Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Vaizey done good

I hate to say it but Vaizey has actually done a very good thing in getting CIPFA to do these comparisons. It confirms what I have been saying all along about the Oxfordshire library service, its expensive and bloated and the back office spend is far too high, this has to be tackled instead of forcing volunteers to replace low paid library assistants in a scheme that doesn't really save any money.

Oxfordshire has:

  • Average number of libraries and users
  • Just below average population in the comparison group
  • Just above average number of active borrowers (although there isn't much in it)
  • High level of book issues (this is the best thing they are doing)
  • High level of total revenue expenditure. (bad, bad, bad)
  • Low level of volunteers.

There are lots of other comparisons in there and Oxon does quite well in quite a few of them, I think the central library does skew our stats a bit because we have Oxford University, one of the biggest in the world and the central library is always full of students which you wouldn't get in cities with small universities, perhaps the colleges should be encouraged to chip in a few staff? The authorities with the busiest central libraries are ones with big universities. I would love to see some stats on centrals usage by people who live outside the county, I know the 1964 act says we have to provide to all but I'm sure its a massive, hidden subsidy to the colleges by the taxpayer of Oxon, I don't object at all but I would love to see how much it is. The high book issues is very good but this shouldn't be linked to the back office costs, the 4.4 million service support is outside of the main library service budget and I don't think it can be linked to the book issues. It says more about the people of Oxfordshire being avid readers than anything.

On the total revenue expenditure:

As I have been banging on about for months, the cost of the library service, especially the back office is too high. You cannot designate the rural libraries as non-statutory, not mention it in the consultation at all and then expect the volunteers to replace the low paid, front line library assistants when such a increasingly expensive, bloated back office is allowed to exist. My view is that it has always been to high but its just getting worse, a roughly 7.4 million library service is now costing 4.4 million in other expenditure (includes service support) according to the CIPFA returns and its far too high. These costs HAVE to be reduced or shared with other authorities, 17 miles away Bucks duplicate these back office activities and costs.

On volunteers, Oxfordshire scored below the average, there are lots of volunteers in our library and in the other rural ones I have visited. We can get our volunteer numbers up from 1.7% of worked hours, to the average of 4.5% only if the entire library service embraces volunteers, The rural libraries already depend heavily on volunteers to add extra services, its the big city libraries that I think are not getting enough volunteers in, they said after the "consultation" that they cannot have volunteers in their "statutory" libraries, this has to change.

Volunteers can and should make the library service better as it does in the small threatened rural libraries, but we cannot and shouldn't be used to replace low paid library assistants while such back office bloat is allowed to increase. Replace the statutory status and the hours, it will cost almost nothing, share the bloat with Bucks and lets encourage as many volunteers as we can in all libraries to make our library service a thing to be proud of.

Despite being supine and ignoring his responsibilities under the 1964 act, on the specific point of getting CIPFA to do this, I will say this again, well done Ed Vaizey. <cough, choke, cough>

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