Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Carillion threaten Library staff with redundancies.

Only 4 weeks after taking over the contracts for Croydon, Hounslow, Harrow and Ealing Libraries from JLIS, Carillion have stated that they will be re-structuring the services and have warned staff that redundancies are planned.

"Staff have since been told there will be a ‘restructuring’ taking place and in a meeting this morning with Carillion bosses, staff were made aware that redundancies are possible.
Carillion have today confirmed a restructure would be taking place and jobs would be at risk."

This is shocking but not surprising from a firm implicated, along with others, in the blacklisting scandal and accused of bullying staff at a Swindon hospital into accepting cuts to terms and conditions.

Cuts will be made, staff will be lost, the services will ultimately be hollowed out, staff motivation and morale shattered and users served up a sham 2nd class service all in the name of the market and neoliberalism.
And has there been any public consultation on the change of service delivery provider and the proposed changes to the service, well hell no! Transparency, democracy and accountability will be smothered behind the smokescreen of 'commercial sensitivity'.

Statutory public services such as libraries are too crucial and important to be fed to the wolves, it's a bloody disgrace!

Friday, 15 November 2013

The Birmingham Library Campaign and the Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham respond to the Green Paper on library cuts.

The Birmingham Library Campaign and the Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham have very kindly allowed me to reproduce their response to the 'Developing Successful and Inclusive Communities Green paper', basically the consultation on library cuts being conducted my Birmingham Council.
If you what to know how to write a clear and principled response to a libraries consultation then look no further, it's an absolute cracker!
Birmingham Library Campaign - Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham

Our response to the Developing Successful and Inclusive Communities Green paper

Our principles for the library service - keep it public and universal

Birmingham’s library campaign rejects the principles and priorities proposed for cutting public libraries set out in the Inclusive Communities Green Paper. They are of no merit and should be rejected by the Labour Group.

We believe that the original principles upon which public libraries have been provided in this city should be retained; we understand these to be:

Public libraries are a universal service

Public libraries must remain a universal public service provided to all of the residents of Birmingham. Public libraries have developed as an institution available to the whole population, similar to the NHS and BBC.

Birmingham is the home of the public library and the opening of public libraries in the city in the 19th century was an embodiment of the Council’s commitment to the ‘civic gospel’. This vision of services for the benefit and enlightenment of all citizen’s should be retained, not dispensed with.

There should be a political and civic commitment to universal provision, otherwise libraries will come to be seen as a residual service to minority groups in the population.

‘Targeted’ interventions are best located within a universal range of services. This prevents the stigmatisation of particular groups.

Keeping the Public in Public Library

Birmingham’s public libraries are unique public spaces open to all communities for individual or collective learning and cultural enrichment.

Birmingham’s public libraries must continue to promote public value for all its residents.

We understand the promotion of public value as being "to achieve such public goods as creating trust, mutual respect among citizens, enhancing the public realm and providing context for sociability and the enjoyment of shared experience". (Holden, quoted in The Guardian 25th August 2013)

Public libraries are not black boxes receiving inputs and producing outputs as envisaged in the Green Paper. Public libraries are democratic and civic institutions and must remain so.

Accountability of public libraries as publicly run institutions

Council services are democratically accountable to the people they serve and have historically set standards for, and monitored, service content, delivery, and staff conditions, training and development – precisely because they are publicly owned, and run for the public they serve, and not owned and run by some unaccountable body.

As publicly run bodies the Council’s library service must operate within the framework of Equality legislation and must actively promote social inclusion and access to all groups in the community.

Council run libraries already work closely and involve local communities in the development of services.

We have seen that where public services are handed over to faith groups an element of exclusivity is introduced and this is not compatible with serving multi-faith and multi-cultural populations.

Public libraries - a professionally led service

The knowledge and skills of qualified librarians are critical to ensuring the quality of library services and the experience of library users, and effective public engagement.

The library campaign believes that Birmingham’s library services should be sufficiently resourced and professionally staffed.

Professional librarians should be properly represented in the management structures of local services.

