Monday, 29 July 2013

The dirty deed is done; JLIS sign Croydon contract!

Thanks to Save Croydon Libraries for alerting me to the following press release that appeared on the Croydon Council website today;

Eight-year contract signed for Croydon's libraries

The future of the borough's libraries is assured with the signing of an eight-year contract by Croydon Council and John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS).
The new arrangements start on 1 October, when JLIS will take over the running of the service. It represents good value for taxpayers as it will save the authority significant amounts of money at the same time as ensuring all of the council's 13 libraries remain open and face no reductions in opening hours.
The contract will see the service undergo a major modernisation programme, involving the introduction of new technology for the benefit of both staff and customers. This will include self-service, wi-fi and the very latest innovations in online resources and e-books.
JLIS will work closely with local communities to improve the way library services are delivered. There will also be new local business opportunities and good prospects for employment, volunteering and apprenticeships.
Councillor Tim Pollard, cabinet member for children, families and learning, said: "Signing this contract means that Croydon's libraries are now safe for the foreseeable future. At a time when all council services are coming under financial scrutiny, it's great to have negotiated an arrangement that not only keeps all our branches open, but will also see modernisation through the investment that is now planned."
Tim Grier, JLIS managing director, said: "I'm delighted that JLIS has secured its second London library contract. This is a fantastic milestone in developing our presence in the library services market and brings the number of library sites managed by JLIS to 24. We look forward to working with the council and local organisations to provide an excellent library service for the benefit of the Croydon community."

I'm a bit puzzled at why their MD, Tim Grier, believes that this is only their 2nd London contract, they now have Hounslow, Ealing/Harrow and Croydon!

For a taste of what might be in store for Croydon's library service see;

and for more on this story see;

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Localism and Libraries

According to research undertaken by the Arts Council England there are 425, either already in operation or planned, "community supported or managed" public libraries in England, this equates to 12% of the service. 
CILIP estimated that in 2010/11 that there where 21,000 volunteers working in England's 3,300 public libraries. The creation of 'Community Libraries', the controversial term used to describe those that are volunteer run, has developed at an alarming rate from a few communities with guns to their heads to a multi-million pound ideological agenda supported and bankrolled by the government.
Before we look at the specific agenda surrounding 'community libraries' themselves maybe it would be worthwhile giving some background to 'localism'.

In 2011 the 'Localism Act' was introduced with an aim, according to the government, of devolving more decision making powers into the hands of local communities and councils.
The key measures of the act were grouped under four main headings;    

  • new freedoms and flexibilities for local government
  • new rights and powers for communities and individuals
  • reform to make the planning system more democratic and more effective
  • reform to ensure decisions about housing are taken locally

the one that has had a major impact on Public Libraries is 'Community Rights' which can be broken down into:

·  Community right to challenge
·  Community right-to-bid.
·  Community right to build

The Community right to challenge came into force in June 2012. This allows voluntary and community groups, parish councils or two or more members of local authority staff to express an interest in running a service currently commissioned or delivered by a local authority. Where the expressions of interest are accepted, the local authority must run a competitive procurement.
The Community Right to Bid came into force in September 2012. The Community right-to-bid allows communities to nominate buildings and land that they consider to be of value to the community, to be included on a local authority maintained list. If any of the assets on the register are put up for sale, the community is given a window of opportunity to express an interest in purchasing the asset, and another window of opportunity to bid.
The whole 'localism agenda' has come under fierce criticism and is seen by many "as a smokescreen for cuts" as highlighted in this article from the journal 'Public Finance' dated 27/01/11

"shadow local government secretary Caroline Flint said the changes were masking the government’s unprecedented spending cuts.
She said: ‘It’s a smokescreen for these cuts and particularly the frontloaded element, which is not giving councils enough time to think and plan and look for different ways to provide services. My big concern about this Bill is that what is shaping local government at the moment isn’t localism, it’s the cuts."

It even drew criticism from the LGA;

“The Bill also came under fire from the Local Government Association, which said the notion of localism was ‘undermined’ by the fact that it handed more than 100 new powers to ministers, such as the right to decide what would constitute an excessive rise in council tax.

In 2012 the TUC published the report 'Localism; threat or opportunity?' which asked several respected figures from the charitable and voluntary sector, as well as the IPPR and the TUC themselves, too comment on specific aspects of the legislation and agenda.
In the opening section, Brendan Barber, then TUC General Secretary, raises some major concerns;

“Given the wide scope of the legislation, we invited a number of different community and voluntary sector groups, along with the TUC, to offer their perspectives. This booklet therefore provides a range of views on the Act. But a unifying theme that comes through is a shared concern about the government’s ‘big society’ and ‘open public services’ agenda and how the creation of public service markets and an individualist and consumer-led approach to public service reform might lead to growing inequality within and between communities, markets that exclude community participation, competition at the expense of collaboration and localism that devolves responsibility and blame but not resources or power.”

Continuing on from this opening gambit Matt Dykes, TUC Policy Officer, raises some very specific concerns about the ‘Community Right to Challenge’;

“The Community Right to Challenge is a key component of the government’s Open Public Services agenda which aims to open up local public services to a competitive market. While couched in terms of shifting power to local community and voluntary organisations, at best it is simply a mechanism for subjecting services to competitive tender in an open market in which national voluntary organisations and large private providers will also compete. Recent experience of outsourcing under this government in the health service and through the Work Programme suggests that private sector interests will dominate.”

