Saturday, 16 April 2016

Difficult, like asking which lunatic should run the asylum.

I emailed Oxfordshire county council how they believe they can still be providing a service that meets the requirements of the act by having no mobile libraries and also asked if they're investigating joint working with other authorities to try and save money on the huge back office costs. The portfolio holder Cllr Lorraine Lindsay-Gale responded: 
The decision to cease the Mobile Library Service whilst it is something the Council regrets does not impact upon our responsibilities under the 1964 Act.  Comprehensive has been taken to mean delivering a service accessible to all residents using reasonable means and an efficient service must make the best use of the assets available in order to meet core objectives whilst recognising that there are constraints on council resources.  Whilst regretting the closure of the service,  the council feels that it can offer those service users affected by the withdrawal of the service alternative library provision using other reasonable means.  This includes access to a Home Library Service, our branch network of 43 libraries and digital technology. 
Any further  proposals that might emerge in the future would of course be consulted upon and we will ensure that we continue to meet our statutory duty. Clearly the future structure of Local Government and opportunities for partnership are very much part of current thinking and planning.

They've clearly taken the guidance published by the DCMS here  The phrase highlighted is almost word for word taken from the government guidance. There is nothing in the original act that defines what is "reasonable" or that talks about constraints on funding being as a factor on what is comprehensive and efficient for all. The rural city divide on service provision is only going to increase further with the end to mobile libraries, compounded by the cuts to bus subsidies.  Since the county council is run by the tory group with a handful of complicit independents, you would have thought the tories would be doing more to shore up support in their rural divisions.

Slightly off topic, with the tories nationally forcing all schools to become academies, abolishing local authority control and David Cameron wanting to see Oxfordshire County Council abolished and replaced with smaller unitary authorities, then perhaps time is up for OCC and slashing libraries doesn't matter as most of the councillors will be losing their "allowances" soon. Certainly Dave has no qualms in wading in to decide policy on local matters where he has no electoral business doing so, and I suspect when the local government minister Greg Clark makes his decision on Oxfordshire, it won't be contradicting what Dave has already stated as his preferred option.

Despite hating all the political parties equally, its hard to ignore what a massive mess the tories are intent on making of things in local government, schools and the NHS. They are mostly a continuation of failed policies from Labours last stint in government, but with added ideological zeal. I'm sure there'll be plenty work for the consultants and blue sky bullshitters while the services are slashed.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

A cynic is what an idealist calls a realist.

Now that Oxfordshire County Council has passed its latest budget cuts, they're going to completely abolish the mobile library service. This is completely at odds with their responsibility under library act. But we've known beyond doubt for a long time now that Lazy Vaizey won't lift a finger. I suspect even if the councils decided to set fire to all our libraries, he'd not be "minded" to do anything. I've asked the councillor responsible how they still think this is a statutory service, I await the answer with interest.  There has been lots of handbags over the cuts between the tory councillors and Call Me Dave. And now the latest twist in the saga is the PM and other local MP's have said they back the idea to abolish the county council and have the district councils become unitary authorities, its in the local paper here. Whether this is really revenge by Cameron or not I've no idea, the districts who have very little to do would love the chance at more money and power. Oxford City Council are so bored that they even tried to bring in a bylaw saying buskers have to smile when performing last year. (ffs!)

Councils procure most of their services these days in supposedly competitive tendering. Having the roads, schools, libraries and fire service etc, all split out into more bodies to have to procure these services is completely stupid. Anybody not motivated by getting more power for their own little empire or having half a brain would realise that its a stupid way to proceed. Sadly there seems to be little political appetite to have one unitary Oxfordshire authority. The political vested interests are against it. But if people was put before party, the clear way is on unitary with a elected mayor and a pr voting system to give proper representation to voters and have one body for the area delivering all the services and sweeping away the bored and restless tier of local government.

In Swindon down the road, a FOI was put in to see how Walcot library was doing on book issues and you can read stuff I wrote here detailing how the book issues fell off a cliff when the library was handed over to volunteers. The latest data is here and it short here is the trend:

From 16,269 in 07/08 and 14/15 figure is 1650. So if you spread this level of "success" across the library service in Swindon, I cannot see it being anything other than a huge disaster. The other libraries between 07/08 didn't have this catastrophic drop, only Walcot. Again where's the DCMS and the minister riding in to the rescue? Its clearly a hugely diminished service for very little saving. They're not going to solve the inter generational illiteracy in Wiltshire by less people reading books.

The final thing I wanted to briefly talk about, now the taskforce has been given more money and time to deliver whatever it is they're supposed to be doing. Its a scandal there's still no user representation on the taskforce. Same old faces from the same old bodies kicking the can down the road, purely with the purpose of giving Vaizey a defense when he's accused of doing nothing for the library service. I've suggested they ask the TLC to suggest someone to go on there. The comments on the taskforce blog are better and more insightful than the jargon filled content they're currently producing. These are particularly good

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

This is a British democracy, Bernard!

