Libraries

Council’s library strategy will fail until it accepts that the answer is NOT with Community Managed Libraries (CMLs)

The Council’s policy, with respect to the 10 non-statutory libraries, was to encourage volunteer led community groups to run them; so-called Community Managed Libraries (CMLs- as defined by Locality). No such groups put bids in.

The underlying assumption behind this approach was that all existing staff would be made redundant by 31 March 2018 to deliver the budgeted savings.  This redundancy condition was one of the major factors as to why volunteers didn’t come forwards – no volunteers wanted to take the jobs of paid workers. Additionally, the financial data provided by the Council was not sufficient to make a reliable offer.

Direct Help and Advice (DHA) submitted a bid at the beginning of December.  As DHA is not a volunteer led community organisation then, by definition, this was not a proposal to “take over a CML”; in effect it was a counter offer to the established policy.

In the weekly staff update, written by David Potton, the Head of Libraries tried to reassure the readership

“…the earliest date at which redundancies are likely to happen is 7 June 2018…  However it should be noted that the actual date may be considerably later”

The earliest date is based on both parties agreeing to all aspects of the contract by 1 February 2018 –  this seems unlikely.

Consultation on the terms of redundancy “….cannot begin until the Council and DHA have reached a final agreement on the transfer of CMLs”. This is a blocker as, by definition, DHA haven’t bid on CMLs. They haven’t bid on a proposal which is backed up by the requisite numbers of volunteers. It is a proposal not capable of being accepted, or implemented in the required timescales, without a formal buy-off of the policy change.

The Council is unable to provide reliable updates to the staff as it has no risk-assessed Implementation Plan. Any competently run project must have a plan and  a Project Manager. This is currently David Potton, Head of Libraries who retires, for the 2nd time, on 31st March 2018. Given this position, he has no legitimate authority to make decisions, or direct the project.

An external Project Manager, Mike Baker, was appointed on 15th January 2018 on a 12 month contract taking over from Potton.  Although he is described as “experienced”, there is no qualification as to whether he has experience of  organisational change projects. There is no indication as to whether there is a project management steering group structure to provide executive direction and guidance – a normal feature of professionally managed projects.

Comment

Successful projects happen when there is:

  • a clear project vision, implementation strategy and deliverables (financial goals)
  • an accountable governance structure, with a defined project team.
  • a risk-assessed Implementation plan that has been agreed by all parties
  • a Communications strategy with a sensitive approach to keeping the staff and Unions updated.
  • regular independent project reviews.

None of this is in place

As the Head of Libraries continues to believe that the project is to deliver CMLs then it hasn’t achieved the most fundamental of milestones – agreement on the Project vision.

DHA has made an innovative proposal which includes a range of partners who will support the development of the libraries into community hubs with new services in addition to the established library;  this will undoubtedly mean that the facilities would be open more during the week which can only be good for the people in the area.

This will be a good base from which to allow much greater community engagement in deciding how the hub needs to evolve for that area. It provides economies of scale for services, bid-writing,  training etc.

But these are not CMLs. It requires a different Implementation strategy and creative planning to actually make this happen. There is much detailed work to ensure success ; it will take time to secure funding ; it will take time to resource any new developments.

It is totally wrong that the Council should continue to keep their staff in limbo – it needs to make a decision ; staff are suffering with stress, some are off sick, and there is no end in sight – this is only going to get worse.

There is no financial imperative for these savings to be delivered at all, let alone this year; the new issue of the 2018/19 budget bears this out. The rhetoric over “unavoidable decisions” is false – the Council has found financial opportunities elsewhere and could chose, now, to finance the libraries to ensure a smoother transition.

There is no plan to implement CMLs; there is no plan to maintain libraries without the support of all of the existing staff. The Council need to be decisive, change course, work in partnership with DHA, the communities, and the staff,  to deliver a new model for the future,  deliver savings in a different way and a more realistic timescale and, with great speed and, for the sake of the staff, provide them with the security that they deserve….break the link with the failed CML strategy, and re-think the way forwards!

Postscript

The Council’s written pledge which has been repeated by many times is :

“ LCT Obj07 (LCT PL05) The Council will protect Derby’s libraries from closure (Timeframe March 2019)”

Categories: Libraries

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