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Matter which the Chairman has decided by virtue of the need to implement the proposals as contained within the report

 

Agenda Item No.

 

THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN COUNCIL

 

 

CABINET: 23RD MARCH, 2015

 

REFERENCE FROM SCRUTINY COMMITTEE (LIFELONG LEARNING): 16TH MARCH, 2015

 

 

“REVIEW OF LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SERVICES IN THE VALE OF GLAMORGAN (AS) –

 

 

Prior to the presentation of the report by the Head of Service the Chairman advised that supplementary information which had been emailed to Members of the Committee and that was tabled at the meeting consisted of a reference from the Cabinet meeting on 9th March 2015 and included copies of an amended Appendix D to the report together with a copy of a letter from Councillor H.J.W. James relating to Rhoose Library.

 

In presenting the report the Head of Strategy, Community Learning and Resources informed Members that at its meeting on 9th March Cabinet had considered the outcome of consultation on proposals arising from the Library Strategy and had referred the report to the Scrutiny Committee for its consideration. In referring to the background, the Head of Service stated that on 11th August 2014 Cabinet had at that time considered a number of recommendations, eleven of which had been approved with subsequent approval to consult being agreed on a further three, more significant proposed changes to library services:

 

  • The development of community led libraries in St. Athan, Dinas Powys, Sully, Wenvoe and Rhoose.
  • Reduced library opening hours in Barry, Penarth, Cowbridge and Llantwit Major
  • Relocating library services in St. Athan.

 

The consultation which had focused on these three proposed changes had begun on 13th October 2014 and had closed on 31st December 2014.  To ensure that stakeholders had had access to all of the information required to make informed comments on the strategy a comprehensive consultation document had been produced which was attached at Appendix A to the report.  That document set out the findings of the Library Review, the rationale for the proposed changes and also offered information on how the Council believed these could be implemented.  To further support the consultation a series of drop in sessions had been hosted at each of the Vale’s libraries, which had been designed to help promote the consultation and offer residents the opportunity to discuss the strategy and consultation process with senior officers from the Learning and Skills Directorate.  The full analysis of the consultation results was included at Appendix B to the report. 

 

Responses to Part 1 of the consultation, the introduction of community led libraries, had demonstrated that the views of residents varied greatly across the Vale, which suggested that the viability of community libraries would also vary between communities.  The results had suggested that community led facilities would be viable in Dinas Powys, St. Athan and Wenvoe but such a facility would not receive significant support in Sully and would not be welcomed in Rhoose. 

 

Of the 26 survey respondents that regularly used Sully library, only 8 had answered that they would support the establishment of a community library in their area.  However, an encouraging degree of support had been shown from members of the Community Council and the Save Sully Campaign Group for the development of a community led library.  Senior officers from the Learning and Skills Directorate had been invited to attend meetings with representatives of both groups during the consultation period to discuss that proposal and to explore how it could be supported by the community.  Further contact had also been received indicating interest in progressing discussions and exploring opportunities for improving the use of the library through it becoming a community led facility.

 

There had been more responses from regular users of Rhoose than any other facility in the Vale and of the 164 survey respondents that regularly used Rhoose Library, 87% had answered that they would not support the establishment of a community led library in their area.  This had also been reinforced by the views shared by those that had attended the drop in session and the public meeting that had been held in Rhoose.  Although the consultation document had made it clear that the status quo was not an option, the users of Rhoose library were clear that the status quo should be maintained, particularly as Rhoose in their opinion received fewer Council services than other areas and in light of the growing population.

 

It was evident from the responses received that the residents of Rhoose had a great deal of passion for their local library which had been reinforced by the turn out and comments made at the drop in session and at a public meeting they had  organised and which Council officers had attended on 15th December 2014.  This passion suggested that there could be capacity to sustain the library as a community led facility with the support of the Council.  Given that the status quo was not an option and the alternative for the libraries at Dinas Powys, Rhoose, Wenvoe, St. Athan and Sully was closure, it was advised that all five communities be offered the opportunity to make a successful transition to a community led library. The Head of Service referred to a timetable to progress the implementation of such a proposal as contained within the report and that formal Expressions of Interest should be submitted by 18th May 2015.

