Seckford boss resigns from Suffolk libraries board

Seckford Foundation boss Graham Watson has resigned from the board of Suffolk Libraries. He was one of the directors nominated by community groups.

One of the foundation directors appointed by the County Council, Clive Fox from Aldeburgh, resigned as chairman of Suffolk’s Libraries Industrial and Provident Society in March but said he would remain on the board at least until June. He has also resigned from the board.

A spokesman for the IPS confirmed that Watson had resigned on June 16 because, “He felt that his other work commitments meant he could give the IPS the time and energy it needed at this critical time.” He added they would “like to thank Graham for everything he has done to bring the IPS forward.”

Watson is Director of the Secford Foundation and Bursar of Woodbridge School, a public school, which it runs.

The most recent annual report, for the year ended August 31, 2011, of the Seckford Foundation says:

The desire of Suffolk County Council to divest itself from certain activities has led to a number of potential activities being examined during the year including the provision of local library services and expansion of the provision of care homes. Whilst these activities met the charitable objectives of the Foundation these have not been taken further at the current time, largely as a result of changes in policy by Suffolk County Council, but the Governors continue to keep such potential activities under review, not least as part of the current strategic review.

Watson has been heavily engaged in Seckford’s plans to set up a chain of free schools. This scheme took a blow last month when a bid to open a Free School in Stoke-by-Nayland was rejected by the Deartment for Education.

Its other two free schools, at Saxmundham and Beccles, are to open in September but have been hit by a low uptake of places.

Figures given by the Foundation to the East Anglian Daily Times this week show 64 children have chosen to attend the Beccles school and 163 at Saxmundham. These figures are higher than those released under a Freedom of Information request to the County Council. These show pupil counts of 42 for Deccles and 85 for Saxmundham.

Mark Bee, leader of Suffolk County Council opposes the Beccles Free School and will be giving evidence to the scrutiny committee of Waveney District Council next week.

This post has been edited to remove factual inaccuracy. 

‘There’s a good time coming’ — hope for Suffolk libraries

In 1863 Debenham’s volunteer library, the Literary and Mechanics Institute, held a series of public readings. The final event of the season included a song, There’s a Good Time Coming Girls which starts:

There’s a good time coming girls,
A good time coming.
Old maidens may not see the day,
but still shall give a loud hurrah!
for the good time coming.

From 2012, this feminist song, which looked forward to the time when “women rule instead of men”, looks over optimistic.

In the middle of the 19th century, public, rate-funded libraries were in their infancy. For most places a locally volunteer library was the only option. Gradually they were replaced by council-run libraries, a better way of creating a service accessible to all.

Yesterday, Suffolk County Council handed control of its 44 libraries to an Industrial and Provident Society. The council will continue to provide the core funding for a free library service operating across the county with a common book stock.

And the IPS now running Suffolk libraries has women, Shona Bendix, chair of the board, and Alison Wheeler, general manager, at its head. So in this little world of libraries, that song recited in Debenham 149 years ago has come true.

They are starting on what Public Libraries News today describes as the “Suffolk Experiment”.

Under the heading Suffolk transfers to control by Industrial and Provident Society PLN writes:

In a move that is being welcomed by some and feared by others, Suffolk has transferred its entire library service to a mutual society.  As with a Trust, the main advantage of this is that there are tax savings, or more accurately money back from non-domestic rates. In addition, supporters and even the Council itself says that savings will be made by no longer being part of the Council bureaucracy.  All libraries will retain paid staff and generally appear unchanged in all major ways.  However, the amount of money expected to be saved by the transfer – a £2.6m cut – is a tough target.  The Suffolk experiment, for that is what it is, also runs the danger of being used as a model by other councils desperate to save money without closing libraries.  It may be too soon to do this with confidence but these are the toughest of times and many would prefer being a library user in Suffolk than in Doncaster about now.

