SCC: Round in circles

31 Jul

Round, like a circle in a spiral, a wheel within a wheel… It’s Suffolk Libraries designed by someone with a sense of humour.

chart

SCC Councillor Alan Murray (Conservative member for Bixley ward) has paid £500 towards the ‘Community contribution’ for Rosehill library from his Locality Budget. Oops! Sorry, he has paid £500 to Rosehill Library for ‘Community engagement’ (see the table below). Click on images to make them readable.

Suffolk County Council allocates an amount (£12,000 in 2013/14) to each elected councillor. Councillors are able to make recommendations about funding from this budget for local projects in their division, which should benefit the community. Last year groups and projects that benefited included village halls, sports and social clubs, and toddler groups.

So, in 2012 we have SCC divesting its public library services to an external Industrial & Provident Society on the basis of a 27% cut in the overall funding. It then withheld an additional Community Contribution of £130,000 for the period 1/8/2012 to 31/3/2014 from the remaining budget from the IPS with the expectation that the IPS would set up a ‘community group’ or ‘friends group’ for each of the 44 branches. The Community Contribution was factored into the IPS (700 page) contract model by Suffolk County Council.

The deficit funding has been shared out among all those 44 branches with amounts to be raised by friends groups in amounts ranging from £9,750 for the three biggest, then in bands of £5,200 (seven branches), £3,250 (five branches), £2,275 (seven branches), £1,950 (seven branches), £1,625 (seven branches), £975 (eight branches). Rosehill Library is expected to raise £3,250 on the threat of missing out on ‘service enhancements’ if it fails to pay the money to the IPS. One can only imagine the additional pressure this puts on the Rosehill staff at a time of major changes and uncertainty.

So, the public is being asked to raise £130,000 to finance the libraries (1 August 2012, when the IPS took over the libraries, to 30 March 2014), having already paid for the whole service via their national and council taxation. Now we find that a county councillor from a neighbouring ward to Rosehill (not the local councillor) is funding the deficit from his Locality Budget which comes from public money: that’s our national and council taxation.

In fact it is not only Rosehill library that is in receipt of public funds. In the table below we show all the library-related payments made by councillors in 2012/13 (click on images to make them readable).

table1

There are a few interesting features of Locality Budget funding of divested libraries in 2012/13.

1. Cllr Judy Terry gave £720 to the Industrial & Provident Society itself for e-readers, which is a surprise. Does the IPS qualify as a beneficiary of Locality Budget funding? If Suffolk’s library service has been fully divested to an external IPS on an agreed reduced budget with an integral funding deficit (‘Community contribution’) to be raised by friends groups, should that IPS be applying for funding from a councillor, albeit the architect of that divestment?

2. ‘Aldeburgh Steering Group’, presumably the forerunners of Clive Fox’s ‘Aldeburgh Library Foundation’ – that most enthusiastic of library friends groups – obtained £2,100 for ‘Drawings/specs, works / catering equipment’. This sounds very much like building works (as does the purchase/installation of an automatic door at Westbourne Library by the Friends of Westbourne). Surely Suffolk County Council – which retains ownership of the library infrastructure, notably the buildings – is responsible as the legal Library Authority for repairs, improvements and extensions?

3. Friends of Westbourne Library had the most money at £5,708 from four county councillors. Westbourne library has already raised more to meet the IPS deficit in less than a year by accessing SCC Locality Budgets i.e. “core SCC finance”, than its entire IPS requirement of £,3250.

4. Friends of Westbourne library have more recently bid for ‘up to £2,500’ for internal automatic doors to Ipswich Borough council’s separate “ localities budgets”; this would be further funding for building works.

5. So far, in only 12 months (1 April 2012 to 30 March 2013), £25,560 has been allocated from 2012/2013 budgets by county councillors to local library groups to assist the funding problems caused by the county council itself. That’s about 20% of the total deficit of £130,000 sought from local groups by SCC.

If the same pattern is repeated for  the 2013/14 budget period, we could see the majority of local community fund-raising being supplied from SCC core finance. Bizarre?

If library groups then follow Westbourne’s example and successfully push forward applications to District/Borough councillors, funding for “divested local groups” would be being provided from the “core finance” of other local authorities who do not have legal powers or responsibilities to run libraries at all! Even more bizarre.

SCC’s Funding & Procurement Scrutiny Committee (6.7.2005) reviewed the council’s guidance for assessing/awarding Locality Budget funding. It added to the criteria a clause that said:

“…in particular where an organisation has failed to obtain county-wide funding for an initiative, Locality Budgets should not be used as a substitute unless the initiative to be funded meets local priorities.

…and the revised guidance should include the requirements that the Locality Budgets should not be used to support core business which the council should be doing anyway.”

Rosehill Readers have argued consistently that a library service is, and should continue to be: “a core local authority funded service”. SCC and the IPS have argued that local communities must fund some of the services.

We think we have shown that we are now in a very peculiar situation where SCC having made cuts to core funding of libraries and having required local communities to meet that deficit themselves or face consequences, are now actually funding library “community” fund-raising from SCC core finance which appears to be against its own guidelines. Furthermore, other local councils like Ipswich are being asked by some friends groups to contribute to library “community” fund-raising from their “core” finance to compensate for SCC cuts in spending.

“ Has anyone seen the Queen of Hearts?” said Alice.

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