Begging bowl libraries

18 May
People interested in the library service in Suffolk will no doubt be aware of recent ‘Letters to the editor’ from Jennie Pink, a very general defensive response from Shona Bendix, Chair of the IPS Board and a counter-blast from Gareth Jones, Chair of the Friends of Westbourne Library (these three have appeared on this blog). There followed a quite detailed and specific response to the Jones letter from Sue Gleave, Support Services Manager at Suffolk Libraries Industrial & Provident Society. It would seem that Sue Gleave, has deemed it proper to respond exclusively and in some detail to Gareth Jones’ Letter to the Editor (EADT/Ipswich Star) on an Ipswich ‘political gossip, comment and intrigue’ blog. We can’t find any other source of these statements from the outsourced organisation running our libraries. If true, it is surprising that the IPS sees this as a professional way of working; one wonders if local journalists are aware of this by-passing of the customary local media.
The substance of the remarks is also of interest; Sue Gleave states that:
‘We have to manage within the budget that has been set; this includes an overall Community Contribution of £130k for the period 1/8/2012 to 31/3/2014. It is therefore essential, if we are to manage within our allocated budget, that we receive the Community Contribution funding, or we will have to make savings from somewhere in our budget. It would seem equitable that if a library does not provide the contribution requested, where other libraries have, that savings are found from funds allocated to projects to enhance the services locally. This would mean that some planned additions to the core service, such as Wi-Fi, may not be available to libraries that do not deliver their allocated contributions.’
This statement of potential penalties for those branches not achieving their ‘Community Contribution’ couldn’t be clearer and even quotes the example of missing out on the installation of Wi-Fi broadband. The danger of creating a layer of second-class branches in Suffolk is the logical outcome.
There is an additional ‘reassuring’ comment from someone at the IPS at the end of the blog entry which suggests a damage-limitation measure.
One commenter to the blog entry quoted says:
‘Libraries should never have been outsourced; the IPS was simply the County Council’s way of a) pretending to save all the libraries and b) trying to guard against a possible loss of Conservative seats in the elections we have just had.
The £130,000 sought from the community has been spent many times over in this ridiculous re-organization. The whole library service across Suffolk has been compromised and not a penny has been saved. All that has happened is that closures have been cleverly postponed by this smoke and mirrors “solution”.’

A full list of the amount of money each branch is expected to raise can be found in the PDF document Routes to membership which is linked from a page on the IPS website, along with the statements that:

‘… the Community Contribution was a concept adopted by Suffolk County Council as an integral part of the funding of the contract with Suffolk Libraries.’ And to Friends groups who are considering signing up: ‘You will use your best efforts to fulfil any Community Contribution set by Suffolk Libraries.’ This by: ‘fundraising, obtaining sponsorship and donations’. Pete Rowberry commenting on this blog says: “I endorse the view that the library service is deteriorating since the inception of the Libraries Charity. Money is being requested for services which were at one time free and a box for donations is now a permanent feature on the Library desk.”
N.B. A look at the thirteen ‘friends groups’ who have joined the Industrial & Provident Society so far reveals that it includes three town councils (Leiston-cum-Sizewell Town Council, Needham Market Town Council, Sudbury Town Council).

One Response to “Begging bowl libraries”

  1. James Hargrave (@onlygeek) May 18, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    Like you I believe that public services should be funded properly by Government both local and national. I wonder if you would extend the logic of what you have written to another public service, schools? Schools arguably don’t receive as much funding as they need and pretty much every school has some kind of parent teacher or friends group the raises money to help meet the gap.

    When you attend school events you are invariably charged for admission (something mentioned here recently) and often asked for donations or to buy raffle tickets etc so would you say schools are “begging bowl schools” and should the children be left without school trips, play equipment etc that this money pays for?

    It is possible to argue that indeed they should and that by plugging the gap the local friends groups are effectively allowing the Government to get away with it but this is the stuff of ideologues.

    On the ground it is better to try and plug the gap and run as good a service as possible whilst still holding the funding bodies to account.

    There is an old story of a world where schools are fully funded and the army has to hold a jumble sale to buy a tank but we are far from this world (and indeed I have even read stories of troops buying their own body armour).

    I’d like to see the agenda move to holding those to account who fund public services for their failure to do their job properly. It’s all to easy as we see with schools to blame the public servants on the front line who are trying their best with what they have.

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