Following the resignation of Maria Miller as Secretary of State, Maurice Nauta (campaigner and former senior manager in our library service) has now written to her replacement Sajid Javid. You can still read the original letter to Maria Miller if you scroll down this page.
An open Letter to:
The Rt Hon Mr. Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Mr Maurice Nauta
14th April, 2014
Dear Mr. Sajid Javid,
LINCOLNSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL – LIBRARY SERVICE PROVISION
Welcome to your new post, and I sincerely hope you will take the opportunity to be active and influential in the role. You will already know that there is much to do and that many of us will be pinning our hopes on your appointment.
I received a letter from Zoe Allott of the Department’s Ministerial Support Team on 12th March 2014. She confirmed receipt of my letter to your predecessor, in which I described the fears, shock and anger of local residents here over the dismemberment of our library service. In that letter, which I am resending here as an attachment, I asked for the Secretary of State to use her powers under the Public Libraries Act 1964 to intervene in the decisions made by the County Council. She declined because we have been successful in obtaining a Judicial Review (on all four counts). This is not likely to happen before June.
You will probably be aware that there are similar battles happening all over the country, whilst at the same time a panel of the DCMS are considering the future of the library service within the Sieghart Review (I attach my contribution herewith). To me, it would make sense to call for a “cease fire “, using your powers, to allow you the opportunity to make sure that what comes out of the Review can be delivered by a library service fit for the purpose. I know the arguments about the need to save money and letting local Councils make the decisions. However, we have never had this situation before. A new Secretary of State; a major upheaval of a much loved and significant local and national service, and a Review of how library services will play a major role in the key strategies of our times (education, economic regeneration, equality, health and community development etc).
Since I last wrote, residents have lobbied MPs at the House of Commons and presented a book called “The Tip of the Iceberg” at Number 10. This contained nearly 1,000 written comments from the petition to Save our Libraries signed by 23,000 people. My own MP, Sir Edward Leigh, has been prominent throughout the last ten months, in asking the County Council to stop what they are doing to the library service and think again. I attach his latest press release. It is also a fact that alternatives to the County Councils’ proposals were given short shrift by them, even though they would have meant less disruption and at least the same savings. Now people here are being made redundant and local Parish Councils forced into the situation of either taking over the running of local libraries, or losing them, and at the same time needing to find extra money through the local precept to pay the County Council for that honour.
Finally, LCC have unilaterally decided to remove most of their sites and the whole of the mobile service from the national statutory library system, and therefore remove them from the positive sphere of influence of the government, including your national supervisory oversight. LCC do not appear to have produced any explanation as to why taking this action would be of benefit to residents.
Despite the fact that you are undoubtedly going to be busy, I do hope you will give this situation in Lincolnshire particular regard, because it is being followed by local authorities and their residents thoughout the country.
Original letter to Maria Miller. Click here to open the fuller PDF version of letter (approx 20 pages) which includes full appendices Open Letter to The Rt Hon Maria Miller MP re LCC Intervention Call. Click here to read Maurice Nauta’s statement about this letter.
An open Letter to:
The Rt Hon Maria Miller MP
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Mr Maurice Nauta
10th February 2014
Dear Mrs Miller,
I have received a letter (CMS/239729) from your department dated 23rd January 2014 with the information that my previous representations made to Mr Ed Vaizey MP on 18th October are currently being considered.
Since my original letter was sent, firm decisions have been made by Lincolnshire County Council and I now feel that only a full inquiry under your direction will be sufficient to properly address the strong evidence that a decision has now been made which produces serious doubt as to whether the Council is (or may cease to be) complying with its legal obligation to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. This is in addition to significant discrepancies within the process of change itself.
You will be aware of the decision by Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) to introduce wide-ranging changes in the library provision in the County of Lincolnshire but you may not know of the very widespread public opposition to those changes. A petition against the proposals gathered around 23,000 signatures.
