Monday, 13 June 2011

Libraries cuts "called in" by Cllr Don Williams and colleagues

Conservative Cllrs Don Williams, Andrew Mennear, Kirsty Roberts and Claire-Louise Leyland have "called in" the administration's libraries proposals, which means that the Culture & Environment Scrutiny Committee will need to reconsider the proposals and consider whether to recommend changes to the Council's decision-making executive.

Here's the full text of the call-in:

Reasons for Call In (The request must state whether or not you believe that the decision is outside the policy or budget framework)

We believe that the decision, as taken, was both outside the policy and the budget framework. Camden undertook an extensive consultation exercise to find out local residents' priorities for savings within the library service. It was not a surprise to find out that our residents do not desire library closures or a cut in library opening hours. However to find that a large proportion of the respondents were prepared to volunteer a considerable amount of their own time to keep the libraries open was a very new finding - in particular, that 1200 people (20% of respondents) were prepared to volunteer at least 10 hours a month. This finding provided Camden with an opportunity to look again at the options that had been placed before the public during the consultation, and did allow a proposal to be put to the Cabinet which took account of this willingness to volunteer.

Nevertheless, this proposal, subsequently adopted by the Cabinet on 8 June, was flawed and lay outside the policy or budget framework for the following reasons: 1) Camden's Strategy for the future development of the service (4.1 in the Executive Summary) states that 'Camden's libraries should be at the heart of their communities'. Proposal A states that 'The building to no longer be a Camden Public Library supported by the Council'. If Heath, Belsize and Chalk Farm libraries are no longer to be 'a Camden Public Library supported by the Council' it is not clear that Camden's libraries will be at the heart of their communities in Hampstead, Belsize Park or Primrose Hill. At the Cabinet meeting, Cllr Siddiq was asked what it meant to be a library 'that is no longer a Camden Public Library supported by the Council'. She did not give an answer and there is no clear definition. Until this is explained - and it is demonstrated how these three libraries will remain 'at the heart of their communities' - it is clear that the decision lies outside the policy framework of the Council; 2) 4.2 of the Executive Summary states that Camden will achieve its strategy for the future development of the service by 'ensuring we invest in libraries that are well-located', 'reviewing the service regularly to ensure value for money and setting challenging performance targets for each library'. If the strategy is to have libraries located in the heart of their communities, then that surely defines the libraries that are well-located as libraries in the heart of their communities. It is therefore outside the policy framework of the Council to say that libraries shall 'no longer be a Camden Public Library supported by the Council'.

With regard to reviewing the service regularly and setting performance targets for each library, once more Cllr Siddiq did not clarify how this could happen if the libraries are no longer Camden public libraries supported by the Council - again, outside the policy framework of the Council; 3) It is not at all clear that the Corporation of London, which owns Keat's House, will allow a library to continue to remain at the premises if it 'no longer be a Camden Public Library supported by the Council'. It has been indicated to us that they will not in fact allow a library to remain there unless it is clearly a Camden Public Library. If so, then clearly the decision is outside the policy framework of the Council with regard to the library remaining at the heart of its community; 4) The decision causes the Camden public library service to cease to function in Regents Park. While the building remains and services are offered through it, there will clearly be no library at the heart of the local community and therefore this decision is outside the policy framework of the Council; and, 5) while the decision on the Local Studies and Archives service was amended welcomingly to retain the service in the borough, no comment was made regarding the suggestion that Camden had failed to account for the fact that we may, as an authority, need to pay to access our own archives in future. There is a budgetary impact from this and therefore it is clear that the decision was outside the budget framework of the Council.

Proposed Alternative Course of Action 1) Clarify the status of Heath Library with the Corporation of London; 2) Ensure that the budgetary implications of the outsourcing/shared service provision of the Local Studies and Archives services are properly investigated and accounted for; 3) Clarify exactly what is meant by 'Camden's libraries should be at the heart of their communities' in the context of Proposal A; 4) Clarify exactly what is meant by 'The building to no longer be a Camden Public Library supported by the Council': eg, why should Heath, Belsize and Chalk Farm libraries not continue to exist as 'Camden Public Libraries' even if run by volunteers? Will it still be possible to access the Camden central library database from these libraries? Will these libraries keep their computers? Will members of these libraries be able to use their library cards at other libraries in Camden? etc; 5) Consult separately on the plan for Regents Park Library; 6) Arguably it's not possible for any library to remain a Camden Public Library without the consent of the Camden Public. Therefore we propose that full account is taken of the deputations to the Cabinet by both the Heath & Hampstead Society and CPLUG. Both organisations embraced the results of the consultation and proposed ways of using the offer of volunteering made by the respondents to the consultation in a way that might more readily lead to the savings being achieved in a way which is supported by the Camden Public. Therefore we propose that a delay is granted of six months to investigate fully the options they have outlined and have them compared against Option A; 7) Finally, we would note that this six months delay is warranted to develop both the CPLUG/H&HS business plans and also those of the volunteer-led projects for Heath, Belsize and Chalk Farm. After all, the team working up a proposal for Belsize Library had been told by the Head of Camden's Library Service to stop work on their proposal in the months leading up to the decision!

2 comments:

Philippa Jackson said...

Good on you for applying the brake to the toxic Council decisions on our community libraries.
Camden council consult and then ignore their locals. So much for local democracy.

perk_i said...

The call-in is an interesting decision, strange in some ways but with the potential to clarify certain areas of the existing position on the offer to Belsize, Chalk Farm and Heath libraries.

However, I should correct the last sentence of the text of the call-in, which says:

'After all, the team working up a proposal for Belsize Library had been told by the Head of Camden's Library Service to stop work on their proposal in the months leading up to the decision!'

The Winch, which is the organisation reported by Camden New Journal to be involved in supporting the Friends of Belsize Library and that referred to here in the text of the call-in, worked with Conservative and Liberal Democrat Belsize councillors, the Friends of Belsize Library and council officers in the months running up to the recent proposals to develop ideas for a 'community-led solution'.

However the Winch was not in fact told to stop work on the proposal during this period but rather was advised a few weeks before the presentation of consultation findings, at a meeting with the Head of Libraries Mike Clarke, that it would be wise to wait until findings and options were presented before doing any further work. This seemed sensible and respectful of the resources being committed to the process in light of the uncertainty around the conclusions which would be drawn.