Last Wednesday’s Full Council meeting was dedicated to a debate over the Labour Group’s proposed budget for 2017/18 – 2019/2020. Within that plan is the much publicised and discussed idea to change the face of the City’s libraries, and save £648k. A number of options were offered in the consultation, from the full closure of 11 libraries through to converting the same population into Community Managed (CML) versions. The Council has repeatedly stated that they have no plans to close any libraries – this is on the back of their preference for implementing CML’s (Option B). More detail on the base proposal can be found on this link.
Although Option B does not close libraries, it is high risk, as I explored in my article. The library financial case is very flawed and further time is necessary to ensure that the correct, risk averse decision is made, which delivers the expected savings, and does not have a detrimental effect on these important community hubs.
The Conservative group submitted an amendment during the Council meeting to defer/postpone the need for the savings, and therefore the closure plan. This proposal was costed and was approved by the Chief Finance Officer. Despite the rhetoric that the closures were foisted upon the Council by Tory Cuts, and the politicking by Nadine Peatfield (Labour) in the Derwent by-election about “saving” Derwent library – this could have been achieved on Wednesday if the Labour Group had agreed to the amendment. All Labour Councillors voted against it!
Following further detailed investigations by Derby News into the underpinning financial case behind the consultation, there are many significant flaws which need to be addressed before any competent and qualified decisions can be taken:
- Despite the plan being to make dozens of Library staff redundant, the Corporate Council HQ library staff remain totally intact. The so-called “Citywide” staff, costing £442k does not reduce even when 11 out of the 15 libraries are closed. This is an un-tapped opportunity.
- Converse to 1. above, the plan assumes that £152k of central Corporate non-staff costs will be saved for Option B….despite the staff not being saved. This is, at best, inconsistent.
- The whole plan is blind to the costs of ownership of the buildings, despite this being a major difference between Option A ( 11 libraries fully closed), and Option B ( 11 libraries as CML’s but Council retains full burden of property ownership). There must be a saving if the Council ceases to have responsibility for 11 buildings. According to the Council – this is in a separate budget, and not reflected in the financial analysis.
- No running costs for the new, Council Office based, Riverside library ( replacement for Central library) are included. This is on the basis that those costs are budgetted elsewhere, although one would expect that these costs would increase…and therefore relevant.
Any financial analysis for decision making purposes should include all relevant costs associated with the initiative.
Based on the claimed running cost savings realised from moving from the existing Central Library premises, to the Council House Riverside Library, at a cost of £2.5m, the pay back period is over 20 years. No doubt the Council will claim that the refurbishment will generate further income, elsehwere – in which case this should be declared publicly, and the payback period made transparent.
The Library closure business case is seriously flawed, and needs more work on it to ensure that the correct decision is being made. More time is also required to ensure that the plans to move to volunteer led libraries are risk assessed and can be delivered seamlessly into the Community. In the context of this, one would have expected, that an option to defer the need to make a decision on Library closures, or even postpone, would have been welcomed….or is it convenient for it to be held dangling there, like a Sword of Damocles, to be wheeled out, as required, for political mischief, and electioneering. The people of Derby deserve a better dialogue over this critical resource!