8 October 2014
Future Direction of the Library Service
Report of the Head of Services for Communities
Recommendations: That Cabinet
(a) Note the results of the recent public consultation on the future direction of the library service;
(b) Agree the plans to investigate trust/mutual status for the library service as part of the future strategy for the service;
(c) Agree the proposal to seek up to 10 communities willing to work with the library service as part of the first phase of moving to a new model of delivery and agree that the Head of Services for Communities be authorised to develop a programme to assess and take forward applications from communities willing to be pilots in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Community and Environmental Services;
(d) Note the plans to achieve the anticipated savings for 2015/16;
(e) Agree the plans to improve access to services in rural libraries through investment in new technologies further analysis of the impact of the plans on those served by rural libraries with particular focus on those with protected characteristics;
(f) Agree the specific immediate plans in relation to Topsham Library and note the proposals for Barnstaple Library.
This report provides Members with feedback on the recent public consultation on the future direction of the library service and recommends that the Council develops plans to establish a new operating model for the library service, which could secure substantial financial benefits for the Council as well as increased involvement from communities across Devon.
In April 2014, Cabinet approved a 13 week public consultation on proposals to change the way that the library service operates in Devon.
Feedback from the public and a wide range of partners and stakeholders endorses the vision of a modern, vibrant library service, adapting to change and providing a broader range of services. It is clear that there is broad recognition of the need for changes to the Devon library service in the light of changing demand, technological and societal developments and the substantial reduction in local government funding. There is significant evidence that individuals and communities are willing to support the Devon library service in one or more ways, such as volunteering, becoming a member of a Friends Group and/or fundraising for their local library, in order to ensure the service can be sustained into the future. There is broad recognition that technology is changing the way people use libraries and there is demand for improved access to services, including longer opening hours and wi-fi in rural areas. There is a strong desire to retain paid members of staff in local communities.
In the light of public feedback, the paper recommends that further work is swiftly undertaken to explore alternative delivery models for the library service, which could realise substantial community involvement in the library service in the future, whilst also realising savings. As part of the first phase of this work, it is proposed that the Council seeks up to 10 communities willing to work with the Council as pilots for increased community involvement and help shape a new operating model for the whole library service.
3. Scope of the consultation and engagement activities
In July 2014, the County Council completed a major public consultation on the future of its library service. The aim was to seek the views of people of all ages and backgrounds on seven key proposals, which could reduce expenditure on libraries in the county by 1.5 million by 2016/17, whilst also enabling the service to evolve in response to changing needs and rapidly developing technological solutions.
Individuals and communities were invited to give their views. Information on the consultation was sent to Town and Parish Councils, Local Learning Communities and a wide range of partner and voluntary sector partners as well as distributed through libraries. Specific engagement work was undertaken with library staff; Friends Groups; children, schools and those groups identified as having 'protected characteristics'.
4. Consultation results
Number of responses/attendees
Questionnaires (completed in hard copy and online)
Comments on questionnaires
In excess of 20,000
Drop in sessions at libraries
Meetings with Friends Groups
Public meetings and/or meetings with Town Councils
Comments on Tough Choices website
Views of Tough Choices pages
Engagement with people with 'protected characteristics'/targeted groups
Results of the questionnaire
Proposal 1: Reduce the running costs of medium to large libraries by sharing space, integrating services and, where appropriate, staff with other council services and wider partners, creating broader-based Devon Centres model.
Proposal 2: Work collaboratively with communities to identify how smaller and less well-used libraries could be sustained in new and innovative ways.
Proposal 3: Work collaboratively with rural communities to explore alternatives to the mobile library service which are more affordable for the future, but which can still reach those in rural area who can't easily access a physical library.
Proposal 4: Identify how the use of technology can be improved to widen access to the service.
Proposal 5: Develop the outreach service for people physically unable to visit a library into a more personalised, attractive service.
Proposal 6: Continue to reduce the cost of management and support services.
Proposal 7: Continue to seek new sources of income, external funding and partnerships to sustain valued services.
61% of respondents indicated that they understood why DCC needs to make changes to the library service. 59% agreed with the proposal related to the library they used the most.