I too have reservations about how this experiment will work. But the most important thing is that we still have a free county-wide library service and staff are not being replaced by volunteers (there are likely to be more of them to help improve the service). See Shona Bendix’s message to users.

It means that no libraries are being closed. That is hugely important because it is much easier to close a library than reopen or replace one that has been closed.

The arguments for a library service run by democratically elected representatives (i.e. councillors) are strong and my preference.

Yet the optimistic view of many, but not all, campaigners in Suffolk is that the IPS and individual library support groups can make a better job of running the service in straitened times than the county council.

The hard work is only just beginning. No one really knows how it will progress, but the way will be bumpy, for sure.

I agree with PLN there is a danger of others grasping the IPS model without really understanding what it involves or that it is, at the moment, an unproved approach.

The process by which Suffolk got to the point it is at now, is not the same as that in most other parts of the country. For a start, I can’t think of another area which has lost it council chief executive and leader in the middle of the decision making. That forced fresh thinking on all sides.

For places facing library closures, the IPS model is worth looking at if it will avoid closures.

Generally, I just hope. “There’s a good time coming…”

Suffolk libraries to remain in PLR scheme

Suffolk libraries believe they will remain a part of the Public Lending Right (PLR) scheme when they are transferred to an independent Industrial and Provident Society on August 1.

The Society of Authors is concerned that volunteer run libraries would reduce the basis on which loans are calculated and lead to reduced incomes for writers.

This week they wrote to Culture Minister Ed Vaisey. quoting PLR registrar Jim Parker saying:

Under the PLR legislation, PLR only applies to public libraries administered by local library authorities as defined by the Public Libraries Act (1964). This, therefore, would exclude library branches no longer run by the local authority and taken over by voluntary groups.

The letter added that Parker said it would be a “grey area” in locations where local authorities were allowing volunteers to run branches while still remaining under their umbrella.

It looked as if Suffolk, currently one of the PLR sampling areas for calculation of loans of individual books, might fall into this “grey area”.

But I am told by the Suffolk libraries IPS that it believed that they will be eligible to continue to be a part of the PLR scheme.

There would be no advantage in not remaining a part of the scheme as the payments to authors are funded by the Culture Department.

In its letter to Vaisey, the SoA General Secretary, Nicola Solomon, said:

I accepted in my previous letter that taking volunteer run libraries out of the statutory scheme will not have an immediate effect on authors’ incomes as the Government allocates a fixed amount to PLR (around £6.3 million for 2012/13) and the calculation of the rate per loan is essentially a mathematical exercise, dependent on the number of loans and the money available. The rate per loan in 2012 has been fixed at 6.05p and this rate has been falling steadily in response to Government cuts. We are concerned that taking volunteer libraries out of the scheme will lead to an apparent drop in book loans which will encourage Government to propose cutting the already meagre fund still further. We seek an assurance that the overall fund will not be cut due to volunteer run libraries being removed from the scheme. Please let me have that assurance by return.

It is a complex issue and the SoA is asking that the government find a statutory solution that would avoid the possibility of volunteer libraries being sued for copyright infringement. They are also asking for a part of the Digital Economy Act which extends PLR to audio books and e-books to be implemented.

So the threat (Daily Telegraph: Sarah Waters among authors threatening action over ‘Big Society’ lending libraries) is that volunteer libraries which ae not part of the wider system that continues to record all loans and is capable to providing figures for PLR, could be faced with paying copyright fees.

That would face local volunteer libraries with added costs which, I suspect, the Government will want to avoid.

Libraries already pay copyright fees for music through Performing Rights Society licences.
I asked why my local library had to have a PRS licence. It was explained that sessions where children sign along to music needed the licence.

Suffolk libraries: county council and IPS have finalised

Confirmation that Suffolk Libraries will transfer to the Industrial and Provident Society on August 1 comes in a press release from the County Council today (July 20).

I have mixed feelings. I still believe that the council and its democratically elected councillors should have continued to provide libraries directly, rather than fund someone else to do its job at a lower price than it would manage itself.

