Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by John Laing Integrated Services

Introduction

John Laing Integrated Services welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sports Committees’ review regarding library closures, and to put forward our considerations on what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service.

We are the only private sector provider of library services in the UK, in partnership with the London Borough of Hounslow, and our submission is based on the expertise of our library and culture staff. Our submission covers:

The importance of local communities in shaping and delivering library services.

The need for libraries to provide a wider range of services, relevant to the communities they serve.

Consideration as to the best form of governance for the future delivery of libraries and the development of a mixed economy.

The need to address the position of library services within a local authority and across wider strategic partnerships.

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

The Library Act does not outline or provide guidance as to what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service. Therefore the Act is open to interpretation and has led to significant variation of understanding across the 151 library authorities. This is not necessarily a negative, with local needs being met on an individual library basis. However, what is missing is a mechanism to assess whether the services being delivered are contributing to improved outcomes for users. Therefore an over-arching definition of comprehensive may not be of any value.

Comprehensive

In considering what constitutes a comprehensive library service, we are of the view that the core elements of the publication, Framework for the Future (published by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in February 2003) still remains relevant.

Books, reading and learning.

Digital citizenship.

Community and civic values.

The Modernisation Review of Public Libraries published by the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in March 2010 acknowledged that “the vision for public libraries set out in Framework for the Future still holds true today and their role continues to be to provide books, learning, information and entertainment to customers, to provide a centre for communities and to provide an education resource”. However, the way these services are designed and delivered needs to evolve, not least in terms of a greater emphasis on efficiency, but also in terms of community participation and the role of the community in designing and, in some instances, delivering services.

Historically, libraries have been a universal service but to adapt for the 21st Century, the need now is to develop a tailored approach that can deliver efficiencies through the rationalisation of back office functions as well as delivering an individual service that meets the needs of each community that each library serves.

The role of libraries is evolving away from providing just universal services towards addressing local needs by providing relevant advice, support and guidance to those who need it. This will ultimately build community capacity and resilience.

As the role libraries play in communities widens, so should the outcomes for the community, not only meeting the needs in Framework for the Future, but also contributing to improved health and well-being, community cohesion and other priorities relevant for that community.

In taking this approach, the role of the community is acknowledged and enhanced; enabling the community to shape the services they want to use as a driver for change. In taking a community-led approach there are a number of challenges that need to be acknowledged:

Professional interpretations of how services should be delivered and the requirement to identify new ways of working.

Overcoming the lack of investment in libraries that have led to impacts on perceived relevance and therefore usage.

Local authorities’ capacity to engage with local communities and partners in shaping services for the future.

The library service can add value to communities, the council and its partners through the integration of services. Bringing a range of services together under one roof or within close proximity to each other can enable libraries to become a destination in the community. Examples of integrated services include facilities that combine libraries and leisure centres in the one location, Advice Centres, Connexions and Youth Services, Adult Education and Police support.

There is also the potential for libraries to become commercially orientated through the provision of services such as nurseries, retail, catering provisions etc, thus drawing in new audiences and developing new revenue streams that can be reinvested into the service.

The provision of services should be guided by local research and consultation, so to meet community needs and deliver the efficiencies shared service delivery can provide.

Our view is that there are three strands to a comprehensive library service, the physical, the virtual and outreach.

Physical

Each local authority should have a duty of care to ensure that their library buildings and facilities are fit for purpose, welcoming places that people will want to visit and enjoy. This approach is best placed within an asset management strategy that forms part of the overall library strategy. Asset management should include a financial assessment of the likely expenditure over the lifetime of a property and an assessment of community value and benefit.

We would advocate a hub and spoke approach, where central or regional libraries offer a more diverse offer, including reference, but that small, local library services are then designed and delivered in real partnership with the community. In this way, a community with, for example, predominantly young people would, have a library that was principally delivering services for them, perhaps through a dedicated children’s library that offered access to other specialist children’s services such

Virtual

When talking about a comprehensive library service, this is no longer just about books and not just about technology. An authority could purchase an e-reader for all its residents and then close the library service; this could be cost-efficient but does not deliver a comprehensive or sustainable service.