And in the section ‘Unpacking localism in voluntary action; the wider context’, Adrian Barritt, Chief Officer, Adur Voluntary Action, raises some major moral and ethical issues, some of which are very topical and relevant to the ‘community libraries’ debate.

“Overall, localism is likely to result in an invidious moral dilemma for voluntary action: to connive in the destruction of local public sector jobs by helping to engage volunteers in provision of erstwhile public services, or to stand by and see services vanish whilst needs remain. Another dilemma might be whether to support a localism initiative which is under-resourced, perhaps not equitable or sustainable, and possibly offering a lower quality of service”

Out of this legislation and the Big Society agenda that it’s linked to comes a host of quango-style organisations such as ‘Locality’, ‘The Asset Transfer Unit’, The Place Station’, ‘Big Society Capital’ et al, some supported by the DCLG,  whose main purpose is to facilitate the wholesale transfer of publicly funded, council managed services to community groups, Social Enterprises and to those who have the time, resources and vocal dexterity to shout the loudest.

The ‘quango’ directly responsible for pushing the agenda in respect of Public Libraries is ‘The Libraries Community Knowledge Hub’ - is an offshoot of 'Locality' and the 'Asset Transfer Unit'. Membership of LCKH starts at £75.

"This Community Knowledge Hub for Libraries brings expert guidance and resources together with an interactive community of organisations and local authorities involved with community managed and supported libraries. In this way, the Hub provides an invaluable source of high quality information, along with the latest news from communities on the ground."
"We believe that library services and buildings play a vitally important role at the very heart of our communities, and that ‘doing nothing’ would come at a considerable cost. However, documented good practice and specialist support for those taking their first steps towards development of a community managed library service is in short supply.
Locality is keen to work with prospective as well as existing community enterprises to evolve high quality community-led library services through the development its first Community Knowledge Hub network."

I also recently found out that Jim Brooks, Little Chalfont Community Library, is receiving funding from Nick Hurd, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Charities, Social Enterprise and Volunteering, to advise other communities on how to set up volunteer run libraries!
Now I’m not going to get bogged down in the rights and wrongs and successes and failures of volunteer run ‘community libraries’ for that I suggest you look at the following sites;

but what I will say is that something that started with a few communities with a gun to their heads and told “run your libraries or we’ll close them” has turned into a multi-million pound initiative with a highly organised support network and publicity machine behind it.
‘Community Libraries’ also have the general backing of the Arts Council, research carried out by Locality on behalf of them clearly outlines the guiding principles;

Community libraries can be statutory.

There is no single model of community
involvement in libraries.

Most community libraries are not
independent, they are partnerships
with their local council.

Community libraries are testing new
approaches to library service delivery.

Communities often want to
be involved in their libraries
(but not always).

Community libraries are often more
than ‘just volunteers’.

Library buildings and assets can be
transferred into community ownership.

“Library services are changing rapidly at the moment. Communities have
always been involved in their local libraries but current social trends and
the scale of financial reductions in local government are prompting the
significant reshaping of services and accelerating discussions about what role
communities might be able to play. The emerging picture is diverse but has
revealed a strong interest from many communities in getting involved in their
local libraries. We make no judgements about how we ended up here, but
simply acknowledge that change is underway.”

The Society of Chief Librarians in their 2012/13 Annual Report mention the ACE research and the growing trend towards ‘community libraries’ but strangely don’t include it in their list of things they have engaged with or responded to, they also don’t mention it in their key areas of discussion!
The LGA published in June 2012 the report ‘Local solutions for future local library services’, which clearly outlines their support for the model by stating that it is “empowering communities to do things their way” not that it’s a desperate attempt by communities to maintain services under severe pressure from savage cuts to local government and the public sector. In the report they also peddle the myths of ‘assisting not substituting’ and that ‘self-serve frees up staff time’, in fact peddling myths is what the LGA excels in, they often state that public libraries are not a statutory service!
Some of the groundwork for this was laid down by the MLA in a DCMS commissioned report ‘Community managed libraries’ published in June 2011, which to me clearly expresses the ideological dimension of the agenda.

“Perhaps most of all, because the threat of closure is only one of a number of catalysts or drivers
identified for this process to succeed, the threat of closure is not essential. The benefits (and issues)
inherent in community management and support of libraries are clear from the evidence; the door is
open for local authorities not simply to transfer libraries to community management to ensure
efficiencies, but to work with communities to transition the process in a thoughtful and strategic manner
to create shared benefits for local government, but also local community, and local user.”

I’ll finish with a quote from Alan Gibbons, Author and Library Campaigner;

“Quite simply, there is no need to abandon the ideal of a public library service, free at the point of use and run by paid staff. Anything less is an insult to users. Yes, there are successful volunteer libraries around the country, but fewer than politicians in search of a Big Society might imagine. The experience of those that run them is instructive. It is not easy and cannot be done on a wing and a prayer.”

Sunday, 14 July 2013

"Croydon Council fought hard to ensure that no one got to see the actual comments of the consultation.

Thankfully, undeterred and with the intervention of the ICO, the council were forced to release the following data.  The most graphic way of showing how residents' views were completely ignored is by sharing this raw data."

Council protest over Library privatisation - communitiesagainstthecuts - 14/07/13

"Campaigners from the Friends of the Library of Birmingham unfurled banners at the July Council meeting when Sir Albert Bore rose to answer a question from the member of the public. The Council meeting was temporarily halted while the protest took place."