Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Association of Friends of Dorset Libraries

Background to Closure of Dorset Libraries

Short History of Dorset Library Service (DLS) (paragraphs 1 & 2).

8.12.10—Proposed restructuring of Dorset Library Service (DLS) (paragraphs 3 & 4).

6.1.11—Formation of Ad Lib, policy to preserve all 34 Libraries (paragraphs 5 & 6).

11.3.2011 to 20.7.2011—Questionnaires—11 Libraries reprieved (paragraphs 7–11).

21.7.11—County Council decision to support Option B, Vote 21–20. Result, retain 25 core Libraries, and close nine Libraries, offered Community Management.

31.10.11—Complaint by Ad Lib to County Council Complaints Officer.

10.11.11—Rescission Motion appealing against July decision to close nine Libraries—lost.

Against this background reply to issues raised by Select Committee as they relate to Dorset (paragraphs 15 onwards).

1. April 1997—Bournemouth (168,000 pop) and Poole (138,000 pop) became unitary authorities. Prior to this Dorset County Council (DCC) ran the entire countywide library service, they currently operate 34 static Libraries and five mobiles, one serving residential homes—Pop 404,000.

2. Since 2001—DLS have attempted to close libraries, culminating in 2006 with a proposal to close 13 libraries via an efficiency review “Making Dorset libraries more efficient”. This was successfully resisted; instead countywide reductions in opening hours and book stock were introduced.

3. July 2010—Policy Development Panel (PDP) a cross-party committee consisting of County Councillors and 2 Officers from Dorset Library Service (DLS) to review the “Modernisation of Public Libraries and Charteris Report (Wirral)”.

4. 8.12.10—DLS announced future services would be delivered through a core network of 14 Main and Town libraries, to achieve savings of £800,000. The remaining 20 libraries designated “Community” would be offered a mobile service or self management, and funding would be withdrawn from April 2012. “The proposal may mean that County Council funding for libraries in up to 20 Community Libraries will cease … resulting in closure of the buildings” DLS.

5. 6.1.11—Formation of the Association of Friends of Dorset Libraries, (Ad Lib) as a coalition Friends’ Group to oppose closure, propose an alternative strategy and act as a united pressure group writing to the Secretary of State and local MPs. A petition to the County Council, achieved 13,656 signatures in one week, ensuring a full County Council debate.

6. A DCC decision on 17 February instructed the PDP and DLS to evaluate the Ad Lib alternative proposal, recommending a 40% reduction in the book fund, 10% cut in opening hours across the service, and joint management and purchasing services with the unitary authorities of Bournemouth and Poole, saving the necessary £800,000.

7. A three month period of consultation began in March 2011 using two different questionnaires, one for the 14 core libraries and other for the 20 where it was proposed to withdraw funding. Youth and Citizen Groups’ views were sought and an Equalities Impact Assessment prepared by DCC acknowledged an adverse impact on older people, users of the Home Library service served currently by community libraries, those living in rural communities, adults, children and young people, and deprivation related to rurality.

8. 20.6.11—DCC Community Overview Committee endorsed new proposals by the DLS Officers, resulting in 24 core libraries and removal of funding from 10 Community Libraries.

9. The PDP also introduced proposals which met the necessary savings, kept all 34 branches open and proposed changes in book purchases. This was supported by Ad Lib, but not the DLS Officers.

10. 30.6.11—Ad Lib instigated a formal complaint against DLS following an interim update of the questionnaire results and concern at the negative interpretation against the Community Libraries. With the reprieve of 10 Libraries during the consultation period, some of the results were invalid.—DCC Cabinet meeting when West Moors was added to the core service, making the final decision 25 Core Libraries.

12. 21.7.11—Dorset County Council voted by 21–20, to close, by withdrawing funding from nine libraries, namely Colehill, Corfe Castle, Wool, Portland Underhill, Stalbridge, Puddletown, Chickerell, Charmouth and Burton Bradstock (the Nine). Funding now to cease in September 2012 but offered a community package of support and placed outside statutory provision of the 1964 Act.

13. 31.10.11—Formal complaint sent to DCC, citing format of the two questionnaires; misrepresentation of results; and inadequate information and costing of the Community offer. DCC acknowledged “two mistakes in analysis and presentation of responses to consultation” but denied that “misleading, inaccurate and biased information was presented to DCC members in making their decision to close nine libraries.

14. 10.11.11—Rescission motion brought by Liberal Democrats, “that the County Council resolve Option D as set out in the reports be adopted.” was defeated 25–14, three abstentions.

Reply to Issues Raised by the Select Committee

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

15. The 1964 Act states the “availability of full library facilities for all people wishing to use one in their place of residence, work or study”. Ed Vaizey, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, assured us this legislation is not to be repealed, but closures are denying equal availability and creating new inequalities.

16. This should not be the widespread demise of static libraries they should continue to provide access to existing library facilities, as well as appropriate additional community based services.

