Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Suffolk’s Libraries IPS Ltd

This submission is from the Chairman of Suffolk’s Libraries IPS Ltd on behalf of the new third-sector, not-for-profit organisation recently registered with the Financial Services Authority.


Suffolk County Council’s wide-ranging consultations with local councils and communities throughout 2011 on the future of library services resulted in a very large public response, with overwhelming support for the local importance and retention of all libraries.

Individual submissions from a number of local library groups put forward their specific proposals for alternative arrangements on local management of libraries. They responded both to the anticipated budget reductions (expected to be 30% overall) and to foreseen opportunities to develop local community services.

Based on those responses, the County Council set out a vision and access model for future library services, and subsequently carried out a best-value analysis of several possible functional models to deliver on criteria that included empowering, and building partnerships with, local communities.

In December 2011 the Council decided to adopt an Industrial & Provident Society model. Subsequently, practical steps have been taken to create the independent not-for-profit organisation, including appointing a Chair and two other Founding Members who have registered the IPS with the FSA and set out its future objectives.

Suffolk’s Libraries IPS is currently in a transitional stage to full start-up in June 2012, including appointing a General Manager, establishing an Interim Board, and preparing to accept transfer and assimilation of existing library services staff into the IPS structure.

The County Council retains its statutory responsibilities for providing comprehensive and efficient library services. It will fund the IPS through a contract and service agreement; monitor progress and ensure compliance.

All libraries will remain open, and public opening hours will not be reduced. Community management groups are planning to develop the scope and public offer of the new service locally.

Some of the following explanation and description, which sets out the IPS Chairman’s vision of the new service, was in the public domain from early January, and has now been up-dated for this purpose.

Library Services for the Future:
Suffolk’s New Model for a County-Wide Service

A time for change

1. In the last few years, those concerned with providing and using library services at all levels, including central government, local authorities with statutory responsibility and users of the services they provide, have all been engaged in a debate about what kind of services we will need for the future, and what roles libraries could and should play in the 21st century.

2. The public view has left no doubt that people continue to see libraries as an essential provision at the heart of a civilized society; but is also clear that libraries need to keep pace with the changing shape and priorities of community life today. They should become hubs of knowledge, learning and social well-being at the heart of communities, serving people of all ages throughout life.

3. To adapt to change will mean doing things differently. Many ideas have emerged around the country, and some are being tested. Suffolk County Council has been part of a national pilot with that aim for the past year. Since the beginning of 2011 it has engaged local communities in consultation about what kind of library service they want to see.

The financial challenge

4. Overwhelming public support for libraries led the County Council to give priority to the principle of sustaining a comprehensive service, despite the acute economic pressures that are enforcing substantial budget reductions across all public services everywhere. In the modelling stage of testing possible alternative solutions in the autumn of 2011, they found the lion’s share of the necessary 30% savings by re-structuring and substantially reducing the centre of the existing system, to protect the delivery end as far as possible—reductions that were then progressively implemented in preparation for setting up a new service model.

5. Nevertheless, not all of the cost of sustaining even the existing service can be met within this severely reduced County-wide budget. Some increased revenue or further savings from managing routine maintenance locally are necessary at local level, albeit at a modest level, just to stand still. Public relief at the good news that all libraries will remain open has tempted some people to think that we have re-wound the clock to before the debate; but in reality, there can be no status quo in public services anywhere in Britain in the present economic climate.

From challenge to opportunity

6. Yet at the same time, a second vital objective has also been taken on board; the principle of basing the new library service on a partnership between the County—as statutory provider, and owner of most of the buildings, the book stock and mobiles)—and Suffolk’s local communities. And that principle will not just be reflected in expressions of good intent: it will be built in to the structure of the future library service, now emerging.

7. If libraries for the future are to reflect what local communities may decide are their priorities—for books and other lending materials, for young people and for life-long learning, for IT access, skills training or community activities—then the communities themselves must be fully engaged and sufficiently empowered to ensure that those things happen in the ways they want. Communities must take responsibility for shaping their own destiny, making sure they get the services they need locally—and not just based on a single, “one size fits all” solution, but on the different circumstances of each locality.

8. They will also need to contribute towards the costs of their new service, either by raising revenue from activities (other than the free book lending service) or by reducing running costs through self-help schemes, or some combination of these. Initially, this has been calculated as £100,000 (based on 5% of direct costs) across all 44 libraries. In many cases, these sums will be small, but nonetheless important—both financially, and in principle.

A partnership model for a new era

9. To achieve a new partnership based on both these principles, Suffolk has chosen to create a particular kind of independent charitable organisation that will give the local library groups collective responsibility for, and control of, the whole system. The Industrial & Provident Society (IPS) model selected, a form of co-operative, will be owned by its members. These will be the local library groups themselves, who will then select the Board members. It will be known as Suffolk’s Libraries IPS.

10. The IPS will negotiate and hold the libraries budget from the County Council on the basis of a service agreement. The Council retains its statutory responsibility, and remains publicly accountable for the performance of the whole service. It will do so through retaining sufficient expertise and capacity to fulfill the role of commissioner.

11. Initially, the IPS will take over the employment of all contracted employees, front line as well as central, through transfers under TUPE regulations. However, in due course, some local organisations may decide to become the employer of their local staff, with further transfers then being negotiated. The IPS will employ the central staff team who will service its work and facilitate its objectives, and will continue to employ those delivering shared services.

Shared services, shared objectives

12. Although the members of the Society will be derived from local library groups that will exist primarily for their commitment to their local communities and local libraries, they will also collectively have responsibility for the whole IPS and its County-wide services. These will continue to include the shared services and centrally managed facilities, (such as purchasing, book stock and supply, the shared on-line management systems, access to information technology, mobile library services, the schools service and the prison library service contracts).

13. At the heart of this new partnership model will be a simple set of shared objectives, common to all. One of the first decisions of the Founding Members of the Society was to agree the IPS Rules and to set out the Objects contained in them. These are to:

promote and enable reading, learning and the sharing of knowledge, through free access to book borrowing, electronic and other information services;

make other educational, cultural and entertainment materials available for hire;

encourage access to informal adult learning, skills training and employment opportunities;

facilitate activities to improve health and well-being;

provide welcoming accessible environments where social inclusion and community development can safely prosper in response to changing demographic, socio-economic and educational needs of the people in the area of benefit;

build partnerships of shared interests between public, private and voluntary sectors at the heart of communities.

14. To become a member of Suffolk’s Libraries IPS, the local groups will also be expected to adopt aims and objectives that reflect those of the IPS itself.

The fully integrated system

15. These objectives initially will include the key task of helping all local libraries to form a local group (or if they prefer, to coalesce with neighbours into a larger area group); so that in all cases, local needs and priorities can be determined, they can nominate representatives for election to the IPS central Board, and prepare for local management of their part of the integrated service.

16. This task of helping communities to build their capacity for local management, to achieve legal entity status, and to develop the new programmes of local activities they wish to offer, is entirely new to a public library service. It requires skills and ways of working for which third-sector organisations are generally better attuned than public authorities. Once the groups are established, the task will evolve to provide on-going membership support and new business development.

17. Some localities, including some that prepared detailed plans last year, have already agreed to move towards local management, and initially there will be seven pilots testing different models for that. Other will soon emerge as a second wave of local library groups is being identified.

18. Pilots will initially be given priority for the necessary professional and financial support for developing their local management models. These will provide the test-beds for demonstrating new ways of running libraries. They offer obvious opportunities for shared experience and learning, and for a subsequent evaluation of what has worked well.

19. At the same time, the central team will have to ensure the availability and supply of the central and mobile services noted earlier; but to do so with far fewer staff also means doing those things differently. Innovative and creative solutions to all these challenges will be required; and all members of the IPS, whether central or local, will share both the challenges and the solutions in what must be seen by all as a fully integrated system.

A step change

20. Initially, of course, the local library groups and future members do not yet exist in that form (although a few already have well-established organisations behind them, and will be able to develop quickly). For that reason, the County Council has appointed the three Founding Members (all are independent of the authority) and with their help has now recruited additional members to form an Interim Board for up to eighteen months—the period within which the IPS must hold an AGM and elect a new Board from the membership.

21. Over the next few years, the whole picture of library services in Suffolk is expected to develop into one very different from the past; not generally in terms of where libraries are located (although some buildings are also likely to be enhanced or modified through local initiatives), but in the way a modern library service is run and in what it can achieve. At the heart of this step change is the principle that citizens generally are well-able to judge what their locality needs, and how best to organise it. Initially, they may need some help with that transition, and that is the purpose of the new integrated service.

22. This innovative model system is so far unique in the UK. It will have much to prove, and the first few years will also be a voyage of discovery and a process of learning—which, of course, is what libraries are for. It will depend crucially on all those who work for it, whether as professionals (the library managers and assistants at the public interface of the service, and the central team), or as volunteers—the members of local communities whose involvement in local management, practical activities and local initiatives will be central to its success.

February 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012