Official consultation on the proposed changes also produced an unprecedented level of public response. The resulting report noted that “In over a decade of research work the analysis team at SHU had not experienced any survey (on any topic) generating such a high volume of qualitative data / written comments. In excess of 21,300 comments (779 A4 pages) were read, coded and analysed.”
The very high response rate can be explained by the fact that changes do not just affect a select group of people but a majority of the residents across England’s second largest county. Most will have to travel further to reach a full range of library services; many will have to travel much further and a quarter of households in the county will be placed beyond what the Department of Transport deems to be acceptable access to a statutory service.
Although participation was extensive “many participants found the survey and consultation events unsuitable or inadequate ways to communicate their feelings, and over 600 Lincolnshire residents chose to contact LCC via email, letter or social media to further voice their opinions.”
To back up the dissatisfaction that was expressed at the way the consultation was conducted there is clear evidence that the process of introducing these changes has been deeply flawed. The Consultation Institute, a body that was asked by LCC to advise on and validate the consultation process did not do so at the time and asked that its logo be removed from the final report.
The summary to the report closed with the words: “There was a strong call for LCC’s library proposals to be reconsidered by the Executive on 3rd December 2013 in light of the strength of participants feeling.”
The very strong and widespread feelings that were expressed against the proposals were ignored and the plans were enacted largely unchanged.
The details of the evidence concerning shortcomings both in the process of change and the resulting outcome are too extensive to include in full in this covering letter and so I am submitting them to you in the form of three appended reports:
• Appendix 1 – A Paper on the Performance of Lincolnshire Library Service in Comparison to Other Rural Authorities
• Appendix 2 – A Critical Analyses of the Consultation Process
• Appendix 3 – A Paper on Changes in the Library Service in Lincolnshire in Relation to the Requirements of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964
I am mindful that you do have the difficult job of ensuring that a delicate balance is struck between a council’s right to take local decisions on local services, and overseeing the statutory duty on local authorities to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service, a duty that the government has stated it intends to maintain.
The prime concern here is that LCC have unilaterally decided to remove most of their sites and the whole of the mobile service from the national statutory library system, and therefore remove them from the positive sphere of influence of the government, including your national supervisory oversight. LCC do not appear to have produced any explanation as to why taking this action would be of benefit to residents.
It should be made clear that this is not a simple revision or reorganisation of the service. LCC have described it as redesigning the service “ from scratch.”
Libraries are only being retained in urban locations that are, because of the rural nature of the county, beyond reasonable reach of 26% of households adding to the problem of rural isolation. Most importantly, changes in Lincolnshire mean that more active borrowers residing in areas in the top 20% most deprived nationally will be in the service gap compared to the current network
The government have indicated that a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service represents the balance to be struck by each local authority in meeting local needs within the context of available resources in a way which is appropriate to the identified needs of the communities they serve.
This statement from the government stresses the importance of solutions being closely tailored to local needs.
In making these changes LCC has not looked at the needs of, or canvased opinion from, any of the widely diverse communities where the statutory service is to be discontinued. The needs of each of the communities were not assessed or analysed. Consultation documentation related only to generic tiers of service to be delivered countywide and input from particular communities were not isolated and so cannot have been taken account of.
No arguments have been put forward or rationale given by LCC to explain why the people of Lincolnshire would need a lower level of library services than those in other parts of the country. On the contrary, the consultation showed that the public locally placed a very high value on libraries.
The government have confirmed the value of making comparisons when assessing an appropriate level of service “The detailed reports, produced by CIPFA, will help library authorities ensure they are delivering a good level of service and review any areas for improvement.”
LCC have not explained why they consider it appropriate that the local service should be reduced to less than half the number of library buildings per head of population than are provided in other rural counties or why, given that within comparable LA’s a “comprehensive” staff level is considered to be in the range of 20 to 30 library staff per 100000 pop, they consider an appropriate figure for Lincolnshire to be only 12.8?
