Library closures

Written evidence suubmitted by Rosehill Readers on behalf of Save Suffolk Libraries (LIB 112)

Summary

· A ‘comprehensive and efficient library service’ as defined by the 1964 Act, is as relevant for the 21st Century as it was when the statute was enacted. It is a service that has assured, long term funding, making all resources (physical or otherwise) available to all members of the community without prejudice and is primarily run by qualified or experienced librarians.

· Suffolk’s library consultation exercise was premised on 29 libraries closing unless volunteers came forward to run them. No Equalities Impact Assessment was done beforehand as a means of selecting these libraries.

· The responses to Suffolk County Council’s Library Consultation show that Suffolk residents rely on their libraries; are happy with the way that they are currently run and want them to continue to be run in this way.

· Contrary to the wishes of residents, Suffolk County Council is setting up an Industrial and Provident Society to run the library service which allows Suffolk’s libraries to be run by volunteer groups.

· Suffolk’s reliance on volunteers to run libraries, along with a serious lack of qualified professional library staff will result in a substandard service

· Suffolk has a heavy reliance on buildings and books, these alone, do not make a library service and the County Council’s plans will fall well below the requirements laid out in the statute.

· The County Council has guaranteed funding for Suffolk Libraries of approximately 95% for 2 years only.

Introduction:

 

Rosehill Readers, a campaign group from Ipswich, and part of the wider campaign network ‘Save Suffolk Libraries’ are submitting the enclosed evidence to the Department of Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee on public library closures in England. 

What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century

1. A ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service for the 21st Century is a library service that has assured, long term funding, makes all resources (physical or otherwise) available to all members of the community without prejudice and is primarily run by qualified or experienced librarians. In Suffolk this service needs to be a fully integrated network of libraries, with a minimum quality standard including: specified minimum opening hours; universal Sunday opening; free internet access; interlibrary loans for all items, links with the national library; paid, trained staff at each library; volunteers to be used only as a support and not to replace trained, paid staff; a central stock of books and other items, professionally managed by paid staff; no subscription charges to use the library.

2. The services that a library network must offer should be beneficial to all sectors of the local community, offering not just reference provision and book loans, but group activities for the young and the old, services to those who are vulnerable in society, all of which Suffolk public libraries are providing, although funding and provision for some of these groups has now been reduced .e.g Top Time, Tot Rock, Baby Bounce, Reading Groups, Internet training, poetry and art groups plus other volunteer led activities (Events listing available at: http://suffolkreads.onesuffolk.net/events/).

3. Suffolk is a largely rural county whose public transport services were significantly cut in April 2011. Members of the community should not be discriminated against due to geographical location. It is important that small, rural branch libraries are retained. A comprehensive and efficient library service must also make sure that mobile libraries and outreach services are offered to those who are not in easy reach of a branch library and to those who have limited mobility.

4. A library service needs to be properly funded in the long term in order to offer a comprehensive and efficient library service. Suffolk has historically been an underfunded library service. The most  recent ‘Public Library Materials Fund and Budget Survey’ show that at only 13.7%, Suffolk has one of the lowest spends per capita of UK Counties [p. 30] and now faces even further cuts (available at: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/ls/lisu/pages/publications/matfund08.html). Further cuts will impact upon all services previously offered and will inevitably result in service reductions such as cuts in opening hours, cuts in the number and variety of group activities offered and a poorer book stock selection. This will lead to a less than comprehensive and efficient service. Once the library service is handed over to the Industrial and Provident Society (IPS) the service will be offered around 95% of full funding, but this will be guaranteed for only 2 years.

5. At the time of the public consultation, Suffolk County Council (SCC) had not undertaken an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA). Closures were being proposed with no consideration given for the communities that used them. The Council only completed an Equality Impact Assessment as part of their ‘Suffolk Libraries 2011 Best Value Evaluation (BVE) Report’ which was nine months into the consultation when significant decisions had already been taken. We would argue that a retrospective EIA cannot inform the Council enough to ensure a comprehensive service. (Best Value Evaluation Report available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/F82C7B8A-2D47-4035-9421-4D958BF3E076/0/20111108LibrariesEvaluationReport.pdf)

6. In the 2010 Modernisation Review of Public Libraries (Available at http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/libraries/5583.aspx) , SCC Library Services were used as example of best practice in three different areas: the Department of Health’s Information on Prescription initiative for people with long term conditions; the mobile library service which it was noted "has longer stops for community activities allowing other advisers and services to reach rural communities." and finally, Sunday opening: "The most innovative libraries are changing – opening later in the evening and opening on Sundays.  For example, in Suffolk Sunday opening was introduced across the whole service in 2003 with a view to attracting 5,200 additional visitors per week. That happened and seven years later the service continues to attract more people and all 44 libraries remain open on Sunday" .