An essential part of a modern library service is high-quality, reliable IT provision for the public. We consider this will become ever important in the future as customers will increasingly move towards e-enabled services. Equipment including self-service equipment, free Wi-Fi, a virtual library and enhanced web-based service are now standard parts of a library service but it is difficult to look too far in to the future to see what new technologies will be developed for the benefit of library services. These, together with other developments such as the loan of e-readers and laptops, e-books and new technology in stock procurement and management show that libraries have embraced new technologies, where it is shown it has tangible benefits.

In addition, new advances in technology can enable communities to undertake additional connected transactions from self-service terminals within the library. This may include, but is not limited to, car parking permits, council tax, car park fines, business rates and rent.

We would suggest that an issue for consideration by the Committee is the cost of developing advances and often the cost of being first adopters in an ever-changing market. The lack of a national approach to some of these advancements can be to the detriment of the service that would otherwise mean better efficiencies in the procurement of technology.

Outreach

Libraries also need to reach out to their communities and have in place a robust and comprehensive outreach programme tailored to meet community needs as well as supporting and delivering the council’s wider corporate agenda, for example community safety, community cohesion and educational attainment. Any library service in the 21st Century must show its ability to profile its local community and align this profile with event programmes and partnership projects to develop a robust outreach offer that is timely and of relevance to the community.

Outcomes from library outreach programmes should be documented, not only in quantitative terms but qualitatively, to adequately reflect the impact of said programmes on users over the shorter and longer term. Tools which enable this analysis have already been created and are available for use such as the “culture and sport outcomes toolkit” devised by the Improvement and Development Agency, as well as a host of other survey modules.

Efficient

In terms of an efficient service, Phase One of the Future Libraries Programme 2011 established a number of pilot projects to test drive an ambitious change programme. The pilots were based on a number of areas to ascertain where/how services could be delivered more efficiently including:

Share back office services.

Work with other local authorities.

Provide services digitally.

Co-locate services with other local services.

Use the library service to deliver other service outcomes and priorities.

Better understand service costs.

Better understand community need and aspiration.

Look at alternative ways to deliver the service (governance).

From our perspective, governance is an important consideration in delivering efficiencies. We see very much a mixed economy in the future where a range of delivery models are in place, with each authority engaging the one that will most effectively deliver savings whilst meeting the service objectives.

The Big Society agenda envisages greater engagement of communities in the delivery of services and management of assets, with new powers to challenge councils on service delivery and to bid for assets of community value.

We recognise the important role the community can and will play, and that communities may be best placed in some instances to deliver the front-line services. The delivery of outreach, property management and investment in ICT infrastructure are, however, best placed to remain either with the local authority or to be delivered on their behalf by a service delivery partner.

This is because cost-efficiency, specialism and expertise will still be required in some areas, not least health and safety. However, transferring the ownership of services directly to communities, or by giving neighbourhood groups democratic control over them, can still take place in the context of service management being transferred to a service delivery partner.

In this way cost-effectiveness can be achieved through economies of scale together with services designed specifically for the local community they serve, delivered in partnership with the community. This approach can also be taken in parallel with a number of authorities delivering services together and/or services beyond the traditional library service being delivered, producing further efficiencies.

As discussed, the approach taken will depend on a needs analysis supported by a comprehensive appraisal that considers the benefits of the options available. One challenge to this is the barriers that can exist to authorities working in partnership, be they physical, social or political. This may be an area where the Committee may want to look at further. Another barrier is the current capacity within authorities to undertake this work comprehensively and with the necessary skills to do so at a time of rationalisation.

As with the Government’s recent initiative, “Free Schools”, there is the potential to adopt the good practice and lessons learnt and apply them to libraries. John Laing Integrated Services would be interested in being involved in such a project as we see a role for service delivery organisations such as ours in supporting communities and other interested groups in delivering local services.

Partnership Working

In advocating that libraries become the focal point for delivering a more diverse range of services, tailored to meet community needs, effective partnership working is at the centre of this.

Those engaged do not necessarily have to be senior but need to be empowered to make decisions, including financial commitments, with a range of agencies engaged to ensure that they are effective in identifying and accessing key audiences, understand their needs and aspirations and that they are able to input into the services and opportunities provided by the library service.