Key messages from the consultation
The following messages were consistently heard through the consultation process:
Vision and purpose: Devon's libraries are seen as valuable community hubs that are recognised by many individuals and communities as playing a broader role than simply loaning books. There is a recognition that libraries make an important contribution to the quality of life for many people, through improving access to digital technologies and through reducing isolation and loneliness within communities. In some communities, there is a demand to see more of this type of work in the future. Consistently people indicated that books and reading are important components of the library offer, although almost everyone acknowledges that they are a core element of a bigger whole.
Role of library staff: Library staff are seen as being very important to the quality and sustainability of library services locally. Many communities have indicated that they are willing to provide more proactive support for their local library but almost all have asserted a strong desire to retain professional expertise on site locally.
Balance between urban and rural: The important role of libraries in rural communities was highlighted consistently. Many communities indicated that the effect of previous budget reductions, particularly opening hours, had reduced their ability to use the library. Many rural communities suggest that efficiencies in larger libraries should be of a similar level as the reductions expected of small libraries. It was also highlighted that capital investment and modernisation of services, in recent years, has tended to focus on libraries serving larger communities.
Community involvement: A significant number of communities have indicated their willingness to work with DCC in the future to co-design a local solution which sustains the library and helps to meet a wider range of local needs. A number of these communities have innovative ideas which could potentially improve the availability of the library offer and broaden the use of a local library.
Funding/income generation: Many individuals indicated that they would be willing to pay for use of the library. It is not permissible under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act to charge for the lending of books. However, there was a strong sense expressed, particularly by older people, that they would be willing to make a financial contribution or donation to their local library. Several communities mentioned the possibility of raising their precept to support the library.
Co-location and community hubs: There is general support for co-locating services and many individuals and communities already recognise a level of co-location within their existing libraries. Even small libraries are perceived to already fulfil a community hub role and many communities are keen to build on this. However, there was a strong sense that any co-location should not compromise the quality of the library offer.
Reduced costs: Suggestions put forward as areas for potential cost reduction included renegotiating rents, seeking reduced business rates, sharing premises, maximising room hire income, reducing cleaning costs, supplementing staff with volunteers and green energy solutions.
Nature of the consultation: A significant number of people felt that the questionnaire was not clear or was designed to deliver a prejudged outcome. Some people were dissatisfied with the format and timings of the drop in sessions. This was mitigated by an open invitation to communities to host local meetings at which the portfolio holder and senior library managers could explain the consultation process. Individuals were also encouraged to submit their views in writing.
Broader community concerns: Many communities expressed concern about wider proposed changes, including potential reductions in public transport, which could make travel to larger libraries both expensive and inaccessible. Several communities expressed concern about the cumulative impact of changes to services being made by the County and District Councils in their areas.
Growth within communities: Several communities (including Axminster, Kingsteignton, Ottery, Pinhoe and St Thomas) highlighted the proposals for future growth contained within the Local Plan for the area and expressed concern about potential reductions to, and pressure on, library provision at a time of potential expansion.
Key partnerships: Potential partnerships suggested during the consultation included additional collaboration with Citizens Advice Bureaux, job centres, voluntary sector agencies and Credit Unions.
Devon Centres/Community-led libraries: In some towns, there was strong opposition to the proposed classification of the library as potentially community-led. This was particularly strongly expressed in Braunton and Dartmouth.
Value of the service: Many respondents, regardless of age, highlighted the importance of the service for children and the elderly.
A detailed analysis of the consultation results is available as supplementary information on the Council's web site at http://www.devon.gov.uk/index/councildemocracy/decision_making/cma/index_exc.htm and will be available for inspection at the meeting.
5. Proposed direction of travel
A new delivery model for the library service
It is recommended that a business case for an alternative operating model for the whole library service is prepared by the end of 2014. This could be a trust or mutual model (based on establishing a registered charity) which the Council would commission to deliver its statutory responsibilities. It would enable substantial savings to be made on business rates whilst enabling and encouraging greater community involvement in the future delivery of library services. It could provide the best model for delivering an integrated, modern, professionally managed library service across the county. It would be a positive response to public feedback around the importance of paid staff in smaller libraries and would enable the service to benefit from the energy of local communities keen to support the sustainability of their local library. The procurement issues around the types of operating models will need to be considered.
