, hand wringing and jargon laden nonsense that passes for informing the policy and decisions making process continues and while they are all busy in the Westminster bubble arguing about who runs what, in the real world the library service IS being decimated and those paid to protect it are failing.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A tale of two cities (and a borough)

Now Gateshead just across the river from Newcastle are getting rid of some of there libraries, 5 of their 17 they are either handing to volunteers or closing. For anyone unfamiliar with the area Gateshead and Newcastle are practically on top of each other, the council offices are only three miles apart:
Almost spitting distance
Meanwhile in Sunderland 12 miles down the road their City Council had a couple of years ago made big cuts to their book spend but are now putting it back up by 340k and as far as I'm aware are not currently planning on cutting any of their library network. Obviously Sunderland seem to be taking the more enlightened approach. What annoys me is the rush by Gateshead and Newcastle to either close the libraries or hand them to volunteers when they have three separate authorities all with three separate management and professional and service support structures. They can join forces to bid for capital of culture but not to save the library service. We know from Surrey and where I am in Oxfordshire that because of the costs, handing the libraries to the "Big SocietyTM"  doesn't really save any money, if any. So why are the three authorities not working together to pool the back office costs? I grew up in the area and had to listen to the Labour Councils take credit for everything they could and if anything unpopular has to be done blame the Tories. The same happens in the Shires but they started blaming the last Labour government for everything once their party go into government.

I have put in a splurge of FOI's to Gateshead and Newcastle to see how much the libraries are costing to support in such a tiny geographical area. You never know, the FOI's might come back and show that their entire back office and service support costs are already pooled and the closing of libraries and handing them to volunteers is the last resort, not the first.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Toon Barmy

If Newcastle City Council are allowed to get away with only having one statutory library then the 1964 public libraries and museum's act will cease to exist. I can only presume they have pre-announced this to the media to try and whip up a storm (they will get one) to put pressure on the coalition government and the DCMS ahead of the next round of cuts. If this is the case then shame on the council for using the libraries of the people and great City of Newcastle as a political football. The politicians will all blame each other but each have a responsibility to strain every sinew to protect vital services. If this does go through then it is the end of libraries as far as I'm concerned.

What I suspect is actually the case, as we have seen in other parts of the public sector is that badly negotiated PFI contracts are strangling the budgets of the services they are supposed to provide, both the Central Library and High Heaton were built and provided under a PFI deal that probably has two decades at least left to run. Lots of NHS Trusts up and down the land are struggling because they opted for the "Wonga" option and the spiralling costs of meeting the payments is eating up the budget.

If this is the case then the City Council have nobody to blame but themselves. I'm actually amazed they think one fully funded library meets their requirements under the act.

The SCL, Arts Council, CILIP and every other organisation that has anything at all to do with libraries needs to publicly come out in the strongest possible terms against this. The SCL especially, if it wants the influence and get the column inches it measures its own success by needs to get its proverbial head out of the backside of the minister, the invisible fence sitting they are currently doing achieves nothing. Newcastle is one of the greatest cities in the world, (I say this as someone who comes from Sunderland), but the North East has higher areas of deprivation than any other area in England, taking away all but one of the libraries from the people of Newcastle is morally repellent. They must not be allowed to follow this disgusting, abhorrent and repugnant course of action.

Vaizey must act or he must be removed, the city council must change course or they must be removed. We have been pushed back too far, enough is enough.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Creative inertia

Confused about his role

Mr Vaizey has made a factually inaccurate statement in parliament. He either doesn’t understand the nature of his responsibility and job or he is trying to pass the buck to someone else. This is what he said on the 12 Sep 2012:

“A £6 million fund has been provided by the Arts Council, which is now responsible for superintending and promoting the library service”

And yesterday there was an article in the bookseller where Nicky Morgan who is in charge of libraries at the Art Council said this:

"When the Arts Council took on the role of developing public libraries from the MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council), we were very clear that we would not be undertaking a supervisory role, assessing whether library services were 'comprehensive and efficient”

ACE have extra problems without Vaizey imagining they do his job for him, they are facing cuts themselves and will only have five of these library relationship managers to cover England. Considering how badly the envisioning the future of the libraries survey was done, they aren’t resourced to supervise councils to make sure they comply with the act. Of course no one really knows what the act means and the interpreter of the act won’t tell us, he doesn’t even think it’s his job to uphold it! The act is quite clear though:
 “From the commencement of this Act it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England and Wales, and to secure the proper discharge by local authorities of the functions in relation to libraries conferred on them as library authorities by or under this Act.
Ed said at the select committee that:

“I have taken a view that I should keep at arm’s length from the organisations involved in the various campaigns, but that I should take advice from officials about whether or not they believe, on the basis of their investigations, that there has been a prima facie breach of the comprehensive and efficient duty. That is the position I have taken”

And yet in this transparent and open government of ours the department won’t release the advice that he has been given because he has sat on his hands, my FOI was refused and severely delayed and the ICO is currently looking into it. No doubt the department will continue to resist releasing this advice as I’m sure they have been given a very specific remit to investigate in such a way that always returns the result the department wants, I.E to not intervene. If an authority closed every single library I doubt the DCMS would judge it to be a breach of the act. It is obviously Tory party policy to make savage cuts to libraries, the other parties can cut too and blame the Tories so it’s a win/win for them too.

In opposition in 2009 Ed said the Tories would be:

"Launching a voluntary Library Charter, to which local authorities would be invited to sign up. This would set out minimum standards for libraries, a community reading strategy, provide guidance on what constituted a “comprehensive and efficient” library service under the Public Libraries Act, and so provide objective guidance for the use of the Secretary of State’s powers to call in a local authority’s decision to close a library."

I'm still waiting to see what Ed thinks are minimum standards for a library service that can be measured against the act, in the meantime I have emailed the DCMS and my MP David Cameron asking what is going on and who is actually in charge of libraries, we all know who is responsible.