Whilst considering partnerships at the most local level, the position of libraries within each authority also warrants consideration. The way that libraries are positioned within an authority varies widely and can have a direct impact on the level of investment in the service, its relevance and quality. We would recommend that the Committee considers how responsibility for library services varies across different local authorities and the potential impact this has on the decision-making process and the services delivered.

It is our view that Government needs to develop a framework that local authorities have to adopt that puts libraries at the heart of their local strategic partnerships and other high level governance arrangements within their local authority. This would provide some consistency of approach. A three to five year plan should be developed within the library authority around the desired outcomes for the service and its respective individual libraries that is fully supported through the library service, the community and its partners, together with tangible and measurable outcome targets.

Consideration also needs to be given to the role of a number of existing organisations, public bodies and charities such as the Chartered Institute of Library Professionals, Society of Chief Librarians, Public Library Authority, the Arts Council and the Reading Agency and how they can support the delivery of library services and the wider cultural offer.

Furthermore there is a need to establish partnerships with private organisation that are directly related to the library offer. Better partnership working with publishers and technology companies is needed to ensure that the audiences’ libraries develop for their products are receiving best value.

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

We have not examined in any depth the approach of individual authorities to their proposed library closures or indeed the ongoing judicial reviews.

The Charteris Report, and subsequently the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, identified the following key considerations that every local authority should have in mind in considering the future of the service:

A statement of what the service is trying to achieve.

A description of local needs, including the general and specific needs of adults and children who live, work and study in the area.

A detailed description of how the service will be delivered and how the plans will take into account the demography of the area and the different needs of adults and children in different areas (both in general and specific terms).

The resource available for the service, including an annual budget.

Closures are not incompatible with this statement as long as services are re-provided and, overall, the changes contribute to better outcomes for the majority.

Closing a physical building is also not necessarily the same as terminating the service. Consideration should be given as to whether a more relevant and appropriate service can be re-provided that delivers savings as well as service improvements, by addressing more closely the outcomes required for individual communities. Consideration also needs to be given to the most appropriate governance model.

As our communities, technologies and behaviours have evolved, so has the role of library services. If anyone were designing a library service today, it is unlikely the location and services would be the same as they were in the past.

The challenge for library authorities in developing and transforming library services has been securing the required investment, capability and capacity to achieve change quickly and effectively. We believe that by forming strategic partnerships with other public, private and third sector organisations, or indeed with all three, opportunities to transform services and ensure a sustainable future can be realised.

As local authorities strive to find new ways to deliver further efficiencies whilst protecting front-line services and jobs, many are actively re-evaluating how services are delivered, and how to get the best value from available resources.

The physical and virtual infrastructure needed to support new models of delivery is evolving and need to reflect this new reality. Radical as well as pragmatic thinking is needed to effect real change. Therefore, we are advocating that as well as considering the services, consideration also needs to be given to how the infrastructure can be strategically shaped and managed in a holistic way to deliver service improvements whilst making tangible efficiency savings and maximise revenue streams.

The impact library closures have on local communities

The only large scale closures of libraries have been in Brent, when on 19 December 2011, the Court of Appeal’s Lord Justice Richards, Lord Justice Pill and Lord Justice Davis ruled that the High Court judge, after a “most careful and thorough review of all the points advanced”, had reached the “right conclusions” in taking the decision to close six of its twelve libraries.

Lord Justice Pill said: “Given the scale of the spending reductions the council was required to make, and the information available following earlier studies, a decision that the library service should bear a share of the reduction was not, in my judgement, unlawful.”

There have been many instances of individual library closures in the past, but limited evidence as to the impact these have had on local communities. Having kept all the libraries in Hounslow open after a review, and identifying savings through other measures, we do not consider John Laing Integrated Services to be in a position to comprehensively answer this question.

As referred to in Section 3 above, closures are not necessarily a negative if carried out as part of a comprehensive service review that not only considers the physical delivery through buildings but also the virtual on-line offer and community outreach programmes most appropriate for local needs.

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

We do not consider John Laing Integrated Services to be in a position to respond to this question.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012