Thursday, 31 January 2013

I would prefer a statutory library service to a OFFER

The SCL (Society of Chief Librarians) are developing a strategy to make best use of existing resources to help keep libraries relevant and accessible. They have been working with ACE, The Reading Agency and others to come up with four OFFERS that they think users want from public libraries. They are:
  • The Universal Health Offer
  • The Universal Reading Offer
  • The Universal Information Offer
  • The Universal Digital Offer 

They launched it this morning with the minister Ed Vaizey who put up his usual new speak about how the library service is in good health despite hundreds of service points closing and the service being handed over to the “volunteers” wholesale as the war between local and national government heats up.

Reading through the list of things under each of the OFFERS there are some good ideas in there and to be perfectly honest it’s the good libraries were doing anyway before Vaizey allowed them to be decimated. They talk about a national program and rollout in 2013 without going into any detail. As with all initiatives the main question is show me the money. Nothing is free and for the good libraries not already doing this stuff, where is the money going to come from to pay for all of this stuff?  Perhaps the LGA will lower its subscription costs to allow local authorities to plough some of that money into the library service? Perhaps Ed will find some cash for local authorities to do this like Mr Pickles did when the Daily Mail started kicking off about the bin collections?

No, what will happen is the statutory libraries will start doing some of this stuff if they are not already and the non-statutory libraries in the small communities that were doing this stuff (my local one already does most of the stuff on the list) are being cut and will not be involved, the already two tier service will be further widened. Otherwise someone has to train the volunteers and any of the low paid library managers and assistants who have managed to escape the chop. The“librarians”  or “OFFER facilitators” who rarely go into libraries these days will find lots of what Sir Humphrey calls “useful work” in their back office empires.

My favourite political novels of the last few years are by a former back bench MP called Christ Mullin, he said something along the lines of that under New Labour there was always funding for new and eye catching initiatives and the core funding for services was always at the bottom of the list of priorities. Sadly in the library service there is funding for neither.

You can read about it all here:

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Power to the people

The Westminster bubble has excreted yet another report on the library service called "Community libraries: guidance from the Arts Council" this one comes via various bodies, The LGA, Arts council, presumably the SCL had input and something called “Locality” which is a movement of 700 inspiring community-led organisations. It appears to be a keen advocate of Dave’s Big Society and they have hosted fringe events at the Tory party conference so has links to the party. Ironically the staff listing on their site has 46 members of staff and only one volunteer. I’m not certain this is a grass roots organisation, rather something setup to promote community involvement that appears to closely mirror the agenda of the Conservative party with regards to localism and the Big Society.

Reading the report put out by this lot you would think there was a great clamour by communities to take over and run council services and that volunteers are better at doing jobs than professionals. They have no evidence base to back this up, its pure ideology and spin. It also ties in with the Tories small state ideology and some bygone age ideal (that never existed) where communities were self-sustaining and required little input or involvement from the authorities. Some kind of libertarian utopia.

The problem with all this is the localism and big society agenda being pushed by the Tories isn’t actually achieving this, the councils are using this to divest themselves of their responsibility to provide front line statutory services but are retaining their administrators. In effect they keep the bloated expensive back office, sack the low paid front line staff and the people provide the service to themselves. Specifically on libraries I am not aware of any community or local group that would prefer to run the service themselves. If the Government really believed in localism they would properly reform local government by making the scrutiny meaningful and the decision making transparent, that would be pushing down power the people. Forcing communities to provide statutory services to themselves isn’t localism, its blackmail and its forcing the taxpayer to pay for services twice.

Any senior librarians involved in this report and the push for volunteers to replace low paid library assistants and managers have miscalculated, it might just be volunteers in the community libraries today, give it time the localism agenda will be used to make us do your job too.

If you want to waste a hour of you life reading biased drivel with cherry picked case studies to back up their erroneous arguments knock yourself out:

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The propinquity of its ultimate regrettable termination

I sent my last blog post about the Newcastle and Gateshead situations to the leaders of Newcastle and Gateshead Council. I didn't expect a reply from either but did get a reply from the office of Mick Henry from Gateshead. It contained a lot of the factual information about what is happening and a thank you for getting in touch and my comments had been added to the consultation. What I found surprising is that they have discussed joint sharing but they won't because:

"As part of a service review, opportunities for shared services were considered and detailed discussions held with officers from Newcastle City Council.  A range of service areas were considered for sharing.  It was concluded that the areas of service that could be considered for sharing were not feasible owing to the very limited capacity that now exists in these areas across both Councils. "

Which if you have limited capacity that is exactly the reason you pool resources not a reason not to do it! And anyway, both within the library service and the service support/ other expenditure there is still plenty of duplication and expensive back office support going on as I wrote about here

Politics as always buggers everything up though, why cut up your little empire when you can blame the other side and cut services to make a point. It more clear than ever that the Tories are closing libraries by stealth by handing them to volunteers and Labour are openly closing them but blaming the evil coalition for making them do something they claim they don't want to do. And in some cases it looks like certain politicians are using the cuts to give themselves a national platform, no doubt with a eye on a future safe seat.

The Newcastle 90 million figure is a nonsense and has been clearly torn apart by Lee Hall and his brilliant analysis of the figures put up by Newcastle:

I think its time for Mick Henry and Nick Forbes to go back to their officers tell them to merge the management and back office spending of the two library services and that no library should have its hours or low paid library managers/assistants cut otherwise the tail is wagging the dog. Libraries more than pay for themselves in hundreds of ways, sadly very few councillors understand this and its not something that appears in their budgets but you cut the libraries and watch literacy decrease, watch the elderly need extra care because they have lost their one lifeline, watch the job seekers fail to get re-employed because they have no access to a computer or books on how to find work or re skill. None of that appears on the budget sheet for the financial year so to these people it doesn't matter.