A number of other local authorities have already moved to new operating models or are in the process of setting up a model. Representatives from the County Council visited Suffolk in early September to understand the Industrial Provident Society (IPS) model in more detail. An early analysis has highlighted that the IPS model with membership drawn, in whole or in part, from library Friends Groups, as in Suffolk, could be appropriate for Devon as it could:
Release at least 400,000 in savings from National Non Domestic Rates (NNDR) payable as rates on the all county's library buildings including Devon Centres.
Enable local communities, through a Library Friends Group or through other community based organisations, to have a stake in the overall running of the library service.
Sustain the delivery of local library services within the framework of a professionally managed and delivered service.
Allow greater freedom and flexibilities for the library service to secure additional funding and income.
Offer synergies, at the community level, with other service changes and community discussions already underway.
If adopted this would be a significant programme of change which will impact on a broad cross-section of the Council's operations including Corporate Services. Library managers are currently applying to the Cabinet Office's Mutuals Support Programme for expert input and support. It is anticipated that any new operating model would be in place for April 2016.
Working with communities
In order to maximise the energy of communities which was generated by the consultation, it is recommended that up to 10 communities are selected as pilots for increased community involvement. In addition to working at a local level to move forward these discussions, it would be anticipated that the pilot communities could also have a role in shaping a new operating model for the whole library service. Subject to Cabinet approval, information for communities on how they can become pilots will be published later in October. It is anticipated that the pilots would start before the end of 2014.
Increased access to services in rural areas
It is clear that rural communities would like to make greater use of their local library but are constrained by diminished access to the service arising from previous budget reductions. There is potential to extend opening hours and to use the library as a more flexible community resource. In response to these demands, it is proposed that, in addition to the community pilots outlined above, that capital investment is made in order to enable greater access to services. This would include the Council:
Funding the installation of wi-fi in the 27 libraries which do not currently have it. This would enable all libraries to attract a wider range of customers; would improve access to digital services and maximise the potential of the library as a community resource. It could align with the rollout of the Connecting Devon & Somerset broadband rollout.
Installing self service in a wider range of libraries.
Using new technologies to extend existing core library opening hours based on the Danish experience of using the Open+/Open Libraries technologies. The utilisation of this type of technology should not be limited to rural areas alone.
In terms of the mobile library service, it is proposed that no immediate changes are made. Major changes were implemented in early 2014, reducing the fleet from 8 to 4 operational vehicles and moving to monthly stops. It is proposed that the Council evaluates the impact of these changes in early 2015 before any decisions about further changes are made.
Increased service efficiency
It is understandable that communities expect the Council to be as efficient as possible in its future delivery of library services. There is an expectation that maximum efficiencies and income are generated from the Council's largest libraries/Devon Centres. Although significant efficiencies have been made as a result of previous budget reductions, there are several proposed changes which could result in further efficiencies. These include:
A new Library Management System (LMS). It is planned to rollout a new Library Management System (LMS) in 2015 as the current system is very out of date. This is the key business system underpinning the delivery of frontline library services, a range of online transactions and supporting the back office stock services functions. The new system will provide opportunities for significantly increasing service efficiency through more modern processes and approaches.
Reviewing the future management and back office infrastructure for the library service. In the short-term, savings can be made through a vacancy management approach. In the medium-term, a new and more affordable management structure would be introduced which is appropriate for the new operating model for the service.
Additional cost reduction: Discussions with communities indicated that there was scope to make further savings in the delivery of library services. It is proposed that a cost reduction programme is introduced to make further savings in 2015/16.
Scoping the potential for sharing back office services with other library services.
Co-location of services in larger libraries
It is proposed that the Devon Centre model is rolled out over the next 2-3 years in locations where:
There is a clear business case which shows that adopting the model would reduce the Council's overall running costs and
There is alignment with the Council's Estates Strategy and/or where there is local demand for a Devon Centre approach.
The range of services and activities will depend on the needs of the local community; the County Council's plans for asset rationalisation and other partners and the size and suitability of the library for co-location. It is proposed that the next Devon Centre will be Barnstaple.
