Saturday, 30 November 2013

Yes, Prime Minister

After what feels like a lifetime of emails and letters, I had a surgery meeting (he is my local MP) with David Cameron. Like I said in my last post I could have spent 15 minutes moaning about all the ills in public library world but it won't achieve much, but would have obviously been cathartic for me. I don't think I convinced him of the nonsense of volunteer libraries and how they save no money but I stressed their importance and he agreed. I showed him the ever increasing corporate recharges (not librarians! HR, property costs, etc) for Oxfordshire and told him there was similar stuff going on up and down the land where authorities geographically close together are cutting front line provision but because there's a artificial line separating them not looking to share these huge costs.

I feel guilty pushing my views to Cameron because I know they aren't shared by all campaigners, but I cannot sit quiet because of this. Labour, Lib Dems and the Tories aren't going to stop the cuts and they aren't going to reverse those that have already happened. As to whether the austerity is required I don't know, I don't think anyone really does. Certainly the national debt is historically low, the world wars took decades to pay off and the current level of debt compared to that is tiny. But would the bond market kill us if we let the debt go up? The failed and dodgy financial markets created the mess, I'd rather tell them to go bugger off. But again I don't know, economists and politicians got it completely wrong so I don't have any chance I think of getting the correct view. But regardless of my economic ignorance it isn't going away, Labour might be trying to pretend to be left wing again but there is a cigarette paper between the three main parties on policy.

Back to Cameron, he has said he is going to get his policy unit to look into what is going on in the Triborough and over in Ireland where they're standardising their IT systems and processes and get back to me, I have sent though some documents. I mentioned the complete lack of leadership from the DCMS on libraries and he said he would speak to Vaizey, I said despite the cuts, libraries could be doing loads better with some proper leadership.

We'll see what comes out of it, I have long since given up hope that a magic wand will be waved and all will be fixed. I used to keep thinking suddenly the penny would drop and people would all realise how important libraries are (not just about books dammit, a kindle isn't a library!). Politics seems to be like a big unwieldy ship (currently the Titanic :-( ) and its going to take a long time to turn the public library one turned round, and hopefully once we do it will be a constant battle to keep it on the right course.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Speak up for Libraries 2013

It was my first ever speak up for libraries conference and as I expected it was frustrating. It was nice to meet some people I hadn't met before in real life and also get a manly northern style hug from Alan Wylie. One of the messages from the panel seemed to try and sell libraries to councillors and lobby positively about all the stuff libraries do. I have and will continue to do that, but for me us having to do this points to a failure of the upper echelons of the profession more than anything. Hopefully the universal offers from the SCL can be a standard of sorts that we can show councillors and demand that level of service (sorry I still hate the phrase "offers"). The panel did have some high profile people on it including the part-time libraries advisor to the DCMS Yinnon Ezra. It was always going to be a sticky wicket for him considering the inaction of the Vaizey and he obviously wasn't really able to answer why the DCMS has done bugger all. Both Phil Bradley and Brian Ashley answered one of my questions about the lack of any evidence informing the different approaches to libraries provision and I hope ACE and CILIP can start looking into doing some proper robust research, not the cherry picked case studies/arse gravy from Locality and the LGA. We don't want another decade of pointless reports wasting public money while libraries are decimated. It was Phil's last official appearance as President of CILIP and he spoke very eloquently and passionately about libraries and for all the work he has done he has my sincere thanks. I also had a nice couple of chats with Alan Gibbons who does so much for libraries and also has a sideline as a dietary consultant, he gave a barnstorming speech at the end. The wifi failed in the morning but I did record Steve Davies excellent and funny introduction. The video of his speech, the streamed video of the Q&A and quite a few pictures are below. I have a surgery meeting with my MP David Cameron next Friday, I was tempted to just sit and shout at him for my allocated 15 minutes, it might make me feel better but it won't change his mind, I was also interested in seeing how angry I could get before the close protection officers pistol whipped me. Instead I will try and convince him of all the good things libraries do and rather than hand them over to the big society to fail and slash their budgets I hope I can convince him to take what they do seriously and try and provide some proper leadership during this crisis. Even with the funding cuts, whether we agree with them or not it could be so much better with real leadership from the top. I'm not holding my hopes up but I have to try, I owe libraries a massive debt, one I don't think I could ever pay back.

The morning introduction from Steve Davies:

The question and answer session sorry its poor quality, I don't have anything but a laptop to do a stream from:

All the pics:

Sunday, 10 November 2013

There is always a bigger fish

I was trying to put this as a comment on PLN but the captcha isn't working, for me at least:

Firstly I'm amazed that a contract can be bought and sold like a commodity and there is nothing the council can do about it. If you make a agreement with someone, you make it with them, you shouldn't end up bound to someone else. If you walk into a posh, swanky restaurant and ask for a burger and then suddenly while there a McDonalds sign appears and the place has become a fast food chain (I like McDonalds btw, mmmm) then you should be able to not buy it as its being provided by someone you didn't ask for the burger. The contracts councils have should prevent this unless the company becomes insolvent. Despite probably being to the right (I think so anyway) of most library campaigners I don't think libraries should be put out to the private sector, the neutrality and ethos aren't compatible with the goal of private companies to make profit. I have worked in the private sector when companies have bought out others, the first thing the company does is tries to strip out costs to maximize their return. This is fine in the private sector as that is how a market is supposed to work, they best and most efficient companies make the most money for shareholders, the crap inefficient go bust and cease trading,  but in libraries it isn't ok. Things libraries do don't have an apparent return on the balance sheet and a private company might not recognize the importance of this and believe its just money wasted. Of course all of this could be mitigated by a proper contracts and clear service level agreements but when the service provision is being bought and sold like this and councils are powerless (or unwilling because they have to save face or are ideological idiots) its clear these contracts aren't good enough. I have doubts that some councils are competent enough to draw up proper contracts and articulate the service level agreements to the required detail, then have the data and staff and can actually be bothered to enforce them. A private company could also go into a market and offer an apparently very good deal for taxpayers and councils but they're going in at a loss to get market share. I don't believe competitive tendering works and what we will end up is like with rail franchises/utilities and the other fake markets created by Whitehall that need expensive but useless regulators is a small number of very large players that deliver nearly all public services and because it isn't a real market they can charge what they want, deliver a poor service and there isn't much we can do about it. The private sector ends up with too much leverage as the politicians have to save face and its the taxpayer that takes all the risk. To quote Miles Jupp on rail franchises "publically funded, privately run and answerable to no one".