Saturday, 14 May 2011

Bar Hill Library Meeting 12th May @ Bar Hill Church

For those of you who wern't able to attend the meeting at the Church it was very well attended, several times additional rows of chairs had to be added as more people arrived. Elected representatives for Bar Hill for the district, parish, and county councils were in attendance.

The meeting was hosted by Mike Hosking and Christine May from Cambridgeshire County Council. On everyone's chair at the start of the meeting were two documents; the Future of Cambridgeshire's Library Service (available as a PDF here), and Bar Hill Library Profile (available as a PDF here).  The format of the meeting was a short presentation (the documentation for which I'm trying to source) followed by a long question and answer session where everyone was given the opportunity to ask questions and have the two officers provide the best answers they could (given the limited amount of information available).

The main parts of the presentation were;

  • The County Councils commitment to supporting the local community after the library has been converted. This support would include providing the same amount, range, and quantity of stock, free access to the library management system, free broadband internet, a degree of support, training, and advice, and maintenance of the buildings.
  • In return for this the County Council is expecting the community to provide a significant contribution to local running costs, either a contribution towards the costs of staffing or volunteers, and a commitment to maintain the current performance standards and quality.
  • The next steps following this meeting will be the continuation of dialog in the coming months, putting together final proposals, establishing the trust, advertising and appointing the chair of trustees, consultation on opening hours, and the introduction of self service.

The question and answer session raised many issues and due to the number of issues raised (not to mention the speed of my typing!) this is only a very brief summary. Questions start the bullet point, answers are in italics;