But I also feel optimistic that libraries will be better able to meet their social objectives with the dead hand of bureaucracy and vision-free councillors removed.

Early last year we were faced with what seemed very much like an ultimatum for community groups to support half the county’s libraries or loose them. Huge opposition resulted in a promise that all libraries would remain open and the setting up of “Suffolk’s Libraries” IPS to run them in conjunction community groups.

The community groups will from next year form the membership of the IPS, appointing the directors. Negotiations over funding are bound to be robust.

The present IPS board members are appointed but all those nominated by community groups were agreed by the former chairman and the council.

The board got off to a difficult start with the chairman chosen by the county council deciding to resign from the role. Then the board announced that it was gong to trade as “Suffolk Libraries” dripping the ridiculous apostrophe they had been given.

Negotiations over the contract have clearly been tough. Under the optimistic illustrative timetable presented to the county council last October, the transfer should have taken place on April 7.

Now it is going to happen nearly four months later than planned. Unfortunately, this has extended the period of uncertainty for staff.

One of the urgent tasks for the IPS will be to restore staff morale. They will have to consult over a new staff structure. I believe they will not be following the county council’s idea that new staff should be employed on lower pay rates than existing staff: that is a good starting point.

They will I think communicate well. Certainly they have been talking and listening to the pilot library community groups who were chosen to pioneer new ways of working and local governance.

The number of pilot libraries has reduced to eight following the collapse of the cluster of six Ipswich libraries. (Declaration: I am chairman of the Debenham pilot library working group.)

Among the changes the IPS has made was to recognise that the rules for local library groups which enter into an agreement it was discouraging some community groups. The simpler rules will apply until the first elected board of the IPS is chosen next year.

Everything I have seen demonstrates that the IPS has dedicated and very hardworking people. Now I am waiting to see details of the contract.

In the end I believe that Suffolk can come out of this with a better library service, closely tuned to the needs of communities. It is a vision which is not only about lending books but providing inclusive community hubs.

In Debenham we are planning to move the library to larger premises, increase support for school pupils, develop services for the elderly and disabled, have a larger book stock and much more.

We will undoubtedly need more volunteers and fund-raising to achieve out objectives. But most important is that in Suffolk, unlike many parts of the country, we are not losing any libraries.

Shona Bendix, chair of the IPS, says, in the press release:

Suffolk’s Libraries IPS has a very strong and very clear aim – to do what’s best for the future of the service…

[This transfer] has been a long time coming but I firmly believe that the IPS has found a way to take Suffolk’s library service forward to bigger and better things.

Suffolk libraries: let’s work together for best future

A call for the new organisation charged with running Suffolk Libraries to take a gradual approach to change is made today by James Hargrave on his blog. I entirely agree with his post which could serve as manifesto for most library campaigners in the county. Please read it.

Following the resignation of the county council appointed chairman, the body, under its new chair Shona Bendix, has the opportunity to take a pragmatic approach and capitalise on the good will which is now evident.

I notice that Hargrave writes about “Suffolk Libraries” ignoring the redundant apostrophe s inserted, by the County Council, into the name of the Industrial and Provident Society set up to take over the libraries. I hope the IPS shows the same economy when choosing a new logo.

More importantly he points to the need for the IPS to take things gradually and to do all it can to improve staff morale, including not following a policy of recruiting new employees on a lower pay scale.

I would add to this that none of the staff being transferred from the county council should be retransferred to a community library group for at least a year. I have already suggested this privately. Being transfered once is unsettling enough.

Hargrave points to the need to allow community groups that are not incorporated bodies (limited companies) to become members of the IPS. It may be that there is a different way of interpreting the existing rules or they may need amendment, but should to be done before the first board elections next year if they are to be credible.

What I am writing could have been largely said as a comment on Hargrave’s blog. So please read it.