Volunteers have a role to play, but they should not be used as replacements for employed, paid, trained staff in the public library service.
The Green Paper: a flawed model that promotes social inequality

The Green Paper proposals do not provide a viable alternative basis for providing library services in the city. Our key objection is that they will promote inequality and social exclusion contrary to the title of the Green Paper.

Social inclusion and the problems of volunteer led provision

Volunteer run libraries will tend to entrench social inequality and lead to different levels of access to library provision in different communities - a two tier library service. Levels of volunteering varies according to the income, wealth and available free time of individuals within communities.

Many individuals and families in Birmingham have been hit hard by the effects of austerity and this has adversely affected their capability to participate in the life of their community.

Research carried out by the New Economics Foundation found ‘as people have become less economically secure, they have tended to turn inwards, focusing on just getting by from day to day, with no time or energy to connect with others or take local action.’ (NEF Surviving austerity - Local voices and local action in England’s poorest neighbourhoods)

The cross party Commission on the Big Society found that “the government has failed to recognise the correlation between volunteering rates and deprivation, which means wealthy areas are better placed to flourish under the ‘big society’ because they already have higher levels of social engagement. This divide between rich and poor areas could be exacerbated by local authority spending cuts”. (The Guardian 16th May 2011)

The same point applies locally in regard to these Green Paper proposals. Rather than promoting social inclusion, relying on volunteer provided services will reinforce social inequality in access and participation across the city.

The sustainability of volunteer led provision

Transferring libraries out of the local authority by Community Asset Transfer will fragment provision across the city and lose the many strategic and economic benefits of a citywide library service. There are practical issues of how databases are shared across Council and community provision.

The track record of volunteer run libraries in other parts of the country points to the development of a two tier library service leading to increasingly patchy provision.
Over time there will be a growing disparity of library provision between Council run libraries and those handed over to community organisations.
This is not compatible with the legal requirement for the local authority to provide a comprehensive service.

Each new community library provider will incur significant overhead and infrastructural costs in employing workers, deploying volunteers and running a service.

Maintaining an effective pool of volunteers to run a service in the long term is costly and requires an ongoing investment in co-ordination, training and support. There is significant attrition due to the fall out rates of volunteers.

The Green Paper does not address the major data protection issues if the Council database is to be shared with outsourced library providers staffed by volunteers.

Other considerations

A false economy

Libraries produce more value to the local community than is taken up by their cost. All recent studies have shown a payment return ratio of between 1.4 to 4 times. If libraries are closed this added value will be lost to the economy and local communities.

Proposed decision making process

The library service is a city wide service and should be treated as such. By devolving decisions on future provision, the District Committees must realise that the city has a statutory obligation to provide a comprehensive and extensive service for all those who want to use it and should make decisions on that basis.

This is the FOLOB response to the specific service review questions the council has asked for by the 15th November 2013.

Service Reviews - Developing Successful and Inclusive Communities

1. What is your name? Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham

2. What is your email address

  1. What is your organisation? A campaign group to promote public libraries in Birmingham

  1. Where services are currently universally delivered across the city irrespective of the circumstances of individuals, should the council target services to the most vulnerable people in Birmingham?

Libraries have developed as a universal service open to all individuals in all communities across the city. Universal provision provides the most effective means to help library users with a variety of needs.

5. Where elements of services are not statutorily required should the council stop delivering these services?

The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act states that it is the duty of the local authority to provide a library service, not the community which has already paid for it.The Library service is a statutory service.

There is no clear statement as to what Birmingham City Council’s statutory responsibilities are in the provision of a library service in the city. It is important that people understand the legal basis and framework for the provision of library services and other services as the basis of any informed consultation.

In regard to non-statutory functions, many local services have been developed as a result of recognising and responding to local community needs. These local services should continue to adapt to remain appropriate to the recognised needs whether statutory or not.

6. Where a service or element of a service is being replicated in parts of the city and/or delivered by others, should the council stop delivering it?


7. Where a service has robust evidence to support early intervention and prevention, should the council direct more of its resources to stop costly interventions later?

This is a false dichotomy and should not be applied as a justification to cut universal services such as the public library. The people of Birmingham need both child protection social workers and we need thriving community libraries.

