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Agenda Item No.

 

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

CABINET: 11TH AUGUST, 2014

 

REFERENCE FROM SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (LIFELONG LEARNING): 19TH MAY, 2014

 

 

16      REVIEW OF LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SERVICES IN THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN (REF) –

 

Cabinet, having considered at its meeting on 28th April 2014 proposals that had been put forward by the Library Review Group following a fundamental review of the service, had subsequently referred the report to the Scrutiny Committee for its consideration.  Cabinet had also agreed in principle the proposed library strategy, set out as an appendix to the report, and had  resolved that final approval of the strategy be made by Cabinet at a future meeting after considering the comments and any recommendations from the Scrutiny Committee (Lifelong Learning).  Delegated powers had been given to the Chief Learning and Skills Officer in consultation with the Leader to implement individual proposals within the Library Development Plan after considering the results of further consultation and any specific equality impact assessments where relevant.

 

Prior to the consideration of the report by the Committee the Chairman advised how he intended to conduct the meeting.  He commenced by stating that as members of staff potentially affected by the proposals had a direct personal interest in the issues to be considered, following advice from the Monitoring Officer, it had been considered inappropriate for staff to speak at the meeting.  The Scrutiny Committee itself also had no role in considering staff related issues as these would be dealt with via the statutory process that was in place.  Staff had, however, been advised that they could attend the meeting to hear the debate and that if they wished to raise any service generic issues to do this through the Trade Union representatives.  The Chairman had requested that invitations be extended to the Trade Unions to attend the Committee meeting and to make representations on service generic issues if they so wished.  Copies of the representations from the Unison Trade Union that had been received and determined by the Monitoring Officer as falling within the Committee’s Term of Reference tabled at the meeting.

 

Prior to the meeting the Chairman had also requested that a statement be placed on the front of the agenda for the meeting that members of the public (not employed or related to an employee of the library service) who would like to address the Committee on the proposals be requested to contact the Democratic and Scrutiny Services Officer by Friday 16th May, 2014 to discuss arrangements.  To date the Chairman stated he had received requests to speak from the Unison Union, a member of the public (Mrs. G. Davies) and from Elected Members who were not members of the Committee.

 

In referring to Co-opted Members with voting rights who sat on the Committee, he stated that they had been advised that as the library service was not classified as an education matter under the relevant legislation, they would be able to speak on the matter only but not vote. However, if they had a personal interest in the matter they would also not be able to speak.  This was the same position for Observers on the Committee.

 

The Chairman apologised for his long statement prior to the debate but advised that he had considered it necessary in order to advise all present of the arrangements that had been made to date and how the meeting itself would be conducted.  He would allow sufficient time for representations to be made but requested that any speakers avoid duplication as the Committee was time limited and he wished to ensure that all voices were heard in order that Members of the Committee could hear all evidence prior to debate.

 

Finally, he advised that the order of proceedings would commence with the Leader of the Council in the first instance followed by the Chief Learning and Skills Officer, the Head of Service for Strategy, Community Learning and Resources, the Unison Union representative, the member of the public, Elected Members not on the Committee and then the Committee itself.

 

The Leader commenced by advising of the importance of the report for staff and the current and future users of the library service.  He stated that the report set out a number of important “proposals†to modernise services, to ensure that they remained a relevant and viable community resource whilst also recognising the reality of ongoing pressures on public finances.  He stated that the Cabinet was committed to the library service and the proposed strategy included investment in buildings and services.  The proposals within the report were a culmination of work by a Cabinet-led working group starting in September 2013 and ending in March 2014, the work of the group had been supported by a public consultation process in November and December 2013 and a number of staff focus groups.  The results of these processes were set out in appendices to the report.  The proposals sought to secure the future of all of the Vale’s libraries and broaden their appeal to a new generation of library users.  In some cases this would need to be through different and innovative models of service delivery.  The proposals had been approved in principle by Cabinet and further consultation would take place.  The report referred to 15 recommendations as set out between pages 6 to 9 of the document and that with regard to costings he had requested that further information be provided in due course. 

