Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Simon Randall CBE, Consultant, and Joanna Bussell, Partner of Solicitors, Winckworth Sherwood LLP

A ROBUST ALTERNATIVE

1. Introduction

1.1 This submission is from Simon Randall CBE, Consultant and Joanna Bussell, Partner of solicitors, Winckworth Sherwood LLP, of London Bridge, London SE1 who specialise in local government and social enterprise work. Simon was an elected member of London Borough of Bromley Council from 1968 to 1994 and the Greater London Council from 1981 to 1986, and for the last 25 years has advised local authorities on their leisure and cultural services including libraries. In particular, Simon and Joanna have undertaken a range of feasibility studies on behalf of local authorities on the management options for their library services and their team has handled more externalisations of such services than any other law firm. Some of these are referred to below.

1.2 Simon was awarded the CBE in 1991 for services to local government within London.

2. The Threats to Library Service within England

2.1 Library services face the biggest threat to their future since the original Public Libraries Act 1850. These threats have arisen for a wide range of issues including:

2.1.1Decline in usage of our libraries, principally due to changing lifestyles and easy access to the written word through the internet.

2.1.2As many of the country’s booksellers have found, this easy access to the written word has been expanded into the provision of competitive new book pricing, through websites such as Amazon and, more recently, availability of books through Kindle and iPads. All of this has meant a decline in both book ownership and library readership.

2.1.3Over recent years there has been a decline in the usage of our libraries for book lending purposes.

2.1.4The austerity programme which has forced local authorities to review the cost of their library services which generate little income from their statutory obligations.

2.1.5Some local authorities have been slow to respond to these changes which are likely to accelerate in the months and years to come thus necessitating the creation of a brand new role for our library services to which we return below.

3. Legal Issues in Respect of Library Provision

3.1 The principal legislation governing library provision is contained in the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 (“the 1964 Act”). This contains a key section (7(1)) which provides that “it shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof …”

3.2 The 1964 Act contains supplementary provisions enabling a library authority to undertake its services and, more importantly, incorporates a provision in section 9(1) whereby it can make contributions towards the expenses of another library authority or of “any other person providing library facilities for members of the public”. The 1964 Act also contains a restriction on charging for lending of library books.

3.3 As the Committee will be aware, the duties of a local authority in library provision has been much debated and litigated in the press and Courts respectively. The two most important cases involved Gloucestershire and Somerset County Councils1 and London Borough of Brent Council.2 There will no doubt be others. In particular, these cases have principally centred around the process leading to the proposed closure or outsourcing rather than the merits of the legislation3 although the County Council case contained a number of very useful paragraphs setting out the obligations upon a local authority including the process involved and the Committee will, no doubt, have this drawn to their attention. However, it is perhaps important to point out that the judge in this case indicated that the expression “library service” is not defined nor the concepts of “comprehensive” and “efficient” in Section 7(1) of the 1964 Act. In this particular case, the local enquiry into the public library service provided by Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council4 dealt with some of the legislative issues that ultimately confirmed that it was a matter for each library authority to decide the nature of its service on the basis that the duty was to provide one which enables users to gain access to material which is comprehensive in the sense of being broad in range.

4. The Future of our Libraries

4.1 It has been realised by many within the library service needs to increase efforts to modernise the service through its approach with new technology, greater access to research and information through the printed word and changing leisure time demands in general. Interestingly, the original 1850 legislation contained provisions whereby a public library would only be set up if, after a referendum, a majority of those voting were in favour of adopting the legislation. Consequently, library authorities need to take into account the wishes of their communities and much has been written on the future by both the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council5 and, more recently, the Arts Council England.6

4.2 Joint Use Arrangements

Increasingly library authorities are combining with other local authorities, public bodies and voluntary bodies to combine a range of services on individual sites and, in particular, to create close engagement with their respective communities. There are many examples and the following are particularly known to us:

4.2.1Sutton Life Centre—London Borough of Sutton, as a unitary authority, has created an all purpose centre providing a library and meeting rooms, citizenship venue, an outdoor climbing wall and multi-use games area plus a cafe and restaurant facility;

4.2.2The Ebbisham Centre7—this centre is a joint partnership between Epsom and Ewell Borough Council and Surrey County Council which incorporates the Epsom library, the Derby Medical Practice, Chapters Cafe and Lifestyle pilates studio with a variety of bars and restaurants below within two squares.

4.2.3Addlestone Centre—this centre houses the municipal offices of Runnymede Borough Council together with Surrey County Council’s library and an enquiry centre for Surrey Police.

4.2.4Stretford Leisure Centre/Greatstone Library—Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council have erected their library (which is freestanding without permanent staff) adjacent to their refurbished leisure centre.

4.2.5Netherton Activity Centre—Sefton Council has just opened this community-based centre which combines a range of leisure activities including a fitness suite, meeting rooms, crèche, library and large IT suite.

4.2.6New London Libraries—new large state-of-the-art, community libraries have been opened in recent years in the London Boroughs of Lewisham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets incorporating a wide range of facilities, with the emphasis on the hub status of the facility within the community.

Members of the Committee will undoubtedly be able to provide other similar case studies within their constituencies which will be a reflection of the need for the library service to be more creative in its organisation by upgrading its information and IT provision/services as well as affording greater access to local archives. In the next paragraph we deal with a number of other options for the library service.

5. Other Options

5.1 One of the biggest threats to local authority library services arises from the current austerity programme. Thus all local authority services (including libraries) have to seek savings through efficiency savings, both by modernising services, rationalising the use of physical space, especially where library buildings are in need of extensive repair or refurbishment. This has forced local authorities to review their services in depth and, inevitably, this has given rise to the potential for closure as it is difficult to secure savings other than through outsourcing and accessing new revenue streams, which are difficult in view of the current legislation.

Consequently, a number of local authorities have transferred their library services to non-profit distributing organisations (“NPDO”) or charitable trusts generally as part of an overall outsourcing of an entire leisure, heritage and culture portfolio. The essence of an NPDO is the fact that all surplus income is reinvested in the NPDO’s business to improve the facilities and services.

I have worked with a team of consultants involved in this area and have handled more such transfers to successful NPDOs. This work has been written up in our two publications which outline some of the individual case studies and the issues involved.8 These transfers have been very much along Big Society lines which will be enhanced by new rights in the Localism Act 2011. The advantages of such an approach are:

5.1.1Generally the NPDOs are charitable entities and consequently there are savings on National Non-Domestic Rates although non-discretionary NNDR relief will be adversely affected under the Government’s proposals so far as the relevant local authority is concerned.

5.1.2Increasingly, National Lottery and similar charitable funding is being directed towards third sector organisations and thus a charitable NPDO will be able to access such funds with greater ease than its host local authority.

5.1.3NPDOs are created with significant local authority input but also involving the community, both at board level and through volunteers assisting with the management of the library service. This latter approach is being adopted by some local authorities entering into management arrangements with community groups for local libraries.

5.1.4The NPDO is able to incorporate a great degree of accountability both to its users and the general public and the host local authority will be able to influence the strategic development of the NPDO as it develops the service.

5.1.5General fiscal advantages afforded by charitable status through gift aid and sponsorship potential.

5.1.6Improved and more direct management and employment security, together with freedom and flexibility in the decision-making process.

5.1.7Opportunities for community volunteering through serving on the NPDO board or providing services in the library.

6. Case Studies

6.1 The best current example of public libraries being delivered within an NPDO incorporating a range of other services is at Wigan.

6.2 A Museum, Libraries and Archive Council case study9 indicates that the approach has been a positive one: “Thanks for the foresight of the local authority, Wigan’s charitable trust has been able to spend an extra £1.5 million over the last five years on providing residents with a more efficient and effective library service, including extended opening hours, new stock provision and increased partnership projects with schools, health and children’s centres”. The experience at Wigan has encouraged joint working with other services within the Trust itself and in all cases has ensured better use of a range of public buildings within the NPDO’s portfolio. It has also encouraged the management team to adopt a more innovative managerial style with quicker decision-making.

6.3 There have been a similar transfer of library services at Peterborough City Council and a range of other authorities are contemplating a similar approach. To date there has not been any single library service transfer, principally due to the need to ensure both economies of scale and significant opportunities for income generation between the library service and other leisure sites.

6.4 The other significant outsourcing took place at London Borough of Hounslow where its library service is currently managed by a private sector operator who, it is understood, was anticipating a series of land transactions on the various library sites to access their hidden value.

7. Legislative Changes

7.1 The Committee are, in particular, reviewing the terms of the 1964 Act and the reserved powers of the Secretary of State. It seems to us that the Localism agenda and the judicial comments in the Gloucestershire and Somerset County Council cases stress the importance of local authorities (rather than central government) making decisions as to the provision of library (and, indeed, other) services to reflect community needs. Consequently, the provision of such services should be entirely a matter for each local authority which should not be bound by any guidance set down by the Arts Council England or its predecessor (the MLA) as to their views in respect of any definition of “comprehensive” under the 1964 Act. Furthermore, there should be some easing of the statutory duty upon local authorities as to the provision of library services, stressing the need for both creating a community-based operation adopting, wherever possible, the Big Society principles as reflected in the Localism Act 2011.

January 2012

1 R v Gloucester County Council and R v Somerset County Council [2011] EWHC 2687 (Admin).

2 R v London Borough of Brent Council and others [2011] EWCA Civ 1586.

3 See paragraphs 104 to 117 of R v Gloucester County Council.

4 ibid Paragraphs 18 to 26 and Wirral Globe of 11 March 2010.

5 Local Government Group and Museum, Libraries and Archives Council: Future libraries: change, options and how to get there. August 2011.

6 Arts Council: Libraries Development Initiative 2012.

7 www.theebbishamcentre.org.uk

8 Trusts for Big Society and the Trust Option for Heritage Services—Simon Randall and Joanna Bussell 2011.

9 www.mla.gov.uk/what/raising_standards/best_practice

Prepared 5th November 2012