Sunday, 11 September 2011

Where OxfordshireCC should be looking to save back office costs

As part of the on-going campaign to save Wychwood library I put in a FOI to Oxfordshire County Council for their CIPFA Submissions. CIPFA (The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) gather data from various public bodies and collate it all together so councils can see how they are doing compared to others. It’s a good idea, the only downside is CIPFA charge for the data if you’re not a public body. Thankfully FOI allows us to see the CIPFA questionnaire that the bodies submit if not the collated data.
I wanted the data for two reasons, to see how the data changes over time for OCC and to compare the OCC data with other authorities.  The data from other bodies I found by chance on a great FOI site called “What do they know”.  Here are my main findings.

Since 2004-2005 the staffing costs for the library service has gone up from 5,298,738 to 5,917,059. During the same period the “professional staff” has gone down from 40.2 to 37.6 and the “all other staff” has gone down from 188.9 to 160.5. The headings are vague but looking at other sources of data from OCC “professional staff” is the management part of the library service and the “all other staff” is the librarians, staff who work in service support and customer service. Obviously numbers have gone down and salaries have gone up. I currently cannot prove the majority of extra salaries have gone on the management. Anecdotally I know the front line librarians haven’t had pay rises enough to account for all the extra salary that has been made available. Both from the increased pot and the extra cash from those that have left in the period. I will be able to prove this soon though. Below is the data that shows this:

 (N.B OCC didn’t fill in the 09/10 cipfa financial bit)

The second part of the CIPFA that I wanted to look at was how OCC compared with other authorities. There is a lot of data to churn through but on issues and income our library service in Oxfordshire actually does quite well compared to others.
Where they do badly though is on other costs. They are completely inefficient compared to others in the CIPFA submissions on capital charges, service support and other expenditure. I had to exclude Worstershire from this one because they haven’t filled out their service support costs. Below is the comparison:

It looks worse when you look at it as a graph:

OCC have a much smaller population to provide libraries for, yet compared to Staffordshire and Notts their service support, capital charges and other expenditure are massive. I’m sure OCC will have plenty of excuses as to why their overheads are so high but if other shire counties with higher populations can do it cheaper then they need to be getting on the phone to them rather than cutting librarians. It shows how inefficient the back office is at OCC.
My initial conclusions on this again reinforce the points I made in my first blog. There is no need to cut the front-line, there are so many potential efficiencies that can be made that would save the more that the 336k their volunteer approach is supposedly going to save. To save you reading the last blog that has all of this here is a brief summary.

For their quantitative analysis they misquote a MLA study to give them five measures to prove what would constitute a core library service that they think would meet the statutory requirements. The factually incorrect sentence is:
This survey emphasises the importance of where people live and work as to whether or not they use a library service.
The MLA reports don’t support this sentence and they did at one point say it was incorrect and pointed me to the save Doncaster libraries blog. This had the MLA checklist which also doesn’t support the five measures. In a later meeting one of the people who did the QA actually claimed the report did support the measures. Out of the 198 page document they managed to get one page of quotes, mostly from the focus groups. The five measures are not in the conclusions of the MLA report, the MLA checklist, the Wirral report or the public libraries act. They have got it completely wrong on and will be in breach of the public libraries act:
 "It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for allpersons desiring to make use thereof,"
Because when the libraries close (and they will under this proposal) there will be people too old to travel the 9 miles to Chipping Norton to use the library and OCC will be breaking the law.

There are many other areas they could look to save within the library service itself:

We know they are installing self-service machines across the service at great expense (994,553!) but I don’t think they have looked at the bottom three enough.

They have also said our volunteer costs that show it won’t actually save money may be too high because they can do some of them in-house:

Now I’m sorry but looking at how inefficient they are in service support, capital charges and other costs above if OCC do anything in house it is going to be more expensive rather than cheaper. And if it is cheaper how come they don’t do this anyway for their own staff? On top of the above they are also hiring a 60k a year volunteer co-ordinator, this will cancel out their tiny gains once they have paid off  the costs of training and the 1 million for self service in the first year.

Finally there is the issue of the fact that though out all this OCC haven’t looked at any of the data in their own systems when they made their proposal, the below is the libraries ranked on salary spend and issues with the best performing at the top ranked on the two measures:

The top eleven on this measure of their own data fall into the group having the most funding cut, clearly they haven’t looked at this properly.

The other thing they haven’t looked at is if the existing data supports the whole point of their QA:
 Do people use libraries that are not near where they live? Their whole analysis is working on the assumption that because we have libraries near to where we work and visit and that have good transport links then it doesn’t matter about the local library because we can all use the ones near where we work and study etc.

They can prove or disprove this by looking at the data in their galaxy system but when I put the idea to them it hadn’t even occurred to them. In fact the one of the main guys on the analysis is a sociology student doing two days a week at OCC. What qualifications he has in data analysis or libraries I don’t know. I suspect they were told from above what was required and they delivered it.  Either way they have been negligent in my opinion by not studying the data they have. If a private company was trying to save costs,  would it ignore its own sales and salary data  across its stores when reconfiguring its business. This is what OCC have done.

Councils have a statutory responsibility to be open and transparent when consulting and making decisions, this also includes documenting why other possible courses of action were not proposed instead. Nearly all of the above has come from FOI, they haven’t told us why they haven’t looked into the back office sharing, what they got from the Hillingdon visit nor have they been open with any of the data.  They haven’t even looked at their own data when drawing up their proposals. Clearly the whole thing is a political big society initiative that has no evidence to back it up. The guy who came up with the big society is the same guy who floated the idea of women not having maternity leave to boost the economy.
 It isn’t going to work, they aren’t going to save money and they will be breaking their statutory duties as a council.

p.s I didn't know about when I was doing my FOI requests, I will be doing them through that site in future. I will find a decent method to share all the data online this week. If anyone needs it before then let me know.

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