Instead we would refer you to this quote from the author, Neil Gaiman "The consequences of shutting down health services is messy—people die and there is blood. The closure of libraries is insidious. We are inflicting it on our children . . . It's like stopping vaccinations."

8. Where a local asset is being under used or is costly in terms of maintenance/renovation costs, should the council close the building and move the service to a different one so it is more cost effective? This could include co-located services where a number of services are delivered from the same building or Community Asset Transfer where it is appropriate.

The Review of the Future Operating model which showed that cuts to Community Library services had led to an 8% reduction in visits. Cutting the books fund and depleting the books and resources in our libraries will make them a less attractive place to visit.

To be clear the Council is creating a downward vicious cycle upon which it is making a decision to make further cuts.

Counter to this is the footfall at the new Library of Birmingham where there has been significant investment and new resources.

Costs of maintenance and renovation:
The total repair bill for the City’s community libraries is £4m. The City Council is spending £10m per anum for 2014-15 on capital charges towards the cost of the new Library of Birmingham and will do so for the period of the loan. In this context no Community Library should close due to the lack of funds for repair.

The development of a super library in the city centre must not simultaneously see the financial strangulation of a whole service and the closure of community libraries serving local people and communities.

The new Library of Birmingham should not be seen as a replacement for the closure of Community Libraries. Many people are unable to travel into the city centre and have established relationships with their local librarians and other users in their local library.

The importance of community buildings as the nexus of local communities is recognised within the City Council’s cultural strategy. The City arguably needs more rather than less buildings accessible to the community given the size of the city. Ease of access is the vital component for successful community use and engagement with the service.

Services sharing buildings can lead to the compromising of service standards of all of the intended co-located services. In particular this refers to clash of ethos and to the matter of ensuring confidentiality.

A library is a community space, a place of safety for exploring information, reading, studying, using a computer, giving every resident equal access to information, learning and knowledge. This ethos has to be maintained so that the level of service is maintained.

Library users do not expect to be able to overhear the matters of other co-located services (as in the case of some co-located neighbourhood offices); and members of the public visiting for other services should expect privacy and not to have to engage with the library.

9. Would you support a service in changing the way it works with citizens so it was co-produced, or expected you to self-serve?

Co-production: requires partners, including citizens and professionals, to co-operate as equals and engage in co-production to produce assets and services of added value. In the context of libraries this requires there being adequate paid staff, including qualified librarians, who are able to share general skills and knowledge but also have specialized skills and knowledge to contribute to the process alongside the efforts of members of the public. This is not compatible with volunteer led provision.

Self service: The services under review here are professionally based services that require vast underpinning knowledge to carry out well. Sufficient staff with this knowledge and understanding should guide and help service users at a service point. The savings from such technology may be exaggerated, as may its detrimental impact on those sectors of the community most dependent on human interaction for whatever reason.

10. Would you support a service in changing the way it works so that volunteers were enabled to provide services?


If a volunteer has the knowledge, skills and competences to do the public service job thoroughly (which is how the job should be done), they are unpaid workers and this is unacceptable. The job is needed and the person doing the job should be paid, have a contract of employment with the council, with employment rights honoured, and be accountable to the council as one of its employees.

Volunteers cannot be expected to work to the same high standards as paid staff. In addition, there are severe doubts about the long-term resilience of such services after the first wave of volunteers.

11. During tough economic times, are these the correct priorities for the Birmingham library services? Do you agree that the options set out for all areas of the service will result in a more targeted, integrated and sustainable service?

  • Libraries are meant to provide a comprehensive service for all.
  • All libraries contribute to developing literacy and knowledge
  • Literacy develops from love of learning, development of imagination, of creativity, asking questions, testing hypotheses - not the other way round.
  • How do you propose to measure literacy and knowledge outcomes?
  • Not clear what is meant here by ‘integration’ of services. If this means co-location or ‘co-production’ – see 8 and 9 above
  • The housebound library service represents a service to – using your term – the most vulnerable. The notion of this group having to pay for the service is unfair; so too is for this service to be delivered by third sector agencies. Housebound people, the most vulnerable, are equally entitled to a service delivered by qualified staff, with professional standards and accountability for what is a statutory public service.

