The idea that 10 community groups would emerge and coalesce into 10 structures that could develop seamless plans to take over the City’s non-statutory libraries, recruit nearly 1000 volunteers, make 40+ paid-staff redundant, and secure external funding in the space of around 6 months was, and is, fundamentally flawed!
Despite the Council’s optimistic assertion, no community groups came forward with any Expressions of Interest in October. There were about 3-4 groups who undertook research and attended the public meetings, however the main issues that frustrated them were:
- Volunteers taking the jobs of paid staff – considered to be unacceptable by most
- The financial information provided by the Council was incomplete.
- Setting up a library is a major undertaking, significant risks and responsibilities – expecting this responsibility to be taken by volunteers is unrealistic
- Each library would need of the order of 100 volunteers each – considered impractical, based on experiences elsewhere
- Extended timescales to secure 3rd party funding, on top of securing charitable status – would delay any transition
- Loss of skills and experience
- Felt that their involvement was as a defensive action to “Save the Library”, not a good, positive reason.
Despite “interest” the community groups that existed chose not to proceed further.
Only the most optimistic Councillor or Council Officer will think that, as yet, unannounced groups will come forward in the final few weeks before the deadline for formal applications on 4th December.
The Council is adamant in it’s 50 Pledges that “No libraries will close”
The original intention was to save £650k over 2 years, however the practicalities are such, that no plan ever existed to deliver this – that was the fundamental flaw. If the Council closed all of the libraries, then it would actually be a burden on the budget in the short term, not a saving. Making staff redundant or re-deploying them into existing vacancies will also erode the business case and next year’s budget.
Realistically the plan to create Community Managed Libraries ( under Option B+) and save £650k is dead!
So what happens now?
The Council need a new strategy which is capable of being implemented.
Derby city-centre based charity Direct Help and Advice (DHA – providing advice on alleviating homelessness and financial difficulty) submitted an Expression of Interest for all 10 libraries. DHA have approximately 30 staff, focussed on their core activities; they have no experience of running libraries. Key skills are bid writing for 3rd party funds, and “back-office” administration. They are well-connected with other charitable organisations and are looking to partner with other providers to bring new services into the libraries.
There is still the question of who will manage, and staff the libraries, 5 days a week. It won’t be the existing DHA team. They can’t be 100% volunteer led. The only practical way forwards, that can be implemented, and which ensures a seamless service is the notion of 10 Community Supported Libraries ( as defined by Locality) – this is a model where existing paid library staff are supported by volunteers.
The rhetoric needs to be changed within the community from “Saving Libraries” to “Developing Libraries” – a positive tone which will encourage people to engage more actively, and creatively.
- Feasibility stage launched
- Full due diligence to confirm costs / revenues of 10 libraries
- Feasibility over 3rd party funding timescales / values – full exploration
- Uncertainty over employment of existing staff to be removed
- Encourage 10 community groups to form to participate in the long-term development of the library.
- Agree realistic funding profile over next 5 years – perhaps a gradual reduction of financial support to deliver year on year savings.
- After the feasibility stage, a formal review to confirm whether there are sufficient resources ( people and finances) and a well developed implementation plan to proceed which will ensure a seamless transition of the service – a Go / No Go review.
- The 10 Community Supported Libraries ( paid staff + volunteers) under Council control will have the freedom to develop the libraries – new services, local fund-raising, new groups etc. and develop the Hub concept
There is an appetite for the Libraries to develop into more rounded community hubs, but this can’t be done in a “bitter-sweet” way which involves paid workers being made redundant. The Council’s budget does not hinge on the savings identified ( which are not firm and fixed) – at best they represent only 0.3% of the total. The Council should review the necessity for the £1m HQ cost of the libraries which is not directly related to the front-line services – perhaps some cost reduction could be achieved there?
It is the time for the Council to change the strategy, accept that there was no plan to deliver Option B+ savings within the budgetted timescale, actively engage with the wider community, positively, and develop a way forwards which will secure the long term future of the libraries as a valuable hub, and not consign them to history as another victim of political expedience.