  • How does the Public Libraries act affect these proposals? Current proposals do not include and closing of libraries, that will be a decision of Councillors if they prove to be unavoidable. However the act specifies the quality of service, not that the County Council must provide 100% of the funding.
  • Why is Bar Hill Library in the bottom 13? Because of the lack of deprivation in the local community. It is *not* about the local libraries performance.
  • 7 of the "at risk" libraries are in South Cambridgeshire. Bar Hill is a hub library because people come here to Tesco from other villages. There is no mention of the income from the post office in the figures. The library review is being careful to ensure that there are no gaps in provision and that while there is some rent paid by the post office the actual amount is commercially confidential and so isn't included in the figures
  • Squeezing the post office for more money could endanger the post office. The Council is working with the Post Master and are looking to increase space in the building for the Post Office to allow it to increase it's income and therefore increase it's rent without increasing the risk
  • Impact of the Northstow development. Northstow has not been taken into account in any way as it's future (and timing) is not know. It was revealed that Northstow would have a community facility which would include some sort of library provision
  • Concern was expressed that the charitable trust was being rushed. The plan for the trust is complex and it will not be just for libraries but will also include Adult Learning and Heritage. The trust will be completely independent. An advertisement for an interim chair will be posted in the next couple of weeks, the chair will oversea the creation of the trust and the appointment of trustees (who will then re-elect a chair). All trust positions will be unpaid. Trust will save on rates (with cooperation of District Councils for additional rate relief). Mike Hoskings will retire prior to start of trust and a new CEO will be appointed
  • How will volunteers be trained? The Council recognises that volunteers aren't a no-cost option. The Doorstep Service was also cited as an example of an existing service associated with the libraries that is run by volunteers. Existing staff will be trained on managing volunteers and this will be added to their role
  • Where will volunteers come from? Volunteers probably also already doing something. How will you engage the 1/4 of the village who use the library? The questionnaire found that 1,800 people said they would volunteer, this demonstrates support, a "good number" will probably volunteer, looking for very committed people. As a result of the publicity around the consolation people are already coming into  libraries asking how they can volunteer. Volunteer roles will be advertised on the Do-it website (click here). It was also pointed out that the existing Library Access Points (LAPS) have all survived 8 or 9 years running on a voluntary basis
  • Why waste time and not use staff? Volunteers add capacity, working alongside staff, not seeking to replace staff with volunteers, based on cost. Advice and support for volunteers means they aren't expected to be free
  • How many trustees and what criteria are you using? Fear was expressed that the trust will be dominated by retired managers and businessmen with no empathy with communities. We will need businessmen as trust will have 9m turnover, looking for board of 10 or 12 people, task of interim chair will be to select trustees, all roles will be advertised, hopefully CEN will run a feature publicising this
  • How will people with a full-time job be able to volunteer? They can help fundraising or join friends groups
  • Business jargon associated with trust. Are trustees paid? How many jobs will be shed? Can't answer last part of question as it's not clear, 40 jobs are expected to shed from library service, some small  reductions planned in front line services, but most will be back office, trying to protect front line service delivery is a priority. 9 full time employees was the figure mentioned, but a hope was expressed that this could be reduced.
  • What are the requirements for trustees? Surely at least one member must be an expert in the field the trust deals with, accountant is useful sometimes, smaller committees are better, chairman is unpaid, what about other trustees? Who will choose trustees from those that apply? Who are trustees accountable to? None of the trustees be paid, they will receive expenses, no reason expenses shouldn't be published. Interim chair to appoint trustees, other trustees will then choose chair, initial appointment made by portfolio holder, MH and his boss rod Craig
  • Why three trusts? Trust needs sufficient turnover to become viable, multiple income streams
  • There are five districts in Cambridgeshire, how will they be represented on the trust board? There is no guarantee that each district will be represented
  • How much will be saved by staff reductions? Staffing reduction figures are only estimates, pension rights, length of service will all affect the total saving from reductions
  • How about paying for books? The 1964 public libraries act very clear, borrowing of books must be free, there were subscription libraries that were charging 10 years ago but these were not public libraries
  • What is the cost of installing and maintaining self service machines? What space is required? There is a one off capital investment to install self service, maintenance charge is small, where they have been introduced they have been integrated into existing desks and use very little space. Approximate cost is £7k per library to install machine, reliable and will last a number of years. As an example of how they help a self service machine would mean that when the Post Office is open in bar hill the library could also be open with the self service machine running
  • Some concern was expressed that unsuitable services would be shoehorned into libraries. For example moving housing services into Peterborough central library led to the library service being dominated and was generally thought to be unsuitable. Maybe out of hours for other services, Council will sit down with parish council and friends groups to sort out details.
  • What about the individuality of each of the libraries? We need to look at the features? Primary school really used library a lot, encourages people from other villages, what about marketing the library, signs,etc? How are you assessing features of local community? What are you doing? Encouraging to hear of the use, these meetings are part of it, comments will be recorded tonight and will be added in. Marketing is quite poor, hopefully trust will improve it, active borrowers are quite good locally. Wealth of detail from each of the meetings, although we run the service it's your service and probably the only county council service you can choose to use
  • People don't want to change. Would you prefer we talked about how they will change? Are we saying what you want us to say? We are determined to keep libraries open, but the budget is being cut and we can't ignore it. Its how this community wants to respond to that. Evey community is different. This meeting is the start of the dialog
  • Raised some interesting issues, issue boils down to library has to cost less, or make more. Friends group buys furniture, 15k per year would mean raising the precept, what can our residents do tomorrow to help keep the library? Sum is 200k across the 13 libraries, roughly 15k per library to keep service operating as it is, residents don't have to do anything tomorrow but must talk to friends group or parish council, there might be different options. Issues elsewhere are around galvanising volunteers, thinking about how they organise it, some places are agreeing a figure onto the parish precept, some places fundraising, determine who in the community the county council should liaise with?
  • Without the work done relocating the post office all those years ago the Post Office would be closed, architects plans for changes are being urgently considered. Can the County confirm? Yes can confirm, moving forward on building changes as soon as possible. Building wastes a lot of space, roof wastes energy, building in good site but needs some work doing
  • Sharing premises seriously compromises security of library stock and computers. Large number of enthusiastic library users, should be careful about short changing the children. Unique and precious stock would be protected, general stock is not of great monetary value, entirely right to think of children, when gone libraries are very difficult to bring back which is why these consultations are so important
  • Services for children, so important, volunteers not the same as training professional staff. Best option to maintain funding to employ the brilliant staff across the county, self service investment frees up staff to help people more
  • Concerned with self service, don't want to visit the library with an impersonal self service machine. Already widely used, people already book books at 3am from their own computer. Self service works in central library
  • Benefactors? Money needs to be for the foreseeable future, having worked in local government for a very long time and seen the changes to national policy if we are out of this in 5 years time he will be surprised. Benefactors need to understand that the commitment will be ongoing in order to keep the libraries open
  • Central library has become impersonal. Central library took 10 years to refurbish, best analogy is between village shop and supermarket. Central is one of busiest libraries in country, nearly 1m visitors per year
  • An ex-volunteers stated that they were well trained and well versed in what happened when he was one. Providing library is headed by qualified librarian trained volunteers with a passion for the service will be good. Very few trained librarians working in Cambridgeshire, volunteers delivering the housebound service are highly trained, housebound volunteers are of all ages
  • Why not encourage unemployed to volunteer? No restrictions on who could volunteer, some things coming forward to encourage people on long term unemployment to volunteer, some concerns around the time taken to train the staff if they are just going to leave
  • Would volunteers going into home by CRB checked? Yes, all volunteers are crb checked

Next County Councillor John Reynolds, the local Conservative representative, said a few words about the need for a vision for the future, the financial mess we're in, encouraging use, and some example of how volunteers could be best used.

Finally Councillor Sir Peter Brown, the Conservative Cabinet Member and portfolio holder for Libraries, thanked everyone for coming, said every suggestion would be considered, and stressed the importance he sees in working with the local communities.

NOTE: The questions/ answers above are from the notes I made at the meeting and so I might have missed things, but hopefully not anything that would affect the understanding/ meaning behind either the question or the answer. I'd welcome corrections and clarifications if anyone would like to submit them either as comments or to me via email.