12. Do you agree with the proposals for specific services? Comments are welcome on any of the proposals: a)Birmingham Library Services b)Community Support & Advice Services c)Community Development Services d) Housing Services e)Health and Wellbeing f)Parks and Nature If not, how would you change the service to continue to deliver the council’s Vision whilst reducing the costs?

A Public Service Award for ignoring the public and privatising (and cutting) public services!

The Guardian have just awarded their Public Service Awards for 2013 and the one that immediately caught my eye was the winner of the 'Financial Excellence Award', Brent, Harrow and Ealing councils. They apparently won the award for;

"..combining their purchasing power and driving a hard bargain, three west London councils are turning loss-making leisure centres and libraries that were heading for closure into modern community hubs."

Now i can't really comment on the leisure centres part of this, won by all three councils, apart from saying that they should be managed in-house, but i can and will comment on the libraries part.

A short while ago Harrow and Ealing outsourced their libraries to John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS), who also ran Hounslow and Croydon Libraries, even though in Harrow 74% of those consulted said that they wanted the service to remain in-house and in Ealing, Unison and library users protested against the handover.
Then approx 4 weeks ago JLIS where bought-out by Carillion, the support services and construction firm who along with others where instigated in the blacklisting scandal, they have also been accused of bullying staff into accepting lower terms and conditions at a hospital in Swindon. This buyout was apparently done without consultation and apparently came as a surprise to the staff and service users effected.

I will also mention Brent, although they haven't outsourced their libraries they did close 6 of them despite huge public protest and according to recent CIPFA data the performance of the service has deteriorated considerably since then.

Whether you class outsourcing/privatising and cutting services as 'Financial Excellence' and thus worthy of an award really depends on what side of the political fence you sit on, something i wish the Guardian would make it's mind up about before making unsubstantiated statements such as;
"Contracting out the management of leisure centres and libraries to not-for-profit trusts through innovative, multi-borough contracts will create more modern and inclusive services, and save an estimated £30m over 10 years."

Friday, 8 November 2013

GLL, Bibliotheca and Lincolnshire Libraries.

A little birdie tipped me the wink a few weeks ago that GLL, the 'worker-led' Social Enterprise that runs Greenwich and Wandsworth Libraries, might be interested in expanding into Lincolnshire?
And lo and behold a story appears saying that a "A private branch of Greenwhich Borough Council has offered to take over running the library service in Lincolnshire", this can only mean GLL.
The story also says that Bibliotheca Technical Library Services have shown an interest too, if this is true then it's a relatively new name to add to the usual list of interested parties. Bibliotheca is a major player in the field of library self-service technology and the article states;

"Biblioteca’s proposals could see some libraries become fully automated, with users given a keycard to access the building 24/7 and machines to check books in and out. This would cut costs by reducing staff."

All we really know at the moment is that Lincolnshire CC is proposing to withdraw funding from the majority of their libraries and are considering options ranging from volunteer-led 'book exchanges', cutting opening hours and staff, to divesting the service. Opposition to these proposals has been fierce, Save Lincolnshire Libraries has led the campaign and held a very well attended march and have had an incredible 23,000 people sign their petition, a national record if I'm not mistaken? They have also raised concerns about the public consultation stating;

"One of the big questions the campaigners now have is how the council’s consultation activities (covering a questionnaire and several events) only managed to engage 8,000 people, despite their massive budget of at least £50,000, with final costs not yet published.
Campaigners have felt for a long time that the council consultation made it very hard for people to express their views, and now the clear difference between the ability of the campaign group and the council to engage the public raises worrying questions about how fit for purpose this consultation really was."

Oh and in case you're doubting GLL's interest in all this, may I just draw your attention to the following message of 'support' left on Save Lincolnshire Libraries website;

Diana edmond
Happy to help if I can

Diana Edmonds (maybe she left of the 's' as a disguise?) just happens to be the Head of Libraries for GLL, touching isn't it?

For more on GLL see;

Saturday, 2 November 2013

My Comments to Dan Jarvis on the Labour policy review on libraries

I submitted these comments to Dan in July 2013, and had already fed into his policy review process through speaking to one of his advisers nearly 2 years ago. My comments where never published as promised on and now Dan is in Justice and Helen Goodman has got the 'culture' portfolio.


