Wednesday, 6 October 2010

County Council Cabinet Report

On Tuesday the 28th September the Cambridgeshire County Council Cabinet met (in public) to review the officers' report on the Library Service review. The meeting was attended by several members of the Friends of Arbury Library and John Marais (our acting Chair) presented a petition of well over 1,000 signatures supporting the continued operation of the Arbury Court Library.

The agenda item itself is available here.

After presenting the petition there was an opportunity for Cabinet members to ask John questions. Councillor Roy Pegram was the only Cabinet member to take advantage of this opportunity and the only question he asked was how close the nearest library to Arbury Court was - John answered honestly that the nearest library was Milton Road, approximately 1-2 miles away.

Cabinet then discussed the report itself. This discussion centred around three points; the scrutiny committee had recently reviewed the library service review and had come to the conclusion that the County Council Cabinet had specified the terms of reference way too narrowly and that certain things, like opening Coffee shops in Libraries, co-locating existing services in libraries, etc had not been considered. In the view of the scrutiny committee it was wrong to not consider all the possible revenue-raising options available prior to discussion of closures. This was broadly accepted by cabinet.

The second point was that the library assessment criteria penalised rural libraries and that this should be looked at.

The third and final point was raised by Councillor Tony Orgee and was "to review Cambridge Central Library’s role with a view to integration of Library services within Cambridge City". It was clear to those present in the public gallery that this was a not-too-carefully disguised code for "Why should libraries at the edge of Cambridge stay open now that the Central Library is open?". A decision point was raised and entered in the record of the meeting require officers to investigate this as a option.

Needless to say this was both a surprising and a very disappointing move.

After discussion by Cabinet it was resolved that;

i) Cabinet notes the implementation of savings in the Library Service to date.
ii) Officers will take the following actions which will include:

  • the production of detailed business cases on:
    • externalisation options
    • alternative service delivery approach
    • assessment of libraries for either possible closure or a library access point model.
  • A full appraisal and analysis of the outcomes of the user / community engagement process which ends on 30th September 2010.
  • A review of the Cambridge Central Library’s role with a view to integration of Library services within Cambridge City.
  • To a review of the Library Assessment Methodology to ensure it fairly reflected service accessibility in both rural and urban settings.
  • the presentation - based on this further analysis of an overall strategy for the future of the Library Service:
    • for adoption by Cabinet at its 25th January 2011 meeting,
    • confirmation by full Council in February 2011.
    • Implementation from April 2011 onwards, following further detailed public consultation.

In order to inform the next phase of the Library Service Review it was agreed to:

  • support Cambridgeshire’s participation in the shared services agreement with partner authorities in the East of England, as outlined in section 3.2 of the report.
  • To continue to pursue all externalisation options
  • To look at the potential to include essential critical elements of the cost of corporate overheads in any externalisation package.
  • The Library Service fitting in with the Coalition's drive for Localism and The Big Society with an emphasis on libraries being community hubs providing wider services.

This report followed the report to the 5th July Cabinet meeting, at which Members resolved to:

  • endorse the work underway on alternative options for governance, management and support
  • agree to officers urgently pursuing an alternative approach to service delivery based on self service technology and greater community involvement
  • agree to officers undertaking an urgent review of library provision in Cambridge City and the surrounding area
  • agree to the approach suggested for identifying libraries for closure, should this be required
  • agree to the implementation of proposals for savings on support for Library Access Points, especially in relation to stock provision
  • agree to the implementation of proposals for savings on the Mobile Service, based on a move to monthly stops
  • authorise officers to proceed with full public engagement about library services and consultation on the proposals above.

The report took into account the recent announcements from the Coalition Government on ‘Localism’ and ‘The Big Society’ with Cabinet confirming their support of the Government view that Libraries could and should be encouraged to become hubs of community activity and that officers should seek to develop that approach throughout the County. This was also seen as being relevant to the Cambridge Central Library with Members wishing to see its services widened and not restricted to providing specialist services. As a result, Members agreed an additional recommendation for officers to review the role of Cambridge Central Library’s role in relation to the rest of the library service in Cambridge City especially in the context of potential closures or conversion to library access points)

There was concern that the Library Assessment methodology which dated from 2002 required review as it appeared inconsistent, disadvantaged rural libraries and did not take into account the identification of rural areas with poor public transport access. An additional resolution was therefore agreed that the scoring system required to be reviewed.

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