We find it difficult to believe that a service that was praised so highly, at a national level, would not be used as the foundation for an improved service, rather than being drastically changed in a bid to save money.

7. The 2011 Reading Challenge was a record-breaking year for children taking part. Suffolk County Councillor Judy Terry said "This year has been record breaking in terms of the number of children taking part, we think this is partly due to many families opting to stay in Suffolk for the summer, rather than travelling abroad. And as it was completely free to take part in the challenge, it was the perfect activity to keep children occupied."(Press release available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/News/NewsArchive/2011September/SummerReadingChallengeCelebrations.htm).

At a time when Suffolk’s children are, at 8%, below the national reading average of 7% of children achieving Level 2 or below in Key Stage 2 tests, and when the library staff have managed to get so many children taking part in a positive event, cuts to the service can only have a detrimental event in future literacy levels in the county. (‘Levels of Reading Age’ available at: http://www.education.gov.uk/researchandstatistics/statistics/statistics-by-topic/a00200453/dfe-national-curriculum-assessments-at-key-stage-2-in-england-20102011-revised).

8. The Localism Bill encourages community-led-planning, where residents themselves decide what they want for their local communities. SCC has unfortunately ignored the overwhelming wishes of Suffolk residents. This is evidenced through almost a petition of over 37,000 signatures and 5000 letters and replies to the library consultation (available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/Consultations/haveYourSayOnSuffolkLibrariesFeedback.htm). 80% of respondents to the consultation said that they wanted the library service to stay as it is, owned, managed and run by SCC. Less than 3% of respondents supported the idea of community groups running libraries (available at: The Cabinet 19-07-2011, Agenda Item 05 Appendix 1 - Library Services for the Future http://committeeminutes.suffolkcc.gov.uk/searchResult.aspx?qry=c_committee~~The Cabinet). Contrary to these wishes, the County Council have decided to transfer the management and running of libraries to an IPS and to community groups. The Council is now imposing this on residents in a top-down approach that runs counter to the Localism Bill.

The extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Libraries & Museums Act 1964 and the Charteris Report

9. Suffolk County Council launched their 2011 Libraries Consultation document on 18th January, running until 30th April (available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/LibrariesConsultation2011 ‘Have Your Say on the Future of Libraries’). The consultation did not, as it claimed, offer the public the opportunity to say how they would like their library service run in the future, but rather issued a statement of intent. They stated that the council would be reducing the funding for libraries by greater than 30% in order to protect "more essential front line services". The consultation divided Suffolk’s libraries into two categories - County and Community. Of the 44 existing static libraries 15 were designated as ‘County’ and the remaining 29 ‘Community’. The document stated that if the County Council did not receive viable proposals from people, groups or businesses to run these Community libraries "we may have to close 29 libraries".

10. The Consultation invited communities to take greater responsibility for providing their local services, declaring that services were "…to be delivered differently in the future" and that as part of their New Strategic Direction (available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/5A0CD747-B785-45C7-9357-77E0DD4A3D7A/0/TheNewStrategicDirectionExplainedv2Layout1.pdf) they intended to divest the library service to other organisations and to become a commissioning authority.

11. There was a huge response to this consultation, with 80% of responses indicating that the service should remain as it was, provided and fully funded by Suffolk County Council. The Review of Library Services document published following the consultation, in July 2011, did not represent this response accurately. For example, the graph [p.38] ‘Ideas or interest in running libraries in the future’ failed to show the response ‘Maintain as is’ with the note "This received 3099 out of 3893 responses and therefore a meaningful graph-based representation with the other responses impossible" (Review of Library Services available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/14406DF1-D098-4914-8804-4E77AFFD7A23/0/20110719LibraryReviewv4new.pdf).

12. At the June meeting of SCC Scrutiny Committee SCC declared that they had been overwhelmed by the response. It was acknowledged that the County/Community designation had been a mistake and that a lot of misleading and erroneous information and data had been provided by SCC during the consultation. The minutes of the meeting and the recommendations by the committee are available at http://committeeminutes.suffolkcc.gov.uk

13. In July, the County/Community category was abandoned and a new framework for libraries was proposed: The 2011 Review of Library Services, contained a proposed New Access Model for Library Services [p18]. 1) Major Centres would have a static library, either "as existing" or co-located with other services, 2) Key Service Centres, either a) a co-located library, b) a mobile library, c) community outreach service or d) a collection/drop off point for books. 3) Local Service Centres, either a) mobile library or b) community outreach service.