Replacement of Suffolk Libraries IPS chair is ‘positive’ change

Clive Fox, the controversial choice of Suffolk County Council to lead the arms-length library service, has resigned.

At an apparently smoothly orchestrated board meeting of Suffolk’s Libraries Industrial and Provident Society yesterday, he announced that he intended to step down from the job he was given less than three months ago.

He was swiftly replaced by Shona Bendix, chief executive of Suffolk Assoication of Local Councils (SALC), who has clearly impressed board members as well as community groups poised to take responsibility for local libraries.

She said, in a press release:

The people I’m working with in the IPS and library service share a very strong and very clear aim – to do what’s best for the future of the service. This fundamental principle is what’s driving all of us to do what we can to make sure our much-loved libraries are able to flourish and continue to be well-used for decades to come. I’m very much looking forward to working in partnership with the board, library groups and the public to turn those ambitions into reality.

While Fox said he had always know it would be difficult to managing the increasing commitments of being chairman with other voluntary and professional roles. It was, he said, time for a new chairman to lead the IPS to the next stage. He remains a member of the board but is not expected to play a very active part.

Fox’s appointment was always controversial and he was seen by some library campaigners as a placeman for Judy Terry, the council’s portfolio holder for libraries. I described it as a “strange choice” and another bloggerwrote, that he would have “an uphill struggle to get credibility among library groups”.

Since then he has faced problems including the resignation of his local library manager in Aldeburgh over the plans, and the collapse of the Ipswich co-operative, the largest of the pilot schemes for the new way of running libraries.

Bendix who was also one of the three founding directors of the IPS is clearly no ones placewoman. A board member described the change as “very positive”.

Following the collapse of the Ipswich co-operative, taking six of 14 libraries out of the pilot programme, the task of the IPS has changed substantially. The IPS is going to have to find a way of implementing the council’s decision which will gain widespread support among library groups.

The council itself will, almost certainly, have to find a new flexibility in its approach.

Suffolk: And now there are eight little libraries…

The collapse of the Ipswich libraries co-operative (previous post) is a huge blow to Suffolk County Council’s plan for community governance, almost halving the number of libraries in pilot schemes.

When the pilots were announced there were 14 libraries and now just eight remain to test something which has not been tried anywhere else.

None of the large libraries are among the eight remaining: Aldeburgh, Bungay, Sudbury, Thurston, Wicham Market and Eye, Debenham and Stradbroke (as a cluster of three).

Pilot libraries with local management organisations are intended to be the first to sign agreements with the Industrial and Provident Society. This would make them members of the IPS and entitled to vote for its directors. The first elections must be held within the next 18 months.

Under the heading, Enhancing governance… vision: stronger community governance, a report to the council last year said:

This model has local governance at its heart, and provides an additional incentive for local organisations to take on library services. The IPS itself, providing central services and coordination, is governed by the organisations running local library services. The Company Board is elected by these local organisations with democratic “one member one vote” principles, and all Board members have to be part of an organisation running local library services and using the central enabling services of the IPS.

There is a risk around governance if many communities do not take on local library governance. The IPS would then have limited number of members and uneven representation of libraries.

And since then the council has changed the rules setting the hurdle, for community library organisations to become members of the IPS, higher.

James Hargrave has an excellent blog post on this today. In short, the rules have been changed so that instead of setting up a simple association, communities would need to register limited companies, probably with charitable status. This would mean all the overheads of two annual reports, audited accounts and require about 270 people to become directors, if all libraries are to be represented.

As we know know the six libraries in Ipswich will be run directly by the IPS , for the time being at least, the threat of “uneven representation” is looking very real.

Whether all the remaining pilots will consider it worth going through the administrative hoops is unclear.

The analysis looked at what would happen if the IPS failed after the service had been transferred to it. This is what it says:

The reputational damage to the County Council may not be too significant, as the County Council would have genuinely tried to do something different with the library service empowering communities to run the service.

The change in the IPS membership rules is something of a mystery. We know that the county council has been advised by The Guild, a business support consultancy, in Norwich. The advice changed at some point.

But the biggest problem remains that the IPS was set up for political reasons against the overwhelming response to the consultation calling on the council to continue running libraries.

The expressions of interest were largely made by communities believing that if they did nothing their local libraries would be closed.

The council cabinet seems to have buried its collective head in the sand and believed that there was enthusiasm to set up local bodies to running libraries. There was not, an is not.

Biggest Suffolk libraries pilot scheme collapses

The biggest of the pilot schemes for a divested Suffolk library service, a co-operative in Ipswich, has collapsed.

The news, first revealed by James Hargrave on his blog, was confirmed in an email to library supporters in Ipswich. It reads:

After several months of hard work we have decided that the Ipswich Libraries Co-operative proposal did not fit with the ambitions of the Ipswich County Library and that of the Gainsborough Community Library. With the best intentions of the users and staff in mind it is felt that an independent activity would be more able to meet their needs.

Each of the Ipswich libraries will now be working directly with the IPS until it is clear what form of governance for each library will best work within the new set-up. We will of course let you know when we have made alternative plans, please do get in touch if you would like more information or would like to offer your assistance. We understand that this may have caused inconvenience but we believe that the decision will lead to a better future.

This will be a blow to the County Council which had established a number of pilot schemes to test various approaches to local management of libraries under a county-wide Industrial and Provident Society.

The IPS itself is looking increasingly fragile, under the chairmanship of Clive Fox whose library manager in Aldeburgh, another of the pilots, has resigned over the plans there.

Another pilot scheme, the cluster of Debenham, Eye and Stradbroke, has yet to make much progress because of the range and complexity of property issues to be settled first.

The County Council has always know that the IPS to run the service under contract to the council was the riskiest of the three options it considered.

As the risk analysis considered by the council said, the deciding factors between a continued in house service and the IPS were, “likely to be the risk appetite of the County Council and the level of commitment to community governance”.

On both counts they seem to have called it wrongly. And there have been scant signs yet of leadership from the IPS. There are whispers that contingency plans are being prepared.

Library manager resigns over policy of chairman of new Suffolk libraries organisation

The manager of a library at the centre of Suffolk’s Big Society plans has resigned because he does not share the vision of the county council appointed chairman of the body to run their 44 libraries.


Iain Rousham who left Aldeburgh library at the end of February says that Clive Fox, chairman of the new countywide library organisation and the Aldeburgh library Steering Group, initially wrote in the Group’s press release that Rousham was retiring.  Iain asked for this to be changed so it reflected more accurately that he had resigned.


Rousham has  made it clear that he disagreed with the plans put forward by the Steering Group and its refusal to consult further with Aldeburgh people after the county council promised all libraries would stay open.


He also deplores the way in which SCC has divested itself of direct responsibility for running libraries.


The appointment in January of Fox, by Judy Terry the county council cabinet member responsible for libraries, to head the Industrial and Provident Society which will oversee libraries, was a surprise.


His views, demonstrated in the Aldeburgh proposal, are not widely shared among those who responded to the consultation, many of whom are now involved in pilot schemes to test a variety of approaches.


Rousham suggests, “Judy Terry, like a drowning woman, clutched at Clive Fox as a man who could deliver her plan.”


The Aldeburgh response to the consultation on the future of libraries last year was almost alone in not saying its first preference was a continuing county library service.


It proposed the Aldeburgh Triangle Knowledge Hub. The closely-typed 17 page document supported both the now abandoned Suffolk New Strategic Direction and the government’s then heavily promoted Big Society.


Income generation through a cafe and other retail, fines increasing over three years, charging for internet access and rising income from DVD rentals among them.


The Aldeburgh plan envisages more than half the costs of the library being met from commercial operations.


At the time it was thought that community libraries which were not taken over by local bodies would be closed. And communities would have to save the council 30% of its costs to keep their libraries open.


Later in the year the council said all libraries would remain open and that the contribution required from communities with be much less.


Rousham believed that Fox and the steering group at Aldeburgh should revisit the plan and have more consultation in the town.


“I asked the Steering Group,  three times to go back to the community, but they refused,” Rousham said.


In a farewell message to Aldeburgh library users Rousham says:


I regret that the group did not then return to the community, as promised, for discussion and ratification. However, they have the best of intentions and I wish them well.


He also thanks the staff and describes his years working at the library as “the golden years of my working life”.


Earlier this week, Aldeburgh was the only library pilot scheme not represented at a meeting of the pilots called by the IPS to discuss the current situation.


Later: In a reaction to this post James Hargrave writes on his blog: “To my mind the appointment of Fox as Chairman is looking more and more like a mistake and it will be interesting to see if he survives this early embarrassing incident.”

In 1851 Suffolk libraries and eduction lagged behind: they still do

Somethings do not change. In 1851 educational standards in Suffolk were low and libraries were inadequate compared with many other places. One hundred and sixty years later the situation remains very similar.

Suffolk county council was ranked close to the bottom of the table for library spending by English counties in 2010 (latest available figures)  and GCSE results ranked the county as 121st out of 152 education authorities according to a report this year.

That, of course, was before library spending was cut further and the independent Suffolk’s Libraries IPS Ltd was set up by the council under a chairman, Clive Fox, who has yet to show the vision and leadership needed to provide a coherent library service.

I can make this 160 year comparison because of a remarkable book, Suffolk in the 19th Century, by John Glyde who had left school at the age of nine and, presumably, educated himself. He used the 1851 census as the basis for his book which includes a chapter on libraries. He wrote:

We have seen that Agricultural Suffolk is celebrated for Schools of inferior quality, and, as may be expected, institutions for carrying on the means of instruction among adults are neither numerouss nor flourishing in this county.

He echoes a correspondent in Bungay which had no library, who described it as a “dark region”. “That Dark region… extends a long way over Suffolk”, Glyde writes. (I should say that today Bungay library has people determined to maintain it and a community which has built a serene garden by its entrance.)

In the middle of the 19th century Glyde shows that in the West Riding of Yorkshire there was one Literary Institute for every 867 persons: in Suffolk there was one to every 22,481.

The gap has narrowed but the latest figures show that North Yorkshire (there is no West Riding county now) spent £16.60 per person on libraries. Suffolk spent £12.80, a quarter less.

Libraries were not a matter for local government until the 1850 Libraries Act. Norwich was the first place to apply it. aThe value Norfolk continues to place on libraries is deployed in the splendid Millennium Library.

The general system through most of the 19th century was that there were subscription libraries, which were really only for the middle classes, and mechanics institutes, a movement to bring adult education and books to poorer people.

Our library system at present is, despite cuts, considerably better than that.

More than half the libraries in Suffolk in the middle of the 19th century were mechanics institutes. Only one, Ipswich Institute, survives; look for the stone doorway next to the Body Shop. That is where I found Glyde’s book, but there are two Suffolk Libraries copies available and a digitise copy is on Google Books.

Giving everyone the ability to delve back in history is one of the glories of our public libraries.

Glyde was worried not only by the lack of educational books available in Suffolk libraries but by the paucity of good fiction. He would have been shocked by the pile of discounted chick lit I saw being unpacked to fill the shelves of one Suffolk library recently.

The hopeful sign for Suffolk Libraries is that none are scheduled to close — unlike in many parts of England where doors are closing. A library which is not closed can be revived.

The IPS has a hard task with very little money. It is going to take passion and the support which so many communities throughout the county are showing to ensure that we have a library service we need in an age of information.

In Glyde’s work we see something of the passion for libraries in the middle of the 19th century which led to more being  formed in the following years including one in Debenham.

Download John Glyde on Suffolk libraries in 1851 (zipped pdf file).
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