The budget for frontline services in Lincolnshire will be £6087 per 1000 pop pa. This is around half the expenditure that the cohort of 15 similar rural local authorities given in the CIPFA report require to enable them to provide what they regard as a “comprehensive” service, the average figure being £11,983 per 1000 pop.
Lincolnshire already performs poorly in terms of library usage compared to other, similar authorities being lowest of all 16 authorities in terms of active borrowers per head of population in a recent CIPFA report It seems unlikely that the general population of the county has a particular aversion to using library services, a more plausible explanation is the one put forward within the report which suggested that the authority was “not engaging” as well with the population as it should.
LCC have redesigned the service “from scratch” yet the requirement to improve engagement has been ignored, opening hours have been reduced across the board and no clearly identifiable improvements to any aspect of the service have been introduced.
The minister has in the past identified opening hours as being a prime indicator of the efficacy of a service. Here opening hours are to be reduced even within the remaining core libraries. A further cut in hours from those proposed was introduced following the consultation in order to provide funding for additional non-statutory mobile stops. This was despite residents concurring with the minister’s opinion and pinpointing opening hours as one of the most important criteria in the consultation results.
Data from the Beyond Boundaries project in which LCC took part shows that travel time is a “highly significant” factor in people’s usage of libraries and that there is a “very clear, rapid drop-off” in usage as travel time increases. The report also noted “there is an apparent social difference in this drop-off too, probably accounted for by the fact wealthier people tend to live out of town.”
The greatly increased travel times for the majority of the population brought about by the changes can only serve as a disincentive to library use which, with the continuing general lack of engagement, would seem to show LCC to be in contravention of the duty placed on the them by the 1964 Act of “encouraging both adults and children to make full use of the library service”
The lack of correlation between the value placed on the service by local people expressed in the consultation and the poor level of service decided on might be seen as confirming the strong suspicion that plans were fully formed before consultation took place.
Background documentation confirms this in clearly stating a number of decisions including that the exact number of 15 libraries is to be kept in the service had been determined before consultation as “decisions [that] had to be made before consultation and cannot be influenced”
A full analysis of the numerous errors and omissions that blighted the consultation process is given in Appendix 2 but two items might be highlighted which might be construed as being beyond simple errors:
• Lincolnshire Research Observatory were asked to investigate the effects of public travel times to the 15 core libraries, this report was delivered in September 2012. Notwithstanding it’s key relevance to the matters being consulted on, this report as well as a number of others was not made readily available in the documentation for the following years consultation. It is of particular concern that this significant document was added to the consultation page of the council’s website only after consultation closed.
• At the bottom of page 14 in notes from the Libraries Consultation mid-term review meeting held on 15th of August 2013 obtained under FOI there is the statement “when people find out that the co-op might obtain some sites, there will be a whiff of favouritism.” Although the person making the statement is not detailed in the notes, the use of the phrase “when people find out” is concerning and a strong indication that important information was deliberately being withheld from the public.
Within their documents LCC make numerous references to the concept of efficiency, however there is a complete absence of any analysis, comparative figures or calculations given to measure or explore the extent of any perceived inefficiency in the existing service or to demonstrate how efficiency might be improved by the changes that are to be made.
Having made these calculations for myself using the council’s own figures, I have discovered that in terms of value for money, the amount of service provided for each pound of public money spent, the changes will make the service less financially efficient than it is currently.
Current and future provision compared in terms of cost efficiency by hours and staffing:
• Current provision £6.086m/74031 hours pa = £82.21 per open hour
• New provision £4.351m/31460 hours pa = £138.30 per open hour
• Therefore changes add £56.09 over current costs for every hour that a library is open
• Current provision £6.086m/142.24=£42,787 per FTE staff member
• New provision £4.351m/89.701=£48,505 per FTE staff member
• Therefore changes add £5,718 per year to current costs for each full time equivalent staff member employed
Given these multiple outstanding issues with both the process and the outcome of changes I have demonstrated that the local authority has not properly or fairly handled this controversial local issue, with particular regard to the need to consult with an open mind before taking decisions and the requirement to maintain a comprehensive and efficient service for “for all persons desiring to make use thereof” .