6. Topsham and Barnstaple Libraries
In 2013, the Council was approached by the Estuary League of Friends (ELoF) regarding the potential for ELoF to take on the running of Topsham Library. ELoF have plans to redevelop the site on which the current library sits into a broader community hub, providing a wider range of services, alongside a modern library offer. Planning permission for their new building was granted earlier this year.
Plans have now progressed following extensive discussions between officers and representatives of ELoF as well as additional engagement with the local community. On the basis of those discussions, it is now proposed that the site on which Topsham Library sits is transferred to the ELoF so that plans for its redevelopment can be progressed. Heads of Terms have been drafted and will be signed, subject to the necessary approvals. Further discussions will need to take place with Topsham about the "fit" with any new delivery model.
Initial work has been undertaken to determine the potential to incorporate DCC staff and services from the Barnstaple Civic Centre following North Devon Council's decision to vacate the Civic Centre. Initial layouts have been considered and officers are continuing to develop plans which could incorporate services and staff, whilst also safeguarding sufficient space to deliver a modern library offer. In addition, there are ongoing discussions regarding the future provision of the North Devon Record Office in the light of reduced budgets for the Heritage Service and the transfer of the service to the newly created South West Heritage Trust.
It is proposed that Barnstaple Library becomes the next of the Council's Devon Centres. This would:
Enable considerable savings to be made on the overall running costs of the library, estimated at c. 75k 100K.
Bring additional capital investment to improve the building, including improvements to air circulation, green energy and overall modernisation of the first floor of the Library, bringing it up to the standard of the ground floor.
Enable greater scope for collaboration with other Council services.
It is proposed that further engagement is undertaken with the public and with library staff before decisions are made on the final layout. It is anticipated that building work could commence in early 2015.
Savings of 200,000 have been achieved in 2014/15 from the rationalisation of the mobile library service. The required savings of 400,000 in 2015/16 would be generated through a combination of:
Actively managed vacancy management approach, particularly in terms of management and support services vacancies, providing savings in the short term and anticipating the potential for further management rationalisation for a new operating model.
Savings in running costs from the planned changes to Barnstaple Library currently estimated at 75K - 100K.
Cost reduction and income generation plan for the whole service.
Savings to be generated in agreement with the communities involved in the pilots.
In the event of moving into an alternative delivery model, the new entity, assuming it was a registered charity, would benefit from significant business rates reduction, which would save at least 400,000. However, work will need to be undertaken to assess whether this will have an adverse impact on the Councils overall income levels. In addition, there would be an expectation that additional savings of 500,000 would be derived from:
A management and support services infrastructure appropriate to a social enterprise/charitable model.
New sources of income and external funding available to the new organisation as a charitable organisation.
Efficiencies derived from a modern Library Management System.
Support from local communities.
More efficient, effective and personalised ways of serving deep rural areas (currently served by mobile libraries) and those unable, due to physical frailty, to access conventional library services.
Continued exploitation of existing and new technologies to more effectively meet the changing needs of local communities.
Changing use of the existing stock resources fund to better target investment in new books and other resources.
Increased partnerships and co-location with organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Detailed financial work will need to be undertaken in relation to any new operating model, including consideration of pension liabilities.
8. Equality Considerations
Where relevant to the decision, the Equality Act 2010 Public Sector Equality Duty requires decision makers to give due regard to the need to:
eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other prohibited conduct;
advance equality by encouraging participation, removing disadvantage, taking account of disabilities and meeting people's needs; and
foster good relations between people by tackling prejudice and promoting understanding.
Taking account of age, disability, race/ethnicity (includes Gypsies and Travellers), gender and gender identity, religion and belief, sexual orientation, pregnant women/ new and breastfeeding mothers, marriage/civil partnership status in coming to a decision, a decision maker may also consider other relevant factors such as caring responsibilities, rural isolation or socio-economic disadvantage.
This may be achieved, for example, through completing a full Equality Impact Needs Assessment/Impact Assessment or other form of options/project management appraisal that achieves the same objective.
