Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Dorset County Council

In common with all other Local Authorities Dorset County Council has had to consider and make difficult budget decisions over recent years. The current position is that Dorset county Council has a projected savings requirement of £38.5 million over the three years 2012–13 to 2014–15, of which £13.4 million has been identified in the existing Meeting Future Challenges (MFC) programme. This comes on top of savings in 2011–12 of £30.5 million. The overall budget challenge for the County Council between 2011–12 and 2014–15 totals £69 million, a saving of 23% on the base budget in 2011–12.

Throughout all consultations the County Council has had regard to its statutory obligations. As part of this great care has been taken in relation to responsibilities under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act and other appropriate legislation. Decisions were underpinned by extensive consultation, a full Equalities Impact Assessment and a new strategic approach for the library service. In order to fulfil the responsibility to provide a comprehensive and efficient service for all persons who wish to use it, the key features of the library service strategy are:

a core network of libraries geographically spread across the county;

a mobile library service;

access to a range of online resources and services via the website; and

work with partners to provide services, including enabling local communities to provide a local library service and use of the building for wider community benefit.

The vision is of a “dynamic library service, fostering the joy of reading, learning and a love of knowledge to enhance lives and build communities.” The strategy outlined that the primary focus for the library service will be:

Providing access to reading and books through a range of stock and reading activities.

Providing access to information, including access to the internet.

Supporting learning, education and knowledge.

The key feature of the option chosen by the County Council was that the County Council meets its statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act by retaining 25 core libraries, supported by a resources fund of £530,000, mobile library provision, access to a range of online resources and services via the website and work with partners. The County Council would also use its wellbeing powers to work with communities who will no longer have a core library but will have a support package which will enable them to continue and expand the use of their library and to make better use of the building as a community asset. There would also be a reduction in bookfund and in frontline, management and support staff as well as the introduction of income options.

This new strategic approach results in 76.3% of Dorset’s residential population living within two miles of a statutory core retained library building and 94.8% living within five miles. (The situation for the present 34 libraries are 80% living within two miles and 96.1% living within five miles).

In addition to discharging its statutory responsibilities under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museum Act the County Council decided to seek to enable and support up to nine communities to take a community managed library approach. The support package is worth some £5,500 per annum and includes provision and maintenance of computers, internet connection, provision of new books and a refresh of books and a member of library service staff for three hours per week to support volunteers. Where the County Council own the building it is offering transfer of the freehold or a 99 year lease at a peppercorn rent and requiring local communities to maintain the building.

The current position in relation to the transfer to a local, community managed service for these nine communities is eight communities have been interested in exploring taking on responsibility for their local library. Comprehensive information has been provided to help local communities in their planning and consideration of a community managed library service in addition to meetings to explore the detail and understand issues. Local communities have been asked to submit business cases by January 2012 and to date, two plans have been received. Four other communities are working to finalise their plans. There is some progress, albeit slower, with the other two communities.

The revised package of support agreed by Dorset County Council in July 2011 illustrates that the commitment to making the approach work within the constraints of budget, resources available and timescales. Providing this package of support is seen a crucial by the local communities to making the transfer work successfully.

Dorset County Council is very committed to making the development of a community managed service a success and part of the success as this new way of delivering a local service will be reliant on working with local communities.

In addition to the decision equal to reduce service expenditure the County Council is making significant capital investment. In 2011 Swanage library was totally refurbished at a cost of £450,000. Building has started in Dorchester for a new combined library and Adult Learning Centre. This will bring the services together which previously operated from two buildings. In Christchurch major work will start in March 2012 on the extension and further refurbishment of Christchurch library to provide a new library and Adult Learning Centre due to open in 2013. This will see the relocation of the current Adult Learning Service from a separate building. These are major and multi million investments.

Full documentation presented to the County Council at it meeting in July 2011 is provided (not printed).

The minutes of that meeting are provided here:

There was a further debate in November 2011 when the County Council considered whether it should rescind the decision made in July 2011. A copy of the Minutes of that meeting, when the July decision was confirmed are attached (not printed):

Throughout the process of consideration and decision-making the County Council has ensured that reports have been provided to officials at the Department of Culture, Media Sport and to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and latterly to Arts Council England.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012