Here are my comments re your policy review into public libraries;

The first thing to say is that your vision for libraries is not dissimilar to the one being pushed by the government, it also wants to co-locate and share services although Miller, Vaizey and Ezra don't really offer leadership or share any good practise on how to achieve this, although personally I'm not convinced that co-location and sharing services are the best way forward as I believe this approach can lead to dilution of the core offer, the loss of specialist staff and the creation of bigger services that are less responsive to the needs of local communities.

There are several points however that we agree on and they are;

"The contribution of librarians is often greatly under-valued." - I would agree with this but would widen it to say that the contribution of all library staff is greatly under-valued, in fact in many cases library services are run on a day to day basis by library assistants, with some services such as Waltham Forest, Newham and Barnet having no or very few professional librarians, however this process of de-professionalisation can have an effect on the quality of the service, plays into the hands of those who claim that anyone can do the job, and can undermine the profession and the service and make it easier to replace paid staff with volunteers. There needs to be a clearer career path for library staff as many get stuck on lower grades which ultimately can have an effect on morale and motivation.

For an idea of what library staff do see

You also refer to "the loss of hundreds of librarians" but the figures for the total staff lost are anywhere between 2000-3000+. (

"there is a good case for a dedicated body" - I totally agree, the current state of affairs with its 'distributive leadership' model doesn't provide the sector with the strong and effective leadership and advocacy it desperately needs, with Vaizey, Miller and the DCMS shirking their supervisory responsibility and refusing to intervene in the wholesale divestment and destruction of the service in such places as Doncaster, the Isle of Wight, Sunderland, Herefordshire, Lincolnshire and many, many more.

As for ACE, it appears to be out of its depth and is severely under resourced and underfunded and there where grave doubts from the start as to whether it should have been given the development responsibility for a major public service. It has also spent the last 12-14 months on the 'Envisioning' research project which recently culminated in a 12 page report that states 4 obvious priorities and is seen by many to have been a complete waste of time and effort.

The SCL appear to be frustrated by their own lack of power and influence, but have at least recently launched the 'universal offer', although this is seen by many to be too little too late and unrealistic in the current climate of 'hollowing out' and have started a dialogue with campaigners in an apparent bid to be seen to be more transparent.

So yes we desperately need a 'body' to have an overview and to plot a positive way forward, but who this should be is another question, I personally don't think it should be ACE as they haven't, in my opinion, got the gravitas, experience, resources and knowledge required, although they have just appointed Brian Ashley as their Libraries Director, albeit part time! The Reading Agency has been mentioned before but I also have doubts about them taking over the responsibility for a major public service although the link with literacy is an obvious one. I would have suggested the DfE or DCLG but the thought of letting Gove and Pickles loose on libraries doesn't bare thinking off! An advisory board made up of representatives from the profession (including those on the front line), users, unions, policy makers and portfolio holders would be my idea of a more democratic and accountable body that could look at the situation from different angles/viewpoints.

"Developing ways in which libraries can engage with local communities to ensure they are responsive to their needs"

This is what local libraries have been doing for years and this is what library staff do every day but yes there is room for improvement. Community outreach is key to any truly responsive library service, the problem is that many outreach programmes are being abandoned due to the cuts and the loss of library staff means that the day to day interaction with users is also being eroded, many users can now only interact with a self-serve kiosk! Library staff should be more embedded in the community but with less and less staff it's going to become harder and harder to achieve.

Community consultation is also very important but many community members now have a very poor opinion of this process due to the amount of sham consultations that have taken place that basically offer the public the choice of cuts or cuts. Harrow for example held a library consultation in 2011 in which 74% of those consulted said that they didn't want their service privatised but they still went ahead and did it.

Library services are doing some very good work utilising social media in order to engage with users and the wider community but unfortunately we have a 'digital divide' and this method will only reach a certain tech-savvy part of any community.

What "engaging with local communities" shouldn't mean is holding a gun to their heads and saying "run your local library or we'll close it", I can understand the passion and commitment that communities have for their libraries but this is ultimately going to lead to a fragmented, unsustainable, de-professionalised, postcode lottery of a service! Community members have a role to play in assisting library staff but not substituting them.