The County Council has undertaken a thorough Impact Assessment in relation to the original seven proposals, using feedback gained during the consultation to inform the assessment. Significant work was undertaken during the consultation to engage with individuals and groups with protected characteristics. This included specific consultation and engagement with:
Children, young people and schools
Adults with learning disabilities
People who rely on libraries for access to digital services
People with dementia and their carers who make use of the library for a range of activities.
In addition, careful analysis was undertaken of the results of the questionnaires, looking particularly at the views of women and those with a disability.
An Impact Assessment has been prepared, a copy of which has been circulated to Cabinet Members, and is available on the Council's website at:
As work progresses on a potential new operating model and as pilot communities begin to work with the Council on new approaches to supporting their local library, the Impact Assessment will continue to be reviewed and revised in the light of relevant issues that may emerge.
9. Legal Considerations
Under Section 7 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, library authorities [i.e. local authorities who exercise library functions] have a statutory duty to provide a 'comprehensive and efficient' library service, set in the context of local need: that is, specifically of those who live, work and study in the local area.
As well as the statutory obligation under the Act, the Council must also take into account and have regard to a number of other legal duties including under the Equality Act 2010, particularly the public sector equality duty. In 2001, Public Library Standards were introduced in an attempt to describe what is meant by 'comprehensive and efficient' but these were withdrawn several years ago. In their absence, the Wirral Inquiry has been interpreted by the sector as good guidance on the process that a local authority should follow in reviewing its library service and of the decisions that it might make which would not leave it in breach of the Act. In considering significant proposals in relation to the library service, it is essential that the Council pays due regard to the public sector equality duty and makes a full assessment of need with particular focus on the needs of groups with 'protected characteristics', ie:
Pregnancy and maternity
Race (including ethnic or national origins, colour or nationality)
Religion or belief
For the purposes of library services, it is also best practice to consider issues around rural isolation, deprivation and digital exclusion. The information generated by this needs analysis should be used in an objective and balanced way to inform the shape of the proposed future library service.
There have been a number of legal challenges in recent years around public libraries (e.g. Somerset, Gloucestershire, Brent). The Courts have placed great emphasis on both the Equality Duty and the Best Value duty in reaching their decisions. They have clearly expressed a view in these decisions that library services are not exempt from budget pressures facing Councils and are likely to have to bear a share of the spending reductions. Accordingly, Councils are entitled to review current service provision to look at new methods of delivery of a 'comprehensive and efficient' service that can also 'balance the books', but in so doing must undertake the thorough assessment of local need described above, consult carefully, fully considering people's views and being prepared to adjust proposals in the light of feedback.
The public consultation undertaken to inform this paper has paid due regard to people with protected characteristics and those affected by rural isolation, deprivation and digital exclusion. The results of that consultation set out in supplementary information to this paper and the associated Impact Assessment provide more detail on the results of the consultation, particularly as they relate to individuals with protected characteristics.
If a separate organisation was to deliver library services in the county in the future, the County Council would retain its statutory responsibilities in relation to library services and would establish an effective contract and ongoing commissioning relationship to ensure that the new body was delivering a service in line with the Council's statutory responsibilities.
10. Risk Management Considerations
The County Council will continue to assess the risks through the development and implementation of the recommendations, particularly in relation to the Council's financial situation and its legal responsibilities as they relate to the Equality Act and the need to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service.
11. Public Health Impact
The important contribution that libraries make to the health and wellbeing of communities and the individuals within those communities, particularly the most vulnerable, is highlighted in the Impact Assessment and in the results of the public consultation detailed in the supplementary information.
The proposed direction of travel for the library service could provide increased opportunities for engagement with priority groups and increase the involvement of individuals in local community life.
The extensive public consultation carried out earlier this year has confirmed the high level of support within communities for a modern, vibrant library service that is affordable, adapting to changing needs and technologies and rooted in local community life. The proposed direction of travel responds positively to public feedback, retaining a professionally managed and delivered library service that benefits from increased community involvement and support.
Head of Services for Communities
Electoral Divisions: All
Cabinet Member for Community and Environmental Services: Councillor Roger Croad
Strategic Director, Place: Heather Barnes
Local Government Act 1972: List of Background Papers
Contact for enquiries: Ciara Eastell
Room No. Great Moor House, Bittern Road, Exeter
Tel No: (01392) 383000
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