Archive | August, 2012

The future of all of Suffolk’s Libraries is NOT secure

2 Aug

Apologies everyone – this should have gone out yesterday but due to technical problems we couldn’t post it.

Today Suffolk County Council has divested itself of direct responsibility for the running of our much- cherished public library service to an arm’s length operating company called an Industrial and Provident Society ( IPS), and claims that all 44 Suffolk libraries are safe. Libraries are not safe, their future remains uncertain. This is because:

 

1. The County Council has already announced that the Suffolk Libraries budget is being cut by 30% with the threat of further budget cuts in the pipeline. We’ve seen a hollowing-out of the service from the centre including cuts to the back-office “stock team”. Managers have resigned from their posts and not been replaced and there’s been a noticeable reduction in the quality of the service. What will happen when the budget is cut even further?

 

2. There is no guarantee by the Council of long-term funding for our libraries. Last year the County Council said it would only guarantee two-years of funding for Suffolk Libraries. What happens then?

 

3. The County Council said that the IPS was a risky governance model. The risk was deemed worth taking because of the involvement of local communities. This is empty rhetoric as in many areas “Friends Groups” have not come forward. (You can’t force people to volunteer). Further, there is no clarity about what the role of these groups will be, or how they (and indeed the IPS itself) would be accountable to taxpayers. As to the question of how much money individual libraries would be expected to raise – we still don’t have a clear answer, despite many groups asking the SCC and the IPS for estimates.

We have been told by the County Council that the IPS will be cheaper to run and less bureaucratic than the County Council run service. IS the IPS a cheaper option? How can we know? It was estimated that the IPS would cost around £650,000 to set up. And, we know that the County Council (taxpayers) have also paid for the legal costs of the IPS. As for being less bureaucratic, we think it could end up being more bureaucratic and certainly less accountable.

Divestment/contracting out was a popular idea eighteen months ago. Now we are beginning to see problems at the national level with contracts not being fulfilled. There is more to divestment/contracting out than just commissioning services – somebody at the County Council will still have to manage the contract to make sure it is delivered to an agreed set of quality and service standards.  With several different parts of a divested library service to look after and oversee, this may not be easy and may not save that much money.

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