14. Proposals from the Review were put to SCC Cabinet at the July 2011 meeting for an Appraisal and Best Value Evaluation of the following options:

1) Library Services retained and provided by an in-house SCC business unit.

2) Library Services commissioned by SCC and run by a company/enterprise which would be SCC owned.

3) As Option 2 but the company/enterprise would be independent of SCC.

‘Suffolk Libraries 2011 Best Value Evaluation’ report was produced in October 2011(available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/F82C7B8A-2D47-4035-9421-4D958BF3E076/0/20111108LibrariesEvaluationReport.pdf). Despite the IPS model never having been previously proposed for providing a public library service before, and being both the most expensive and identified (by SCC) as having the highest risk attached, this option was adopted by the full Council.

15. SCC maintain that the proposed IPS will free the service from the bureaucracy of a large organization. Under these proposals Library staff rather than reporting to and dealing directly with SCC Central Library management, as at present, will be obliged first to deal with the local library group management and through them to the IPS management, and only through them to SCC, who they contend will retain the statutory duty to supply the service. We feel that these proposals will increase bureaucracy by introducing a complex hierarchy of single or clusters of branches, delegates, IPS board and presumably reporting, monitoring and commissioning mechanisms, and it is unclear how they can still be meeting their statutory requirement for providing a comprehensive library service.

These proposals will also remove accountability to the electorate and to taxpayers. The IPS Board will be independent of the County Council and not subject to the Council’s scrutiny or audit processes. Elected councilors are prohibited from being members of the Board of Directors. This means that unrepresentative and unaccountable community groups and board members will run Suffolk Libraries and members of the public will not be able to have a say on how their services are being run. Under the IPS. the future of Suffolk libraries will depend to a very large extent on community groups and volunteers. Each library will be run by a voluntary group and be expected to raise 5% of its direct costs in the first two years and undertake further fundraising in future years. There are no guarantees that enough volunteers will be found to run all 44 libraries and that enough money will be raised to ensure the future viability of services.

16. As stated in paragraph 14 of the Charteris report "As noted above, the Inquiry has found the Council to be in breach of its statutory duties under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, because it failed to make an assessment of local needs in respect of its Library Services. It therefore cannot have acted reasonably in meeting such needs in the context of its statutory duties and available resources, as, in the absence of such assessment or demonstrable knowledge of local needs, it was incapable of identifying a reasonable option for meeting such needs both comprehensively and efficiently."

Suffolk County Council has not heeded the advice of the Charteris report and has maintained consistently that a full assessment of local needs, or Equality Impact Assessment, is only needed if a library will actually close (available at: http://suffolk.gov.uk/CouncilAndDemocracy/EqualityAndDiversity/EqualityImpactAssessments.htm). The council seem incapable of understanding that any change in service may have an impact on the local community, even if it does not result in a library closure.

From the introduction of the ‘New Strategic Direction’ (available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/DF4C6F95-56A0-4CA4-93A3-C2365AB632F1/0/EIAimplementingthenewStrategicDirection.pdf) SCC have been aware that changes will have an impact on all aspects of local communities: "…proposals for new vehicles for service delivery and the geographical diversity of the county means that individual proposals will need to considered for equality and diversity implications" and yet have failed to adequately consider this during the library consultation procedures.

17. The Charteris Report also states in paragraph 18 "I also believe that the decision was made without a clear understanding of the extent and range of services currently being provided in the libraries, including those which are ‘core’ to the service and those which are ancillary. This makes it difficult to see how the Council could plan for ceasing or re-locating any aspects of the current service."

At the June Cabinet meeting, Cllr Judy Terry stated "The last few months have been a learning curve and we have all learned a lot about the value of libraries to their communities." (Available at:

http://www.eadt.co.uk/news/suffolk_library_staff_reduced_to_tears_manager_1_920840 ) We fail to see how a council make any changes to a service that the Portfolio holder admits to knowing little about, without a proper consultation with the public? To the campaigners it has been clear throughout the consultation process that Suffolk County Council were making drastic changes to a service that they did not understand, nor did they seem interested in understanding by further research.

The impact library closures have on local communities

18. As we have previously mentioned, it appears that the SCC is viewing the need for an EIA to judge the impact a library closure would have on the local community, in the narrowest terms possible. That is, that a full EIA will only be required if a library is to close, rather than if a significant cut in funding is proposed. A library service cannot be seen as comprehensive or efficient if the needs of minority groups and those in deprived areas are not taken into consideration. A change in service, no matter how insignificant – opening hours, lack of large print books, removal of free computer access – will have an effect on the vulnerable members of the community and this is not something that the council have taken into consideration or understood.

