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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Suffolk schools have more than 10,000 vacant secondary school places. This is nearly one in six of the available capacity, according to Department for Education figures.
Suffolk has the 17th highest proportion of vacant spaces out of 153 local education authorities.
My thanks to @placefarm, from whose Google map I drew the figure given in my previous post. That, I now know, was for one year only. The education debarment’s spreadsheet, dated May last year, with all the details can be downloaded here.
This makes it even more ridiculous that Free Schools are being planned to add to the 10,632 places already vacant in the county.
Perhaps some of Michael Gove’s cabinet colleagues would like to talk to him about waste in the public sector. His education department now funds directly the many schools which have become academies and free schools.
There is not a lot the local education authority can do now. The buck stops in Whitehall.
A map of Suffolk schools, posted on James Hargrave’s blog but by someone else, reveals that there are over 1,600 surplus places in the county’s secondary schools.
That is before new Free Schools are opened. The idea that the Government should be behind a project which is clearly going mean more vacant places and cost taxpayers a lot of money without any proof of benefit, is shocking.
Figures like the one given above are only part of the picture, but they do show some over-capacity. There will always be some over-subscribed schools and some under-subscribed. Not only is there the relative popularity of schools but there are changes in population to be taken into account.
And in Suffolk the picture is further complicated by the policy of moving to a standard two-tier system, rather than the mixed two and three-tiers the county has had. And schools moving from local education authority control to become centrally funded academies makes the picture even more complicated.
In some places free schools are welcomed and in others fiercely opposed.
Personally, I find the idea of exporting any part of the ethos of a minor public school to other schools wrong-headed. But that is the what is planned with the Seckford Foundation, which runs Woodbridge School, behind plans for four free schools.
I went to a school like Woodbridge, although more than twice as old. The only happy year of my education was when I left it to enter the state system. I doubt the people running public schools have much worthwhile to bring to the state sector.
If you visit Hargrave’s blog take a look at the education section: he has a lot on free schools.
Feb 29. The figure in this post is for a single year only. The total vacant places is over 1,000. See comment below and following post.