 

The Head of Service commented that a range of support and advice may be required by community groups to enable them  to develop robust business cases and that this would be provided or commissioned by the Council for any community group requesting such support.

 

The second part of the consultation had proposed changes to library opening hours.  Respondents had been asked to select one of four options and were also offered the opportunity to suggest any other ways that they considered library opening hours could be reduced.  An analysis of the consultation responses had shown a clear preference for reduced opening hours that provided varied opening and closing times to allow for at least one late evening a week at all libraries.

 

The proposals showed an overall reduction of 41 hours achieved by adjusting the opening and closing times each day for each of the town libraries, whilst maintaining one late evening at each library.  In order to meet the savings target for 2015/16, the report had proposed that the revised opening hours be implemented from 1st June 2015. 

 

Responses to the third part of the consultation about the relocation of St. Athan Library had been inconclusive, 50% of respondents had stated that they supported relocation with a number of respondents making suggestions about alternative locations but there was no consensus of opinion about an alternative location.  It was proposed that future consideration of the location of the library in St. Athan be tied in with discussions with any groups expressing an interest in running a community led library in the area.

 

Following the presentation of the report, the Chairman advised that he had allowed between 3-5 minutes each for public speakers to make representations to the Committee and that he had invited Trade Union representatives to attend to speak on behalf of staff on service generic issues. Due to the fact that members of staff potentially affected by the proposals had a direct personal interest in the issues the Monitoring officer’s advice was that it would be inappropriate for staff to speak at the meeting, however, they could attend the meeting to hear the debate.  The Scrutiny Committee also had no role in considering staffing related issues as a separate process existed. 

 

The first speaker who had requested permission to speak was then invited to present to the Committee.

 

Mr. Riley from the Save Rhoose Library Campaign commenced by advising that in the Campaign’s view the Library Service Review that had been undertaken had been flawed and a biased survey had taken place.  He stated that some time ago following the earlier consultation process, views about the involvement of volunteers to enhance the library service had been sought and there had been no issues for staff at that time, but the current review now sought volunteers to undertake the library service with staff then being left unemployed.  In his view the strategy had not considered the users, the key question in the survey had been “would you be prepared to run a community library” and in his view, in asking this question, he suggested that it had been a “loaded” question.  He stated that it was apparent that town library constituents also had different views to community library residents and by publishing the list of affected libraries, it had predetermined the results of the survey and had therefore been a major flaw in the process.  In referring to proposals for community led libraries he advised that there was no evidence that they would be viable in the Vale.  The campaign’s view was that the options for Rhoose were either closure or community led, however, he stated that closing the Rhoose facility would mean that another facility was lost to the Rhoose population.  He referred to a recent Planning meeting, where a planning application for over 700 homes had been approved which he considered could result  in over 10,000 people being resident in the area and that it was more facilities that would be required for such a population not a   decrease.  Mr. Riley urged the Scrutiny Committee to reject the Strategy and request that a further review be undertaken with the suggestion that back office services be reviewed for efficiency savings as opposed to front line services.  In conclusion Mr. Riley thanked the Scrutiny Committee for the opportunity to speak at the meeting.

 

Mr. Rowan Hughes, representing the Unison Union, commenced by stating that he was speaking on behalf of Unison Union Library staff.  The proposals, he suggested, were the largest cuts to library services that had ever been seen within the Vale and that the staff had major concerns about the cuts in hours.  He stressed that the Union was not stating that there was no place for volunteers but that the Union’s view was that they should not replace staff.  The report acknowledged that the status quo was not an option and that viable alternatives should be considered.  Mr. Hughes questioned the research that had been undertaken and referred to a report that had been commissioned by the Welsh Government, namely Independent Trust and Community Libraries in Wales.  In referring to the executive summary for that document, he stated that the Welsh Government’s view was that there had been various models developed but the only model for sustainability and viability was the model which had a close working relationship with Local Authorities and was referred to as Model C, that model he stated had also incorporated 15 hours of paid staff time.  He urged the Committee to consider Model C but that if they did not accept the model, he suggested that they look at other models and referred to the example in Conwy where libraries had used existing staff from other branches.

