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.
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 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.
When the full board of the Industrial and Provident Society which is being set up to run Suffolk Libraries meets for the first time on Wednesday (Feb 15) it will need to start demonstrating its independence.
The three founding directors were appointed by the county council and a further eight have been chosen, if that it the right word, by the founding directors and the council.
There were meant to be five additional directors but it seems that the chairman, Clive Fox pressed for all eight nominees to be appointed. This neatly avoided the potential allegation that the entire board was made up of placemen and women.
One of the first tasks will be to start restoring morale among library staff who are understandably worried about their futures. Radical change in employment, transferring from one employer to another, is always unsettling.
But in this case there seems to have been no planning for internal communication by the county. Staff are complaining that whenever they ask a question they are told it is a “matter for the IPS”.
The whole schedule looks rushed with the objective of the IPS taking over at the beginning of the new financial year in April. The list of those providing evidence for the transfer plan included no one from communications or HR teams.
There is one thing they could do to demonstrate both the independence of the IPS and start lifting morale at the same time — abandon the nasty plan to employ new staff at lower salaries.
The evaluation report approved by the council includes in the justification of the IPS an assumption that the IPS will pay new staff 10 per cent less than existing staff. The historic rate of staff turnover is 4.8 percent, so the saving in the first year would be tiny. perhaps 0.25 per cent of the wage bill.
Refusing to implement that part of the plan would be an easy win for the IPS board and low cost way of starting to rebuild morale.
It would begin to allay fears among library staff (who are not highly paid) that they are going to be eased out to make way for cheaper people.
One of the threats to the IPS plan was recognised as: “Potential low morale, higher sickness absence and higher staff turnover as a result of significant organisational change.”
Alison Wheeler, the IPS general manager (appointed by the council) has made a strong attempt to reassure staff, in an email, offering to answer questions and listen to concerns. She even gave out her mobile number.
In part she said:
We will have to be ingenious, practical, pragmatic and creative to ensure that Suffolk’s library services survive. I am relying on all of you to play your part in this endeavour, working with communities, with an open mind to new ways of working, supporting each other to generate the ideas and apply solutions to new situations.
It is true that the success of the venture will depend on the staff being enthusiastic, creative and flexible. But it was not really the right time to raise the possibility of failure, although it is a fear she probably shares with some senior people in Endeavour House.
Reassurance and big hugs for the staff are what are needed at the moment. I do hope the board will see morale as one of the urgent bits of business for its first meeting.