I hope that the minister will agree with me that a local inquiry is appropriate in this case because there are substantial uncertainties as to compliance with the statutory duty both in terms of comprehensiveness and efficiency, and indications that public consultation and discussion of proposals have been seriously flawed and inadequate.
There is a very limited window available before changes that would be difficult and expensive to reverse are put into place, and I would ask you to ascertain the facts for yourself by directing that an inquiry take place without delay.
I will be happy to provide you with additional information and supporting documentation on request.
Finally, I have noted that, in reviewing other recent requests for inquiries into library services the minister has given consideration to a number of factors. I felt it might be helpful if I outlined the circumstances in Lincolnshire with reference to each of these points:
You may consider that there is serious doubt or uncertainty as to whether the Council is (or may cease to be) complying with its legal obligation to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.
• Lincolnshire is to introduce a service countywide that falls considerably short of the level that similar authorities deem to be comprehensive.
• The ratio of professional library staff to population is to be far below all other authorities in the same CIPFA cohort, about half of that provided by the next lowest.
• The number of libraries for the population will less than half that of the next lowest authority in the CIPFA comparative data.
• Libraries will be sited only in urban locations, out of reach of 25% of the population, and travel times will significantly increase for a great number of users, maybe even for the majority of the population.
• The effectiveness of services provided in mitigation has not been clearly established. They will be inefficient and do not seem to be properly funded for the demands that will be placed upon them.
• The quantity of service delivered for each pound spent will be reduced suggesting a reduction in financial efficiency.
• Targeted services will need to be provided for a large section of the population. There is evidence that these will be underfunded and so unable to effectively contribute to delivering a comprehensive service. Targeted services are likely to be a less efficient way to supply service in an area than a conventional static site.
You may consider that the Council appears to have acted in a careless or unreasonable way.
• When the decision was made to cut around £2million from frontline library services the figure seems to have been selected in an arbitrary way. It could not have been based on the detailed costing of plans as, at that time, no plans for change had been published or consulted on. Therefore, at the time that the decision to cut the budget was made, the council could not have known if the remaining sum budgeted would or would not be sufficient to provide a comprehensive service.
• In developing the plans, a very generalised countywide approach was used and the council did not look at the impact that changes would have on the specific communities concerned or vulnerable people within them.
• Consultation did not take place at a local level and so the opinions and suggestions relating to the sites to be closed have not been collected or assessed.
• Key documents were not made readily available at the time of the consultation; there is some evidence that information was being deliberately withheld.
• Documents show that important decisions had already been taken before consultation. This is clear evidence that LCC could not have had an open mind when considering the product of the consultation.
• There is further evidence that public opinion was not taken into account when forming the plans, in that consultation took place at the very end of the process and concurrently with tendering for community libraries and detailed staff briefings on redundancy arrangements.
• The consultation process was not endorsed at the time by a relevant body who were asked to do so, strongly suggesting that it was seriously defective.
• The product of the consultation was largely ignored
You may consider the decision was outside the proper bounds of the Council’s discretion, in that insufficient effort was made to identify vulnerable groups in each of the local communities producing uncertainty that their needs have been met.
• More active borrowers residing in areas in the top 20%, 10% and 2% most deprived nationally will be in a “service gap” compared to the current network.
• The failure to carry out a needs assessment or EIA at each of the local communities where statutory service is to be withdrawn means that the impact on vulnerable groups in those areas is unknown.
You may consider that the Council has failed to explain, analyse or properly justify its proposals.
• The explanation that removing overlaps of catchments will address efficiency is flawed. A service without overlaps may be less efficient than a service with overlaps as a result of the wide gaps in service that the removal of overlaps can produce, as is the case here.