 

The Leader then made specific reference to recommendation 1 that “the Council develops a phased approach†to the proposals and with regard to recommendation 3 “charges for library services†the view was that these be  increased with immediate effect in line with the schedule set out at Appendix I. Cabinet had also agreed that  further work be undertaken on the development of other income generation and grant funding opportunities†and that in referring to recommendation 6  “Library opening hours across the Vale of Glamorgan†these be  adjusted to more closely track library user footfall thereby ensuring that the efficiency of the libraries is improved. He stated that the opening times referred to had been based on evidence which he had considered reasonable.   

 

The Chief Learning and Skills Officer took the opportunity to apologise to Committee and all present that the department had not been successful in all its attempts to communicate the proposals as it should have been.  It was evident that some staff had been given the impression that decisions had already been made when they had not and some would have been worried as a result.  The Chief Learning and Skills Officer then reiterated that she wished to take the opportunity to publicly apologise to those staff, stating that she was sorry the department had not got it right on this occasion but that she looked forward to further communication with staff in relation to the proposals in the future. 

 

The Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources advised that the focus of the review, which was set out in Appendix A to the report, had been to ensure that the Council was able to continue to deliver and improve a service that met the needs of current and future generations within reduced funding.

 

There were three main strands to the proposed Library Strategy :-

 

The first of these was the development of Community Libraries at Dinas Powys, Wenvoe, Sully and St. Athan.  The Review Group had looked into a number of different models which were currently in operation across the UK and concluded that the development of community libraries would help the Council sustain the library network in the Vale.  In many cases the move to community managed libraries had enabled libraries to remain open and had often resulted in increased opening hours together with innovative funding and development that might not otherwise be available or possible via local authority delivery.

 

The model of a community library that the Council would seek to develop in consultation with communities was one in which support would be provided by the local authority and the library would remain part of the statutory service.  Legal agreements would need to be established with the relevant community groups but the exact detail of the agreements could change from one community library to the next.

 

With regard to the use of volunteers in the Vale’s library services Members were reminded that this was already well established.  For example, there had been a successful home library service in the Vale run by volunteers for many years.  A more recent example was the recruitment of volunteers to help with digitising old photographs held by the library and brought in by residents.

 

The use of volunteers was more established in some other local authorities, particularly in England.  Warwickshire for instance had 13 libraries run by volunteers with as many as 50 volunteers available for each branch library.  Volunteers had different roles, some ran specific activities, others provided refreshments or got involved in fund raising activities.

 

Consultation with individual communities in areas where a community library was proposed would be critical to the success of the strategy and this had been included as an initial action in the Draft Library Development Delivery Plan.  It was important that there was a shared understanding of the benefits a community library could deliver and awareness of the successful community libraries already in operation in other areas.

 

The second main strand of the strategy related to maximising funding. The analysis shown on page 22 of the report showed the Council’s income generation levels to be comparatively low.  The strategy included proposals relating to increasing current charges and also introduced some new charges.

 

There were several other recommendations relating to the maximisation of funding, one of which was the introduction of Friends of Groups at each library which would have a focus on fund raising.  The Council was also proposing that it worked more closely with other Council services to ensure it made best use of library buildings and enhanced the services offered. Staff had also submitted suggestions for improvement and savings which were all considered by the Review Group.  Many of these related to income generation, some of which had been included in the Draft Library Development Delivery Plan although it had not been possible to include all of them in the report.

 

The third main strand of the Draft Library Strategy was a reduction in library opening hours.  Analysis of footfall showed that Council libraries were least busy at the start and end of the day.  Evening opening hours until 6, 7 and 8 p.m. were designed to give access to people who worked during the day and required access in the evenings but patterns of library use showed that comparatively few people made use of these periods and there had been occasions when no library customers had visited a library in the last hour of opening.  The first half hour suffered for the same effect.  The Review Group had sought to avoid closing libraries from whole days opting instead to reduce hours at either end of the day.  The proposed opening hours were shown in Appendix J to the report.

 

The current service was a successful and modern service but the Council needed to ensure that it was sustained and that it continued to adapt to meet needs in the future.  This would therefore require the Council to make changes to the way in which the service was delivered.  The Vale had seen a reduction in visitor figures over the last three years although this was not a factor that was peculiar to the Vale; it was a national trend which could indicate a change in the way people were accessing such services.  The Vale developed a 24 hour library ahead of many other local authority library services and it was proposed that the digital offering is extended in the future and widely marketed to widen access outside of library hours and to appeal also to non-library users.

 

The budget report for 2014/15 projected the Council would need to make a minimum of £20.909m savings over three years, of this sum £2.118m was the target for the Learning and Skills Directorate.  The saving figures quoted related to the total currently required for the three year period 2014/15 to 2016/17.  However, the level of savings required could change over the period depending on the Welsh Government revenue settlement, inflation and cost pressures; it was not considered likely to decrease. The estimated savings of £500,000 would contribute to achieving the Learning and Skills target.  Other services of the Council, excluding the Learning and Skills Directorate, had a total target of £18.791m over the same period.  This Committee was advised that this should also be considered in the context of the current budget for the Library Service.  Page 22 of the review report detailed the revenue expenditure on library services in the Vale which contrasted significantly with the overall funding the Council received to deliver its services.  Library expenditure was well above the Welsh and UK averages whereas the funding the Council received per capita to deliver services was well below average, with the Council ranking 20/22 in Wales in terms of external funding.  The draft strategy also proposed investment in the service of £250,000 for Llantwit Major Library, £88,000 for Penarth Library and expenditure on improving wi-fi in libraries.

 

Following the above the Chairman then referred to the guest speakers.

 

Mr. Jamie Davis, Unison Trade Union representative, commenced by stating that he had no personal interest to declare and that the union was disappointed that no staff or relatives would be able to speak at the meeting. The Chairman at this point reiterated his earlier statement advising that he had made it clear why staff were not able to speak on HR issues at the meeting as there was a separate statutory process in place to deal with such issues that should not be compromised.  Staff had, however, been informed that they could make  representations through the Trade Unions in relation to service generic issues and could also attend the meeting to hear the debate, this advice having been received from the Council’s Monitoring Officer.  Mr. Davis then continued by questioning whether the proposals that had been presented were necessary to provide a sustainable service and stated that the original questionnaire that had been circulated had been misleading.  He referred to the replacement of skilled librarians and questioned the proposals to replace them with volunteers.  He also stated that in his view there would be a two tier library service and that the proposals put forward were proposals for closure. He had also heard that the consultation process itself was under review by the Audit department. Mr. Davis in conclusion urged the Committee not to accept the proposals as he considered that they were the easier options to accept.

 

Tabled at the meeting was also a list of representations that had been received from the Unison Trade Union which covered a number of issues as outlined below:

 

·               The use of volunteers as opposed to paid staff

·               The opening and closing times proposed

·               What will happen to the children’s activities book clubs etc. Will these cease ?

·               The Books 4u reservation service volunteers are not allowed to access the service therefor there would be a reduced service that Members could access

·               What are the relocation costs for St. Athan?

·               What are other library services in the UK doing to generate income?

·               How much are other departments in the Vale of Glamorgan Council saving over the same period?

·               Who will manage “Friends Groups activitiesâ€

·               Staff suggestions for saving money being ignored 

·               The use of £28k from S106 monies for the Wenvoe library

·               What would happen to the community groups beyond support support finishing in March 2016?

·               There were a number of ways that the library service was currently modernising itself e.g. children’s activities, computer lessons, community group meetings, Welsh lessons etc.  What other ways of modernising the service could be done that wasn’t already being done?

·               The Council had to make £20,909.000 efficiency savings with Libraries having to find £500,000.  What are the exact figures to show how efficiencies are to be achieved?

·               What are examples of community engagement?

·               What are the costings for each model community supported library / community managed library?

·               How much would it cost for training and support and would frontline staff be expected to assist?

·               Would volunteers be able to use the programmes that already existed and assist with access to life critical skills and Council services etc.?

·               Whether the Council would continue to provide IT support and equipment

·               The significant number of volunteers that would be required to provide a service, if this materialised, would the libraries earmarked for a change to a community led model cease to exist? 