17. A 21st Century service requires staff who can advise, support, administrate and initiate programmes for all ages and levels of need and IT support.

18. Volunteers should be used to extend the service, supplement and complement, not replace professional staff.

19. To be efficient and comprehensive we require nationally recognised standards, subject to inspection, not a plethora of different concepts open to misinterpretation throughout the UK or within a local authority—need for a national working party.

20. An efficient service for Dorset requires a return to a joint administrative service within the County and the two unitary authorities of Bournemouth (12 static libraries) and Poole (11 static libraries) as evidenced by present arrangements for Police and Fire services. This would achieve a single unitary body of administration, book, audio and e-book purchasing. The latter should be organised regionally, and eventually nationally.

21. We contend the Dorset closure proposals denies to “the Nine”, (30,000 people), a comprehensive service. Smaller libraries record increased issues figures, against falling figures in core libraries. Some have equal populations to retained town libraries, and planned increases in population have been ignored. We argue that DCC are making financial cuts that favour the needs of larger population centres. We should be keeping people at the closest point of delivery to the full range of services and professional expertise.

he extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Library and Museums Act 1964 and the Charteris report. (Wirral.)

22. It is not compatible with Section 7 to exclude people from the provisions of the 1964 Act.

23. The Act clearly states that the Library Service is the responsibility of the 151 Local Authorities currently responsible to the Secretary of State. This is not compatible with DCC’s attempts to persuade Town and Parish Councils to take over legal responsibilities for Community libraries, and might lead to a breach of the 1964 Act.

24. The contentious issue of “in” or “outside” statutory protection for Community supported libraries needs resolving. Currently Local authorities are interpreting their responsibilities differently, eg Buckinghamshire, Suffolk, Northumberland and Somerset proposing they remain inside statutory protection while Dorset, Gloucester and Kirklees, West Yorkshire are placing them outside.

25. There are no clear national criteria for retaining or closing a library but include cost per issue, annual issue figures, population size, proximity to transport routes, or another Library. In Dorset, the Main and Town Libraries have had falling issue figures in the last three years eg Dorchester and Christchurch, whereas it is the smaller Libraries who have recorded rising borrowing figures. Colehill, due for closure, has a bigger population and rising book issues annually, than neighbouring Wimborne.

26. In their Community Management Offer, DCC state they are placing these libraries outside statutory protection, but providing a support package. This includes continued use of DCC Library card, a circulating book issue, central reservation and renewal system, a modified library management system and self service machines. With this degree of support these libraries and those working in them are an integral part of the DLS statutory responsibility and therefore public libraries.

27. DLS are relinquishing the funding and responsibility of premises, and expecting volunteers to run the day to day service, as well as funding their overheads; insurance, utilities, building maintenance and in some cases rent. The public are denied access to professional Library Staff, with Volunteers receiving three hours per week administrative staff support.

28. Cost savings are minimal eg books reserved have to be delivered and returned, so there are no transport cost savings.

29. Judicial Review 16 November 2011 of Somerset and Gloucester, upheld the 1964 Act and spirit of the Charteris Report.

Issues covered by the Charteris Report

30. “Creation of further discrimination by closures”. The report raises significant issues that DCC have ignored. Charteris highlighted that closures are creating further discrimination and are outside legal provision “all persons desirous to make use thereof” and consequently the effect of closures in areas where services are to cease, have not been re-evaluated in diversity and equality terms.

31. “Consultation needs to provide genuine opportunity for people to be consulted”. During the three month consultation period, no proper consultation with Ad Lib (except one mass meeting) or Friends’ Groups, no written evidence requested; no advertised meetings with individual libraries; two separate questionnaires for Core and Community Libraries and inappropriate questions about future services. DLS Policy changed during consultation, eg the number of Libraries to be retained. A totally negative approach by DLS Officers ie Library staff told not to answer questions raised by library users.

32. Charteris disagrees that larger, better core libraries, means more resources! It actually is more books on fewer shelves. DLS maintains the book fund, known as “resource fund,” cannot be reduced when there are large stock piles of books not in circulation, and disposal figures are annually higher than new buy.

33. We endorse the comment made in Charteris that a smaller local service is not inevitably inefficient. There is a misunderstanding about what a local library offers—smaller libraries in Dorset are vibrant centres of provision to their local community.

Locality of services for children

34. This is highly relevant in Dorset, where school children have regular planned library visits, plus the Summer Reading Challenge, and sessions for pre-school children. Locality means higher use for leisure and study, computers, DVD’s etc.

35. Charteris regarded Wirral in “breach of statutory duties for ignoring local needs”, and recommended that a service should be designed to meet individual requirements. A comprehensive service does not stem from a blueprint based on large or small units. Dorset is imposing a two model system—a comprehensive urban system, or a reduced service outside statutory provision, run by volunteers.

36. Charteris criticises a negative approach, and DLS have made no attempt to be pro-active in assessing what individual libraries are giving to their own communities.