 

The Chairman took the opportunity to thank the speakers for their attendance and asked Elected Members (not Members of the Committee) to come forward. Councillor P. Clarke, having been granted permission to speak, stated that he considered that it was grossly unfair that Rhoose had been categorised as a rural village library.  In his view there was currently a population of over 7,000 in the area and a further 800 homes or more had been approved at the recent Planning Committee which could equate to approximately 2,000 more residents.  To this end he stated that with this increase Rhoose should not have decreases in facilities but increases.  He stated that on the basis of logistics, Rhoose should be provided with more facilities and that it was the general feeling in the area that Rhoose had been short changed over the years.  He referred to the number of people who frequented the library, in particular those who needed to complete job applications in order to seek Job Seekers Allowance and the number of pupils who utilised the library.  In referring to the consultation process he advised that he had been informed by some members of the public that at the time when officers had interviewed members of the public, not many notes had been taken and the feeling had been given that the decision for closure had already been made.

 

Councillor Dr. I.J. Johnson, with permission to speak, advised that he was present to defend the library service as a whole, but that he wished to see the data in relation to the libraries, particularly in the context of evening opening hours.  In referring to community libraries he stated that the review had been poorly handled in this regard and that any decision needed to be based on where the service was now and not looking to the future.  In his view the Council did not know at this stage if the service would be viable or not.  He also stated that the Review of Libraries should have been part of the Reshaping Services Agenda and that it should not have been separate to it.  He raised a number of questions in relation to what would happen if there were not enough volunteers and he thought the Council was pitting communities against each other. He further queried the charges in libraries, whether the income had increased, how many “friends groups” had been set up and what the profile of the Review was. The report also suggested security cuts to the building and he queried how they would affect the safety of the staff and the building.  He further stated that pop up libraries had been considered in the previous review but that these had not now been considered in the current process.  He queried why and referred to a pop up library that had been established by Barry Town Council. 

 

Councillor H.J.W. James, with permission to speak, had also submitted representations to the Cabinet for its meeting on 9th March which had been tabled at the meeting.  Copies of the agenda and the tabled information had also been made available to guest speakers and for the public.  Councillor James, in his presentation, referred to the increasing population of Rhoose and that it had grown steadily over the past 30 years but that over that period the library had continued to be identified as a small rural library.  Since the installation of computers for the public, the use of the library by a number of older people and children had increased dramatically.  The Rhoose School also supported the library and pupils gained access to the school building without going outside on the road or the pavement via the library.  The Rhoose School had also objected to the proposed down grading of the library from professional staff to a volunteer run service.  In his view, Rhoose was large enough to be treated as a town and in his view Dinas Powys should be treated similarly.  He queried why the Rhoose Library had been deemed appropriate to be run by a community led group as in the first instance it did not have a Community Council.  He agreed that in other areas in the Vale some Community Councils may be able to develop such facilities but that it was not the case for Rhoose.  He referred to the limited facilities in Rhoose, i.e. the school, a youth club and the one extra football pitch that had been made available.  In his view Rhoose was growing fast but the services were being withdrawn.  The Council had a duty to consider the views of the population of the residents in the Vale rather than reducing all of the facilities and only keeping the three libraries in the three towns.  In his view Rhoose was different to any other community in the Vale that had been affected by the closures, he referred to a number of other organisations who were actually setting up services within the area, he referred to Tesco’s and the Post Office who had recently advised that they were going to make Rhoose a priority.  Rhoose was no longer small, it was being developed and the population was ever increasing.  It was his view that the Scrutiny Committee should ask the Cabinet to rethink the proposals in relation to Rhoose and Dinas Powys in view of the comments made at the meeting. 