 

Representations that had also been received from Councillor R.J. Bertin who was unable to attend the meeting were tabled for information.  Councillor Bertin’s e-mail stated that he agreed with recommendations 2, 4, 8, 9, 10 and 12 of the review report and that he strongly supported recommendation 13.  With regard to recommendation 3 he was in support of opening a coffee shop and a better stocked shop.  For recommendation 6 additional admin in his view was required and he suggested that the Llantwit Major revamp be put on hold.  He suggested the closure of the St. Athan Library to save money and that with regard to recommendation 15 to introduce a pop up library service a better option would be to allow existing staff to visit care homes instead.

 

Ms. Gill Davies, a member of the public with permission to speak, advised that she was not employed or related to an employee of the library service.  She was a retired teacher and a local resident of the Vale of Glamorgan.  In her view libraries were an important facility, particularly the library in Barry.  They were primarily used by people who lived within the Vale of Glamorgan including young people and the unemployed.  She hoped that the Council would maintain and develop library services for the future and that they did not make any unnecessary cuts.

 

Councillor C.P. Franks, not a member of the Committee, with permission to speak, stated that there was profound concern in the community regarding the proposal in relation to Dinas Powys in that the library would be downgraded.  He respected the fact that the recommendations were just proposals and noted that the Cabinet had already pledged that no library would close.  He had himself undertaken some research regarding the number of volunteers that would be required to provide such a service and referred to the Oxfam organisation that required 40 volunteers per shop plus the service of a full time paid officer.  He also queried the reason why some of the income generation that had been suggested by staff had not been developed.  He was concerned about DBS checks for volunteers and the possibility of volunteers being in the situation of handling cash.  In his view the fact that the use of volunteers would directly affect the staff that were in the service and the way in which the consultation had been handled had seriously undermined any public support for the proposals. In referring to the Medium Term Financial Plan of the Council as a key core document, the figure of £500,000 that was required to be saved had tripled since information provided in October 2013.  He requested that Cabinet consider undertaking a second public opinion survey and urged the Committee to ensure that Cabinet came back to the Scrutiny Committee before they made their final decisions. 

 

Councillor Dr. I.J. Johnson, with permission to speak, and having no declaration to make in relation to personal or prejudicial interests referred in the first instance to page 21 of the report which stated that 96% of customers judged it to be a good service with visits listed as being in excess of 5,825 being more than the Wales and UK average.  In his view it was clear that people were currently impressed with the service.  He also referred to the issue of volunteers and that as a member of the Voluntary Sector Liaison Committee, he was very well aware of the number of volunteers currently within the Vale assisting various service areas.  In his view the opening time proposal for the Barry Library would have a serious impact in the Barry area.  The opening times would not suit a number of people, particularly those that were working outside of the area.  Income maximisation was also essential and that further work should be undertaken with regard to this aspect.  The question of long term sustainability was at the centre of the debate and with the additional pressure of trying to ensure that 50 volunteers were available in a pool for each library, there would in his view need to be a question raised regarding at what point would the Council itself step in to assist with the service.

 

Councillor L. Burnett, speaking with the Committee’s permission, advised that the level of cuts for the Council were unprecedented and unlike other Authorities that had already set out their proposals to close some libraries, the Vale Council had sought to try and protect the services now and for the future.  It was recognised that people also use audio and e-books and if the Council wanted to engage and remain current it had to consider suggestions for improvement in the current climate.  Councillor Burnett referred to the many efficiency savings that had to be made throughout the Council in various departments and to the good work that was currently being undertaken at the Pier Pavilion in Penarth which was in partnership with the Council.  The Council needed to look at things in a different way, and to consider different models of providing services, to consider the use of grant funding and supporting volunteers with the aim of all working together and engaging with communities.

 

Following the representations Members of the Committee then considered the evidence that had been presented.  The Chairman noted that the Committee had itself previously requested that an analysis survey be carried out and recognised that to some extent the report before Committee had provided some of this information.  The report, however, did not address certain aspects for example how to improve the performance of footfall or the ability to work closely with schools.  In his view there was too much emphasis on staff costs, not on what could actually be done, and some Members considered that one of the reasons why the library service was facing a £500,000 cut was that the Welsh Assembly Government RSG had not provided the Council with significant monies to provide such services and as a result the Council itself had an £8m shortfall. 