Lot of stuff flying round about the SCL and its decision to not support the CILIP My Library My Right campaign and Halifax teaching people computer skills. The things CILIP are campaigning for:

  • The public’s rights to libraries to be recognised and respected
  • Public libraries to be treated as the statutory services they are
  • The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to carry out their legal duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act
  • Statutory guidance for local authorities on their duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act from DCMS, with support from CILIP and the library and information profession

Which seems pretty straight forward, it seems to just be that libraries are recognised as the statutory service they are. So many times the LGA, councils and others have keep pushing the line that libraries aren't really statutory and they can be cut. I find it very peculiar that the SCL don't support this rather basic recognition of libraries. The president of the SCL has came out and defended the line yesterday in PLN. And I don't think anyone doubts the hard work the SCL and the task force are putting in, but whose agenda are they following? I keep coming back to the line on the SCL website: 

"advocates for continuous improvement of the public library service on behalf of local people."

How can they not support My Library My Right but supposedly advocate for improvement of the library service on our behalf? They are in the odd position of having the Universal Offers (not a campaign) that says what your library service should provide, in great detail. But won’t support the user’s right to an actual library. To me they are both campaigns.

Is it because the offers were cleared by Vaizey and the DCMS so that campaign is ok? But because CILIP and library users have a low opinion of the superintendence of the library service by Vaizey and the DCMS, then SCL if it wants to remain in the tent can’t support it? Perhaps it’s not what you campaign on, it’s who you campaign with is the issue. Obviously I have nothing factual to base this on as we only see what’s minuted between the SCL/Taskfoce/DCMS etc and I suspect like what happens in government now to prevent FOI later on, any really meaty discussions never get written down. 

When I think of the LGA, SCL & the taskforce I’m reminded of the great Tony Benn quote:
“one can ask five questions:
  • what power do you have;
  • where did you get it;
  • in whose interests do you exercise it;
  • to whom are you accountable;
  • and, how can we get rid of you?
Anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system."

Again, just to stress, no one can doubt the hard work and hours put in by the SCL and Taskforce. But in whose interests are they really exercising the power they have? 

On the Halifax thing, no private company does anything unless there’s something in it for them. Subtle marketing, good PR. The private sector doesn’t do things for free. I think David McMenemy nailed it with this tweet:

How utterly, utterly awful it must be to lose your job, or have your job under constant threat because of “austerity” then have the banking sector leveraging ailing libraries for a bit of good PR.  Vaizey popped up to say when launching the digital champions "we couldn't do that job without companies like Halifax".

So they you go, Ed either doesn't think library staff know how to show people how to use computers or its a back handed recognition that libraries are losing staff fast and only the good will of the banking sector can save them. 

Monday, 14 September 2015

Government figures are a nonsense, anyway.

A copy of the cipfa dataset that shows all the library authorities visits and issues paints a really grim picture for the library sector. Even during the good times of New Labour when the public sector was awash with money the service was declining alarmingly. It doesn't matter which of the trends you look at, for most of the library services it has been all downhill:

Wales and Northern Ireland are doing significantly better on issues than England and Scotland. I don't think our friends in those countries have different reading levels and habits than us in England and Scotland. There really is a lot of fail to go round. I can't blame it all on Vaizey this time.

Even more interestingly some of the library authorities have completely bucked the trend on the issues/loans. Below are the ten worst and ten best on percentage change on loans from 03/04 to 13/14:

The Southwark figure looks iffy, but I'm not sure why. I know there are potential disparities in how visits data could be collected but the numbers for issues/loans should be consistently collected and we're looking at like for like.

What I don't understand is, councils up and down the land have gone to great trouble to submit this data and what have the DCMS being doing with it? Nothing it looks like. I presume they know how to used spreadsheets in that department. I know the department of transport has trouble making calculations for rail franchises, perhaps the DCMS are scared in case they get a formula wrong or something?

There is clearly lessons to be learned and bollockings to be given based on this data but because there's zero leadership in the sector as Vaizey is always non-minded, I suspect nothing will be done by the DCMS. Perhaps the Libraries taskforce can look into what the formula for success is and try and spread this best practice around publically so we all know what works and what doesn't.

The full data is here, if you have any idea why some authorites are doing well and some seem to be completely useless please let someone know.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

He can talk in clich├ęs till the cows come home

I haven't written anything on libraries for a while. But today a couple of things got me riled up enough to commit finger to key. The first is the super amazing Birmingham library service have stopped purchasing books, presumably to service their grotesque PFI monstrosity of a central library. Their website alone cost over a million! The second is Alan Gibbons has reissued his debate challenge to the libraries minister Ed Vaizey.