 

Councillor C.P. Franks, with permission to speak, stated that he had received dispensation from the Standards Committee to speak and vote on issues in relation to the Reshaping Services Agenda, and advised that he had profound concerns with regard to the Library Review since the process had commenced.  He had not been convinced that the consultation had been robust and he questioned the use of volunteers and he asked the Committee to undertake a further review of the service as he was not convinced that 40 to 50 volunteers could be found.  He had also expected the Vale to provide information in relation to what financial contributions it would make to the process, but no information had been provided.  With regard to Dinas Powys, the library there had significant maintenance issues and in order to maintain the building there would have to be a significant increase in Council Tax and the local precept. 

 

In considering the report and the evidence that had been presented, the Member on the Committee for Sully advised that the Community Council for Sully and the Save Sully Campaign Group had undertaken further public consultation with residents. They had felt that the responses to the consultation that had been undertaken by the Council had not been representative of the population.  Their consultation had, however, shown through the statistics that there was a very low usage of the library in Sully, the footfall was low and it was situated in the wrong location.  Officers had been invited to a meeting to discuss their suggested proposals and to explore how Sully library could be supported by the community.  The Community Council had chosen to make an expression of interest in order to continue to provide a service through a community led facility rather than see the facility diminish completely.  The Member suggested that other Communities should consider undertaking a similar analysis and exercise in order to ascertain to the views of the locality in a similar way to the one that had been undertaken in Sully. 

 

A Member queried whether the Model C suggestion referred to in the Welsh Government documentation raised by the Unison representative had been considered in the process.  The Head of Service advised that the Welsh Government document had not been published until very recently.  However, since publication, she could advise that Model C appeared to be very similar to what the Vale Council had proposed in the report.  The major difference she stated was that Model C referred to 15 hours staffed time whilst the Vale’s model proposed a peripatetic librarian support.  If necessary support from a peripatetic community librarian could be considered to be increased.  The Department had also advised Welsh Government that the current staffed hours of some of its libraries were lower than those currently being considered by Welsh Government Representations had therefore been made to Welsh Government on this aspect and they had responded that they would take it into consideration.  In referring to the concept of community led libraries, the Head of Service advised that this was a new concept in Wales but it had been established in England for some time.  The Welsh Government research had only focused on Wales.

 

The Chairman, in referring to the statistics, stated that the footfall statistics were essential in the process with the Head of Service advising that all the data had been made available during the consultation period and had been part of the initial proposals.  In response to the query regarding comparisons with the communities of Rhoose and Cowbridge, the Head of Service stated that visitor numbers and issues for Cowbridge were far greater than those for Rhoose, in fact she referred to them being three to four times higher than those for Rhoose. 

 

Following a query from a Member in referring to one of the representations that the consultation process had been unfair and flawed, the Head of Service advised that advice had been sought from professionals within the Council including the Council’s’ Communication and Consultation Officer and the Head of Legal Services.  It was important that the consultation document was clear with regard to the exact proposal and that there was case law which supported this approach.  The principles of good consultation and engagement had been taken into account.   

 

A Member, in response to the issue of a lack of facilities in Rhoose, referred to the recent approval of a planning application in the Rhoose area, and the impact of a S106 agreement which is made with the developer.  The funds received would be utilised for the community to support a number of facilities and advised that Local Members would be consulted on where that money should be spent and allocated.  He also stated that this route would also be available for applications / developments in Dinas Powys and was an opportunity for Elected Members to put forward suggestions at the time to detail what facilities they would be looking for in those areas.

 

Prior to a vote being taken, the Chairman advised all present that only Members of the Committee, could vote on the issue as although there were co-opted Members on the Committee, under the legislation they could only vote on Education matters and the library service was not classed as such.

 

Having fully considered the report and the representations presented, it was moved by the Chairman that the proposed recommendations contained within the report, which included the proposed closure of Rhoose and Dinas Powys libraries (should expressions of interest not be received in developing a community led library) be amended to read that both Rhoose and Dinas Powys libraries be removed from the proposals. However, having put the matter to a vote, the proposed amendment was lost and it was subsequently

 

RECOMMENDED – T H A T the resolutions of Cabinet be accepted, and the representations as provided within the minutes be forwarded to Cabinet for consideration.

 

Reason for recommendation

 

Having regard to the evidence presented and the comments made at the meeting.