• No analysis or figures have been provided to support a claim that the current service is inefficient or that the new service will be more efficient.
• Given the value placed on the service within the consultation results, no explanation has been provided as to why the service in terms of staff and buildings is to be so much less than that regarded as comprehensive in other similar parts of the country.
You may consider that the local proposals are likely to lead to a breach of national library policy.
• The concept of a national library policy must include the assumption that a certain level of service is maintained, so that citizens in one part of the county are not unduly disadvantaged in comparison to others. The unilateral decision to reduce service across the whole of the second largest county in England, to well below that offered elsewhere will produce the type of serious inconsistency in service that a national library policy and the provisions of the 1964 Act seek to avoid.
You may consider that substantial further investigation is needed. A local inquiry is likely to be appropriate in this case because there are substantial uncertainties as to compliance with the statutory duty, little substantive engagement with the local authority and inadequate public consultation and discussion of proposals.
• The removal of service from 25% of the population, a much increased travel time for most of the remainder, a very poor service in comparison to other rural areas and a demonstrable reduction in efficiency, all call compliance with statutory duty into question. A detailed report on these matters is available on request.
• The inadequacy and errors in the conduct of consultation is touched on above and is detailed in Appendix 2.
• At one of the meetings held as part of the consultation process, a suggestion was put forward that LCC might consider joining forces with two other County Library Authorities, to pool resources and save money from management and support areas, rather than the frontline. It was said by the LCC spokesperson that this had already been looked at, but did not release enough savings. No information about such a review has been found, and it was not mentioned in any of the proposal papers.
You may take into account the advantages of local decision making by expert and democratically accountable local representatives.
• While local decision making may normally be of advantage, in this case the unilateral withdrawal of statutory status from the majority of the local services will remove from these elected members, who administer a rural county, their proper accountability to parliament for the maintenance of an appropriate level of library service outside of a limited number of urban areas.
• The Arts Council and the LGA have recently published guiding principles for authorities on issues relating to the role of volunteers in community supported and community managed libraries. This details how community libraries can form part of a local authority’s network of libraries, through which it fulfils its statutory duties. LCC have chosen not to follow that model and to make all sites beyond the 15 core locations non-statutory.
• The minister may wish to ask the local decision makers what benefit they feel the local populace gains by their removing her statutory supervision and oversight from the majority of the service in the county.
You may consider there are further good reasons why a local inquiry would be appropriate.
• The government has said, “The detailed reports, produced by CIPFA, will help library authorities ensure they are delivering a good level of service and review any areas for improvement.”
• In redesigning its service LCC did not look at its provision in relationship to other authorities in the light of the CIPFA reports as the government suggested.
• There is a marked discrepancy between the uniformly low spending on front line services in the county and spending on support services, which is the very highest in the sector at over two and a half times more than average. The changes produce a further 33% reduction in frontline spending thus increasing the already very large disparity between front line and back office budgets.
• In a speech to the “Future of Library Services “ Conference in June 2012 Mr Ed Vaizey said “if one authority is spending twice as much on book stock as another, but providing a similar number of books, we can ask if there are ways to improve efficiency in the authority in question”.
• LCC is spending more than twice as much on support services as other authorities but providing less service to the public. This is the just the sort of inefficiency that Mr Vaizey refers to and it would be hoped that your department would want to ask, within the context of a wider inquiry, why this was not addressed as part of the “from scratch” redesign of the service that has taken place.
Mr Maurice Nauta
Please support Maurice by contacting your MP about his letter. Find out the contact details of your representative councillors and MPs by entering your postcode here, and let them know what you think https://www.writetothem.com/
Click here to open the fuller PDF version of letter (approx 20 pages) which includes full appendices Open Letter to The Rt Hon Maria Miller MP re LCC Intervention Call. Click here to read Maurice Nauta’s statement about this letter.