On the first point, on the library service not buying books. To me, this seems on the surface of it a clear breach of the act. It makes specific reference to "of securing, by the keeping of adequate stocks" and if a library authority isn't buying books, then to me it seems a breach of the act. Of course we know already that anything that isn't adhered to in the act isn't going to cause Lazy Vaizey or his minions at the DCMS to batter a eyelid. And my big concern is like we've seen with volunteer libraries, once one starts getting away with it, the others will and not buying books will start to spread across the 151 library authorities. This horrible race to the bottom will end up meaning library services do become nothing more than volunteer run book exchanges, with one central library building sucking up the library budget to service the PFI. Its actually a step worse than the hospital without patients episode of yes minister. This is a hospital without patients or beds.

On the second point, from what I've seen. Vaizey is a blustering coward. He's like Boris Johnson without the Latin or charisma. The DCMS has clearly tried to dodge on his behalf by suggesting a panel debate or having the debate when nobody could turn up. The man's record is awful and I'm not surprised if he's scared to defend it. A kitten with a hernia would wipe the floor with him based on his record. Alan would make mincemeat of him. If Vaizey isn't going to enforce any part of the act or hold library authorities to account for their incompetence and mismanagement and he himself refuses to submit to any form of scrutiny then what's the point of him?

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Everything is at risk

Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) is preparing for another round of cuts and seems to have forgotten that libraries are a statutory service. At a meeting yesterday Cllr Lawrie Stratford painted a bleak picture for services, using the phrase "Some services may have to be removed and we have to be upfront about that"

OCC designated 21 libraries non-statutory in the last round of cuts and supposedly saved 313k by cutting the staffing in these libraries. The decision was taken most undemocratically by David Camoron and the then leader of the council. Even the deputy leader of the council admitted the consultation was a sham. See here for the sorry history.

But despite the dodgy decision making and the fact it doesn't really save any money (they continue to ignore the costs) the direction of travel seems to be more volunteers in libraries, presumably making more or all libraries non-statutory or cutting the funding and staffing to the non-statutory libraries altogether.

The current leader of OCC was at No 10 today:

I've blogged before about the ever increasing service support costs and yet again they've increased:

This time by £575,306, in one year far exceeding the supposed 313k savings. The council have said this is because the library service is taking a increased share of the fixed costs as other services have shrunk. I've no idea if this is true or not but you can throw as many volunteers at you want at services and sack the low paid library managers, it isn't going to solve the problem of increasing property costs every year. I've also blogged before about how OCC should be looking at shared services with BucksCC to pool this back office costs to save the front office. You'd expect the Tories as the party of supposed small government would have went here first but it seems clear the tail is still wagging the dog and the front line is yet again going to take the brunt of the cuts in the library service. It all looks very bleak and I feel sorry for the staff in the library service having to face this uncertainty yet again. Despite "everything is at risk" and how bleak things are, in the height of hypocrisy, the council still managed to vote for a 19% increase in allowances a few months ago. If things are so bad, I think that should also be on the table and the average cuts to services should be applied to the councillor "allowances".

Thursday, 7 May 2015

If a library closes in the New Forest, does Vaizey make a sound?

Tomorrow or over the next few weeks we may have a new minister responsible for libraries. Considering the three main parties are uninterested and have no real policies for the library service, very little is likely to change. What is important, is if and when the current post holder Vaizey leaves office, we make sure his legacy for hypocrisy and inaction sticks with his name. Much in the same way Beeching is linked to the destruction of the branch lines, Vaizey's name must be linked to the destruction of the public library service.

We know how good he was in opposition, his now famous quote about the Wirral in 2009:

"Andy Burnham's refusal to take action in the Wirral effectively renders the 1964 Public Libraries Act meaningless. While it is local authorities' responsibility to provide libraries, the Act very clearly lays responsibility for ensuring a good service at the culture secretary's door. It Andy Burnham is not prepared to intervene when library provision is slashed in a local authority such as the Wirral, it is clear that he is ignoring his responsibilities as secretary of state, which in the process renders any sense of libraries being a statutory requirement for local authorities meaningless."

When compared with his inaction in office during the closure of hundreds of libraries, book stock cut and large numbers of libraries dumped on volunteers, the quote will go down as one of the biggest bits of hypocrisy we've ever seen from a politician.

This is also from the man who admitted that he was "completely useless" and got more exercised and angry by the fact he wasn't allowed a Xbox in his office than the destruction of the library service, which he is bound by law to superintend.

The fact that he has a very safe seat and is unlikely to ever be voted out is particularly annoying for those of us who have watched his mixture of inaction and incompetence and want to hold him to account. I do hope that he isn't in post after the dust settles from the election, I cannot imagine anyone else doing a worse job. We just have to make sure that his name is always linked to the destruction of large parts of the public library service.

Bye bye Ed, don't let the door hit you on your lazy arse on the way out.

Update 09/05/15

Despite the clear majority win by the Tories, hopefully we may still have a different libraries minister who can tell the difference between his arse and elbow and actually cares about his job: