Barnet Council Libraries: “Transformation or Destruction?”
Barnet UNISON’s response to Barnet Council Libraries Services Transformation Programme
(Report to the General Functions Committee 6.12.2016)
UNISON remains opposed to the planned reorganisation of Barnet Libraries.
This reorganisation will in our view (and we are not lawyers) see the Council failing to comply with its legal duty
“to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof,” (Public Libraries and Museums Act (1964). (7 (1))
The Council itself admits that the efficiency and accessibility of the Service will be adversely impacted:
“The reduction in staffed opening hours will mean less support available in the library to get advice, information and to utilise the resources in the library. This will have the biggest impact on those who may require support to make best use of services at static library sites or are less able, or confident at using libraries without library staff support” (Barnet Future Library Service 5.9.10)
Risks associated with the Restructure
The Council has proclaimed it will keep all libraries open but the Library restructure will have detrimental effects on individual libraries, the Service as a whole and the people who work in and use Barnet Libraries. The Restructure derives from a perspective that sees libraries as being little more than book collection points, which can be operated in the main through self-service machines. The quality, accessibility, and range of the services that libraries provide are being undervalued and the safety of the public put at risk.
Reduction of a Skilled Workforce
The planned restructure requires the loss of almost half of the current library posts, resulting in nearly 30 permanent library staff losing their jobs. This is a workforce that has consistently scored more than 90% for good service in surveys of public satisfaction. The Council believes staff can be replaced by the outsourcing of four libraries to the voluntary sector and using other volunteers and self-service machines in the remaining sites.
The Council acknowledges that future recruitment to Barnet Libraries (much reduced) staffing complement will be difficult.
“Suitable candidates may not be recruited at the required level for the new libraries structure or may not be recruited in a timely fashion resulting in delays in future design and implementation phases.” (Libraries Service Transformation Programme )
The Council is already having difficulty recruiting, and a large number of front line posts are currently filled by agency staff. Since the 2013 restructure the Council has failed to fill all 7 FTE posts in the Service Development Team (the remaining professional librarian posts in the service). This is despite 25% of UK professional librarian and other library jobs being lost in the last 6 years*. Barnet Libraries in its present and planned forms is proving unattractive as a workplace to library professionals and para-professionals.
There is little prospect for career development for those staff that do remain in Barnet Libraries. The programme to support library staff to gain a CILIP recognised Library qualification was ended by the Council in 2013 and will not be reinstated. This effectively blocks the generally accepted career path for UK Library staff to Barnet workers. Barnet Library staff without such qualifications who are appointed to internal posts where this is usually a prerequisite elsewhere are unlikely to progress their career outside the borough. Barnet Council’s record of Library cuts also makes internal career progression less likely.
Short to Mid Term Closures
Major building alterations are also underway even before the General Functions Committee has voted its approval. Library space is being reduced and the interiors of libraries converted to other usage. The introduction of technology facilitating unstaffed library opening hours also requires major work. But the changes may not be implemented by the April deadline.
“Whilst the implementation date for this restructure is 1 April 2017, the committee is advised that transitional arrangements may be necessary to compensate for vacant positions, possible redundancies and handover of duties between current and future roles.”
(Libraries Services Transformation Programme: Summary)
Previous experience of library alterations, and the installation of the unstaffed library technology for the Edgware pilot, shows that work does not always run to time. It is possible, with even minor delays, that 10 Barnet libraries could be closed for building work in April 2017. Even if the timetable is adhered to the people of Barnet will be deprived of the use of many libraries during the coming months:
December 2016 2 libraries closed – Chipping Barnet, Mill Hill
• January 2017 3 libraries closed – Chipping Barnet, East Barnet, South Friern
• February 2017 8 libraries closed – Burnt Oak, Childs Hill, East Barnet, Edgware, Golders Green, North Finchley, Osidge, South Friern
• March 2017 6 libraries closed – Burnt Oak, Edgware, Golders Green, North Finchley Osidge, South Friern
• April 2017 4 libraries closed – East Finchley, Hendon, North Finchley, Osidge
• May 2017 2 libraries closed – East Finchley, Hendon
• June 2017 2 libraries closed – East Finchley, Hendon
• Chipping Barnet will also have further closures for building work in June to August 2017.
Loss of Library Space
The restructure involves building work to reduce library space by at least 15% to a maximum of 90%. This will result in less stock and fewer study and activities spaces. The Council’s intent is to rent out most of the lost space or hand it over to other Council departments or to partner organisations. UNISON is unconvinced that all the space will be used. No compelling business plan has been put forward for commercial renting and it is unlikely that a significant amount of money will be raised.
Children will be greatly disadvantaged by the Library restructure. Libraries will be unstaffed for most of their opening hours and under 15 year olds not with an adult will not be able to get into a Barnet Library. Even those who have a parent or other adult to accompany them to a library will not be able to make use of the advice of library staff during 70% of opening hours when those staff will not be present. Some children and their parents may not be discouraged by these barriers but the loss of children’s library space and stock will not be an incentive to visit.
Four Barnet Libraries are to be handed over to “Community-Led” organisations and will be staffed by volunteers. This will mean that the people of Mill Hill, Childs Hill, South Friern and East Barnet will not have direct and local access to the skills, knowledge, experience and expertise of library staff. No matter how well intentioned volunteers are they are unlikely to be able to provide the level of service currently provided in Barnet Libraries. The Libraries Services Transformation Programme report does not mention this outsourcing of 4 Barnet Libraries. The organisations which have been successful in bidding to take over these sites have not been disclosed, nor have dates been given for the takeovers.
During the seven months up to November 2016 Barnet UNISON received four reports of physical assaults (2 on staff and 2 on members of the public) in Libraries. There were also 27 reports of aggressive behaviour and verbal abuse, with victims being equally divided between staff and public. But not all incidents (including thefts) are reported to UNISON so the real figures are likely to be higher.
Library staff have had to step in to prevent incidents of anti-social behaviour escalating and have had to deal with medical emergencies on occasion. Situations our colleagues have to deal with include preventing fights and calming arguments between members of the public, dealing with people under the influence of alcohol and drugs, library users viewing pornography on computers, members of the public urinating and defaecating on library furniture and floors, racial and homophobic abuse and threats of sexual assault.
But the vast majority of library users are unaware of this level of anti-social behaviour. This is because libraries are safe places to visit in the main, not least due to the vigilance and response of library staff. But library staff will not be present for 70% of future opening hours. The Council believes that during unstaffed hours the safety of the public can be left to remotely monitored CCTV. The Council’s assurance of a thirty minute response time to an incident shows either callousness towards the safety of library users or wilful ignorance of the risk of unstaffed opening hours in a public space.
The High Cost of the Library Changes
The Council claims that a need to make cuts to overall Council spending is the rationale behind the Library Restructure.
“By 2019/20 the Library Service revenue budget will have been reduced by £1.6m as part of the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy.“
(Libraries Services Transformation Programme: 5:2)
However the above report makes no mention of the costs of implementing the restructure. These have previously been reported by the Council as:
Cost of changes Reference £millions
Reconfiguration of libraries (para5.3.3) 3.00
Technology enabled opening (para 5.3.4) 1.41
Redundancy costs (para 5.5.5) 1.500
Phase 1 (para 5.7.3 ) 0.400
Phase 2 (para 5.6.2) 0.375
Phase 3 no estimate provided
(Source: Barnet’s future Library Service, March, 2016)
There is also a further cost of £75,000 per year for monitored CCTV
Costs associated with the Library Service have also been published in the Council’s Annual Procurement Plan 2017/18.
• Libraries Construction £12,000,000
• Office furniture, fixtures and equipment £100, 000
• Shelving and other library furniture, fixtures and equipment £500,000
• Legal £250,000
• Communication £25,000
• Removals £250,000
• Surveys & Consultants £250,000
• Technical Services £250,000
• Statutory Services £5000, 000
• Total £14,125,000
The Construction spend will begin at the start of the next financial year, 1rst April 2017. The other procurements began on 1st December and must relate to the restructure in the short and mid-term. These latter come to a total of £2,125, 000
From 2014 the Council has already spent money planning and implementing the library changes. Barnet UNISON asks why this and the spending outlined above were not included in the Libraries Services Transformation Programme report to the General Function Committee.
Other Council Spending
Barnet Council intends to spend over £14 million on altering the library service with the avowed aim of saving £1.6 million by 2019/20. The Council claims it has no option but to cut the Library Budget, yet money has been found to fund £59,747,631 million on agency staff/consultants in the last four years.
And the Council is on target to spend over £20 million on agency staff/consultants by the end of the current financial year in April.
A large amount of money is being spent in transforming Barnet Libraries into a poor shadow of what was once one of the leading library services in the UK.
The Council’s plans for the Library Service will lead to a decline in use. Libraries will only have trained and experienced library staff on site to help and advise the public for around 15 hours a week. Library stock and the events they hold will be greatly reduced. Children will have their access reduced and libraries will become unsafe. This is not an attractive offer to the public and will lead to fewer people using them. The fall in numbers may then be given as a justification for eventual library closures. However these may only be announced after the next local government election.
Watch “Last call 4 Barnet Libraries” https://youtu.be/GiXBKDS-aAU