19. The ‘Hidden Needs’ report, published in May 2011 by The Suffolk Foundation highlights hidden deprivation and community needs in Suffolk, a reduction in services offered or closure of any of the county’s existing libraries can only have a detrimental effect. (‘Hidden Needs’ report available at: http://www.suffolkfoundation.org.uk/attachments/article/75/Hidden%20Needs%20Report%20LR.pdf).

Statements from The Public Library User Survey from 2010 show how vital the Suffolk Library Service is to local communities:

· Since being widowed I have had difficulty in making contact and friends. But Top Time has helped me gain confidence & friendship. The staff are friendly and welcoming – I look forward to Thursdays. Thank you." (Available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/0C122FB9-6D89-4B3C-A1FC-E1FBE4A4B4A9/0/RosehillLibraryv2.pdf )

· I find this library gives me a great deal in the way of support: using the facility to order books which I would otherwise have to buy. Also it provides me with much human contact, which combats loneliness and improves the quality of my life." (Available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/2701C3D0-B65F-4505-8510-CE9895955DF7/0/LongMelfordv2.pdf)

· I am 83 years old and visit the library roughly every 3 weeks and look forward to 4 or 5 books new to me. This facility is excellent. The staff are first class and most helpful at all times. I don’t know what I would do without the library. (Available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/6ED7022B-151F-4E32-9ABF-E0004B106450/0/OultonBroadLibraryv2.pdf )

· I have mainly used the library to search and apply for jobs, and the ability to use the library’s computers has recently led to success in this regard. (Available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/9E95C5ED-1729-494B-879B-CDBB86686302/0/BrandonLibraryv2.pdf)

· I would not do without this service and use it in several villages and towns in Suffolk, as I am often working in areas I do not live near. (Available at: http://www.suffolk.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/74B0E22A-75B4-4194-BB29-69DF589BAE92/0/Lavenham.pdf )

20. There have been threats to close libraries in Suffolk that are located close to or within areas of deprivation e.g. in Ipswich (Rosehill, Stoke, Westbourne) and in Lowestoft (Oulton Broad). Again the Hidden Needs report [p. 4] brings this into focus, stating "In Ipswich and Lowestoft there are neighbourhoods with very high rates of multiple deprivation that are amongst the 10 per cent worst-off in England. An average of 33 per cent of people living in these areas is income deprived." This would have a huge impact on local communities.

21. Under the IPS, each community group is being offered a menu of delegated responsibilities. This means that some libraries will choose to offer different (and fewer) services compared to others and to deliver services in a different way and even to make a charge for services, where legal. This will lead to the existing library network becoming fragmented. If charges are introduced for some services this could also be a barrier to use for those on low incomes. One of the principal functions of our current library service is that it provides equality of access to information and assistance. This is likely to disappear in the future.

22. The deadline for nominating a representative to the IPS is the end of January 2012 and the criteria is membership of a library community group. Some Suffolk libraries don’t have user groups and will therefore be denied representation on this board, especially during the crucial first 18 months when the governance framework of the IPS is being decided. More importantly for equality groups the board of the IPS will consist of 8 people and there does not seem to be any stipulation that representation from members of equality groups needs to be taken into account.

The effectiveness of the Secretary of State's powers of intervention under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964

23. The powers of intervention that the Secretary of State has remain effective, they are just not being used. Letters sent to the Secretary of State informing him of the crisis being faced in Suffolk received only generic responses in reply. It is clear to us that the Secretary of State could have intervened, not only in the case of Suffolk, but in several cases nationwide, and should have done so under sections Section 10 1 (a) and (b) of the 1964 Act:

"Default powers of Secretary of State’ give the Secretary of State the power to investigate complaints that are made about public library services. A local enquiry should first be held, with direct intervention following this should the enquiry prove that there has been a failure by the local authority."

 

24. We also feel that the Secretary of State has not followed up his own statements of intent, saying the following at an October 2011 Department of Media Culture and Sport meeting:  

Q: How does he understand the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act requirement for a comprehensive and efficient service?

A: Original definition of comprehensive and efficient in Roberts Report of 1959. Comprehensive = good selection of books, when books more expensive, efficient = reducing no of authorities. He takes responsibilities seriously, modernisation yes, vandalism no. […]What we are here to protect under 64 Act is services not buildings, not to stand in way of sensible modernisation, make sure local authorities doing everything they can through library plans to maintain good library services. (Available at: http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/?s=lewisham)

 

January 2012

Prepared 6th February 2012