37. In the Report there is “no plan as to how community managed libraries can be achieved”. Funding for “the Nine” is to be withdrawn, yet DLS say they are acting in compliance with the 1964 Act. The following issues have yet to be agreed, including: transfer of assets, position of Parish and Town Councils, funding alternatives, business plans, charity status, insurance, and an amended Library Management system, recruitment and training of volunteers.

38. Charteris comments on rationalisation of service and how it could be “enhanced, shared or replicated differently.” Currently volunteers are unable to work alongside employed staff because of Unison working practices. This is achieved in Hospitals with a Volunteer contract and clearly defined roles, so why not in the Library service?

39. However we object to the replacement of Library Staff with Volunteers to save money; this is denying the public expertise assumed by the 1964 Act.

The impact closures have on local communities

40. In Dorset new inequalities are being created, more polarity of provision increasing problems in rural areas, public transport reduced and costly to those ineligible for bus passes. The situation is further compounded by a reduction in post offices, pubs, school crossing patrols and day services for children the elderly and disabled.

41. The policy of District Councils to increase house supply against DCC reducing services, eg libraries and schools. This creates a general roll-over effect on jobs, re-location and house prices.

42. There will be further equality issues with people charged for services they do not receive. A substitute Mobile service is inadequate compared to present opening hours, depriving other rural areas of their present mobile visits. Two areas whose future needs will not be met are Portland Underhill (Urban) and Bovington Army camp (Rural), the latter within the Wool catchment area where the Middle School library will also close in July 2012.

43. Children’s needs inadequately assessed, considering 25% of Dorset library issues are to children.

44. Rural and small town Libraries tend to have better parking and access facilities. Mobiles are unsuitable for people with disabilities and limited mobility.

45. IT services are essential in libraries for study and to improve customer service, online reservation, e-books etc. Nationally, 20%–25% of households are considered not to be on line, and in rural Dorset there is limited fast Broadband service.

46. The effect of closures has not been properly re-evaluated. Most of “the Nine” have Health Centres, Dental services, Village Halls, Community Centres, Post Offices, Shops, Legal services, Estate Agents, Garages etc, but are being denied a legal right not only to their library, but a community meeting place. Some are busy tourist centres on the Jurassic coast with thousands of annual visitors.

The effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

47. The Secretary of State is failing to oversee and promote “a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons in the area that want to make use of the Library service.”

48. Ed Vaizey in the Parliamentary debate, 28–2–11, states there are “no plans to repeal statutory provision and “statutory duty a safety net for the provision of libraries” We are not seeing this in Dorset, who are trying to exclude nine Libraries from the “safety net”.

49. Nothing to date from the Secretary of State or Ed Vaizey as to the unprecedented level of national protest over closures. At last a Select Committee, but why not before the public had to raise large sums of money to seek Judicial Reviews (Somerset/Gloucester and Brent)?

50. Why has a moratorium on library closures not been called pending the report of the Select Committee?

51. The Act requires the Secretary of State to inspect and monitor library services. Dorset is basing its closures primarily on financial savings. In a recent letter from the DLS dated 14–12–11, it is stated that the Department of Culture, Media & Sport have been kept informed, but it is clear they have not yet responded, as the DLS’s letter does not say their plans have been approved.

52. Capital projects and refurbishments are a Library service’s responsibility, but why have Inspectorate powers failed to question why 20, and then nine Libraries are to close, whilst a new main Library in Dorchester, at a capital outlay of £1 million and ongoing cost of £5 million over the next 25 years is going ahead, whilst retaining the existing premises for the Mobile Library services, storage and administration. In Christchurch, refurbishment and an extension at a capital cost of £2 million starts in 2012. DCC will save at most £116,000 per annum by passing the nine libraries to be community run. No departmental investigation is inexcusable.

53. Financial stringency has to take cognisance of statutory responsibilities, but the Secretary of State has not questioned why DCC can claim to be acting lawfully with a much reduced service in 2012, than was necessary to comply with the Act in 2009

54. Dorset are planning a future service without regard to the rights of people under the 1964 Act, and stating that any community managed asset is outside statutory protection. We urge the Secretary of State to clarify this issue.

55. Department of Communities and Local Government, June 2011, Baroness Hanham. “The Government have no intention to remove statutory protection where this will have a negative impact on services ... for example, vulnerable children and libraries.” It is happening in Dorset!

56. The Appeal Court judgement re Brent (19 December 2011) has again muddied the waters by inferring that saving money has a priority over fulfilling legal obligations, and “being in no doubt that Brent Council was aware of its statutory duties” If the Secretary of State had acted decisively earlier, inappropriate use of the Judicial system would not have taken place.

57. In conclusion, we can only hope the Select Committee will make strong representations to the Secretary of State that the future of the Public Library Service has to be firmly protected by the provisions of the current law, and that these powers have to be enforced and properly supervised. Only then can Dorset County Council be persuaded to create a comprehensive and efficient service across the whole rural County, not an urban solution only for the larger centres of population as highlighted in paragraphs 25 and 52.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012