"Libraries in an increasingly digital world"

"Libraries provide (in most cases) free access, skilled support and can often provide a certain degree of 'training' for those who simply do not have the skills or confidence to navigate the internet.  They are, therefore, crucial in encouraging people online and moving the country towards universal digitisation."

The e-gov agenda and the change to online 'universal credits' makes fully funded and resourced libraries and trained, paid, knowledgeable library staff more important than ever, unfortunately libraries are being closed, divested or handed over to volunteers, library staff are being made redundant and the service itself is becoming more and more fragmented and de-professionalised. see

The SCL through the PLIO is seeking to address some of the problems highlighted above and seeks to try and position libraries in a more prominent position in relation to the public's information needs but although this initiative is seen by many to be a positive one it's also considered by many to be too little too late. Between 2000-3000+ library staff have lost their jobs and 300-600+ libraries have closed or been taken out of public control so if you happen to live an area where your library has been closed or handed over to volunteers then your chances of getting online or receiving assistance are drastically reduced. See

There are several points that we disagree on and they are;

"co-location and the sharing of back office functions"

I have grave concerns that by co-locating library services with other council functions you actually run the risk of diluting the core library offer, you sometimes also end up with less library space. The 'hub' principle is one that has become very popular in local government circles and I can see why it saves money and disused building can be flogged off but at what qualitative cost to the service?

Also your faith in co-location and the 'hub' model is not universally shared by the communities that see their local libraries being pushed down this route, Save Wolverhampton Libraries Campaign for example fought a long and spirited battle against their councils proposals to co-locate youth, library and community services under one roof.

"A good example of the Council 'not closing libraries' is

Tettenhall Wood Library-once a loved a popular

facility serving its local community.

Where is it now?

It hasn't 'closed'; instead, it has been turned into

5 bookcases up a corner of a room in a community

centre. Under the Community Hubs proposals libraries

WILL close and their replacements will not

deliver the same service either regards floor space

, book stock or librarians."

and more recently the Save Leigh Library Campaign have been protesting against their council's 'hub' proposals.

My concerns also extend to the concept of 'sharing back office functions', this almost always leads to job cuts and the loss of specialists such as cataloguers, acquisitions staff and all the others who work in the background to provide support for the service, support that contributes to the integrity and quality of the service provision. I can understand why many policy makers and some campaigners push for this in order to protect the front line but surely we should be concerned about the quality of service and not just about keeping the doors open? We've already in Public Libraries lost a lot of the control we once had over stock buying and selection and many in the profession feel that this has led to the 'dumbing down' of our collections especially if there are no, or fewer, cataloguers or specialist staff overseeing the process. see my post on this

and for concerns about 'shared services' see;

You also mention businesses running services within libraries, in my view this a very problematic route to go down. Libraries are, or should be, safe, trusted, non-commercialised and relatively neutral public spaces, they are public services and as such shouldn't be opened up to the market or compromised by commercial interests. They also shouldn't be outsourced or privatised as has unfortunately happened in many councils, the majority Labour controlled!

My view is that we should go back to basics and focus resources on books (+ebooks), paid and trained staff, local accessible libraries and IT. I would also suggest that we could save money by, as far as possible. not hiring consultants and using the knowledge and experience within the service itself, we could also look at doing the same for staff training. The sharing of good practise between services could also mean that we would could have access to a network and pool of expertise that would cost nothing to utilise. We could also save money by not building multi-million pound, town centre libraries using PFI, these cost a lot of money over a long period of years and are nothing more than vanity projects for cllrs!

We should also re-focus and re-align the service back to its core foundation of education, learning and information and by doing so reclaim its ethos, something that has sadly been eroded over the years. The whole process of recruiting, inducting and training staff should change, with the emphasis put on ethos and a belief in the social purpose of public libraries. Staff would have to do outreach and the local community would as far as practically possible be involved in the development of their service.

I hope that this is useful and I'm willing to discuss it more detail if needed

Alan Wylie

I'm also a member of Voices for the Library, the Speak Up for Libraries Organising Committee and the Library Campaign Executive Committee.