Thursday 16 May 2013

I've seen the future; David Ruse and the Tri-borough experiment!

"I’ve seen the future, I’ve seen the future, I’ve seen the future.
It’s a cold and empty place,
It’s a mind without a face."

More lyrics:
All about Disco Ensemble:

On Tuesday night I attended a talk hosted by those nice folks at CILIP London, who by the way put on a very good show, entitled 'Merging library authorities: challenges and opportunities' given by David Ruse, Tri-borough Director of Libraries and Archives.
David has worked for Westminster for 20+ years and took over the his present role of managing the Library and Archive services of Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea 3 years ago.
I won't go into the mechanics of the Tri-borough experiment, more detail can be found at:
The audience was a mixed bunch that included young trainee librarians looking for CPD accreditation, retired librarians, senior managers from Harrow, Ealing, Bromley and Bexley (I wonder why?) and a couple of campaigners.
David started his talk by telling us that without the move to the Tri-borough model there would have been“huge redundancies and closures”, that it was “a fantastic opportunity to re-position libraries” and that he was responsible for a budget of £16m, 360FTE staff and 21 sites. He then went on to say that 10 senior management posts had been cut to 4, the stock team had been reduced and that there was only 1 children’s specialist in the service and this 'delayering' means that there are only 5 strata of management between a library assistant and himself.
Someone asked him how many professional staff were now in the system but he couldn't give a figure but strangely he knew that they had between 300-400 volunteers"not substituting but assisting" who worked 15,000 hrs last year!
One very interesting point is that paid staff are shared between the boroughs under Section 113 of the Local Government Act 1972, David said that they had looked at TUPEing staff over to Westminster, the lead borough, and ‘salary harmonisation’ but use Section 113 instead. All this had led to savings of £1.237m.

He was also asked about redundancies and said that 30 FTE staff had“been let go” and only 1 of them was compulsory, he said that self-serve had led to staff cuts, finally a senior manager who will openly admit this, but“without any detrimental effect on the service”.
He then launched into neoliberal overdrive with talk of“our product is still the same”, “great opportunity to re-position libraries”,“knowing your baseline” and a new one on me “knowledge capture”. If he had been a time share salesman I would at this point quite happily have signed up for a year’s worth.
He then talked about staff motivation and how they had been consulted and“engaged” at every point of process, “lots of consultation and meetings”, that“staff feedback was important” and that the unions had had “strong involvement” in the process and“no disputes”. I then raised the matter of the open letter published recently by the staff at Westminster Libraries which challenged his rosy view of the experiment, he said“I can’t explain the letter”, “it wasn’t from all the staff but from a few over-enthusiastic individuals” and that the“facts stated in the letter were wrong” but he did say that the last staff survey showed a drop in motivation and morale but“it’s going up again”, so a slightly contradictory answer.
Also from the feedback I've had his rosy view doesn't represent that on the front line, like every where else the Tri-borough authorities are running their services at, or below, minimum staffing levels, with fewer professional staff, low morale/motivation and less resources, and this, from what I've heard, hasn't improved because of Tri-borough it's got worse. Keeping the library doors open is one thing, the old "we're not closing libraries" smokescreen, but properly staffing and resourcing them is another.
He then mentioned the LLCP in relation to whether we could “afford to have 33 individual boroughs running 33 library services” and that discussions had taken place between himself, others and City Hall but“I’m not pitching for power, well not yet anyway".
So what about the future? He said that more savings would have to be made but he couldn’t discuss the details as he“hadn’t discussed them with his staff yet” but he did say that they would be looking at saving money by employing "sharper procurement" practises.
I came away from it feeling very depressed and deflated, I don’t share his vision of retail/market led library services that grow bigger and bigger and thus further removed from local communities, my vision is of a national branch network of local libraries that operate on a mandate based on ‘social equity’, empowerment, real community involvement (not 'community libraries') and public sector ethos? Time to re-train as a plumber i think!


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