 

Members reiterated the fact that no one wanted to see staff members made redundant and some of the proposals that had been identified in the report were to ensure that a sustainable service for the future could be provided.  A Member referred to her support for the library service, it being noted that in the previous report that had been considered by the Committee (the Eagleswell Primary School Inspection Report) reference had been made to poor literacy and as such, it was essential to keep professional library staff to support schools.  In referring to DBS checks and the safeguarding issue in relation to volunteers it was accepted that these would have to be carried out.  The Chairman also referred to the donations from Barry Town Council to schools within the Barry area in the sum of £10,000 to provide fictional books within schools to encourage reading, and he too raised the importance for literacy within schools. 

 

Councillor C.P.J. Elmore, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, referred to a good example of collaboration within the library service at Y Bont Faen in Cowbridge and referred to a number of community initiatives that were ongoing that he hoped would continue.

 

The Leader reiterated the issue that schools should be working with libraries to support children in school.  In his view it would not be a two tiered service and that the service would still be Council led.  In response to the concerns that Audit had undertaken a review, he advised that he had asked a member of staff in the Audit Department to carry out a review of how some of the information was released before it was submitted to Cabinet.  This was important as not everyone had had the privilege of seeing some aspects of the report at the same time. 

 

He concluded by advising that it was not the intention of the Cabinet to close libraries but to consider best usage and proposals that would be sustainable for the future.  Any decisions made by Cabinet would also be referred to the Scrutiny Committee for consideration

 

The Chief Learning and Skills Officer advised that there were operational developments that would be needed in introducing a community library and that a considerable amount of work was still required to be undertaken.  The Lead Officer for the service, Mr. A. Borsden, advised that he had visited Warwickshire Council which had 13 community libraries and they had conducted an extensive piece of consultation that officers of this Council would like to mirror.  This had been based on each community’s need and had dictated what services would be put in place.  With regard to child protection issues, these would be addressed in the same way the Council currently dealt with its recruitment process and background checks would be undertaken as appropriate.  In referring to the Library management system he advised that this would be limited in use but the Council would assist with stock rotation, in providing a helpline with access to professional librarians.  He concluded by stating that the lessons learned from Warwickshire’s experience would be invaluable to the Council and pointed out that their new service was successful and had been in operation for over three years.

 

The Chairman was keen to learn the number of volunteers that would be required with regard to the proposals and whether there would be any drop off of volunteers.  In response the Lead Officer stated that a pool of 50 would be required per library, and the process would take six to nine months to recruit and train the new volunteers. 

 

In response to a query from the Chairman as to what timescale the Cabinet were working towards, the Leader advised that all options had to be considered.  The current process was just the starting point, and any future service needed to be sustainable.  The Cabinet had also promised that it would consult with staff, Trade Unions and the community as well as the Scrutiny Committee.

 

The Chairman and Members of the Scrutiny Committee thanked the officers and the Cabinet Members for their representations for putting the review into context and thanked the guest speakers for their representations.  In recognising it was a complex issue they also thanked the officer for the apology in relation to the consultation that had taken place to date and noted that further consultation would also take place.  However, the Committee recognised and expressed concern that the public consultation exercise had not fully explained the use of volunteers in the detail that it should have. 

 

The Chairman requested that any future information be presented to the Scrutiny Committee first prior to the Cabinet, however, the Leader advised that as the report was a policy decision, Cabinet would refer its decisions to the Scrutiny Committee for consideration.  The Chairman also requested that a second public opinion survey be undertaken however, following considerable discussion in relation to the proposals, the Committee, aware that further consultation was to take place and having fully considered the report and the representations received subsequently

 

 

RECOMMENDED –

 

(1)       T H A T the resolutions of Cabinet be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the views of the Scrutiny Committee be forwarded to Cabinet for consideration, with Cabinet being recommended to progress recommendation (3) as detailed below, as soon as possible:

 

          'That charges for library services are increased with immediate effect in line with the schedule set out in Appendix A  of the report and that further work is undertaken on the development of other income generation and grant funding opportunities.'

 

Reasons for recommendations

 

(1)       Having considered the representations at the Scrutiny Committee.

 

(2)       To encourage greater income generation for the service.

 

 

 

N.B. At its meeting on 23rd June, 2014 the Committee agreed that Recommendation (2) above should read as set out in Appendix I not Appendix A of the report.

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