Communication with Director of Neighbourhoods and Communities

On 15th October, Save Doncaster Libraries sent an email to Jane Miller, the Director of Neighbourhoods and Communities for Doncaster Council. On 19th October we received the response below:

Dear Miss Smith,

Due to the length of your correspondence and to avoid confusion, I have responded to each point below instead of creating a separate correspondence. I hope this is satisfactory to you and the other members of the Save Doncaster Libraries Campaign. I would also like to take this opportunity to  be clear that the Council is fully mindful of its statutory obligations with regard to the 1964 Act, the subsequent modernisation review or the local service review nor the advice of CILIP and the MLA.  I hope that this information is helpful.

Yours Sincerely

Jane Miller
Director Neighbourhoods and Communities

Ms. Miller’s comments are in red:

Dear Ms. Miller,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign to communicate our concerns and to ask you about the council’s plan for the public library service.
‘Better Libraries, Better Lives’ Report

You will be aware that we made a Freedom of Information request to the council for the consultancy report ‘Better Libraries, Better Lives’ by Annie Mauger. Save Doncaster Libraries request information about the following from Doncaster Council:

1. The Change in management system which was identified as “not efficient or effective in delivering a modern library service”. What is going to be done?

This is currently in the process of being changed.

2. When will Head of Libraries post be made available? This should be advertised externally in order to ensure that most suitable and experienced/qualified person is recruited. When will you ensure that the number of professionally qualified librarians is increased in line with the suggestion of the report.

The strategic plan resulting from the consultant’s report and the current  public consultation exercise will be considered by the Cabinet in January 2011.

3. When will you be implementing a policy review that creates a vision and values for the library service that re-invigorates it, embeds a philosophy that elected members, Chief Officers, staff, and users can recognise as a high class service and be proud of.

This will be part of the strategic plan mentioned in the response to the last point.

4. How will the council “Re-train, reinvigorate and re-vision the workforce” in order to ensure that all library staff are as “dedicated” as those who are already “committed to their community and customers and are champions of reading, learning and inclusion”, with a “sense of purpose and values”?

This will be completed as the new staff structure is put in place ensuring all are aligned with the new strategic plan vision, objectives and customer led services.

5. How will the following comment in the report be implemented “The value of literacy and its link to learning and skills should be embedded in the organisation”? How will the service develop an “understanding of the core purpose of a library service” – at what point will the public, campaign groups and unions be involved to help identify these core purposes and needs? How will the council “Consult and communicate with the public and with stakeholders” in a meaningful way that is not tokenistic?

The strategic plan will cover all these elements. The Council is already in consultation with all stakeholders and all are welcome to feed in any views.

6. How will the decisions about the best methods of service delivery in terms of infrastructure be made?

The outcome of the consultation, national best practice, condition of accommodation, useage figures and location will inform the way forward.

7. How will the stock fund be reviewed and modernised? How will the public be involved in the review?

The current consultation includes the stock and the outcome with national best practice will be used to inform the way forward.

8. How will the service identify the ways in which libraries can provide solutions to the delivery of other council services? Which of these will take priority?

The whole Council is currently looking at alternative solutions to deliver services, this includes the use of libraries.

9. How will the council ensure that libraries are “led and championed by expert voices”?

Doncaster Council’s Library Service does already have library experts at management level. It also has experienced leadership who commissioned the review and consultation for the good of the service and to raise its profile. This expertise will continue to develop a strategic plan and realise its implementation bringing in other experts as required such as the MLA.

10. How will a marketing and outreach strategy be created? What methods will the council employ to ensure inclusivity?

The Council has marketing experts available, however these have not been traditionally used by the Library Service who have not historically seen marketing as part of their role. However, great improvements have been made in this arena and will continue to do so.  A regional project with regard to outreach is also being initiated of which Doncaster is a part.
CILIP Community Libraries Panel

You may also be aware that we have reported the proposed library cuts to CILIP, the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals, whose Community Libraries Panel will be investigating the situation. They will be looking at the following criteria:
1. Is there a strategic plan for the library/information service in place?
2. Is there evidence of a proper needs assessment informing the strategic plan and proposals for change?
3. Can the proposals be seen as proportionate to the resource requirements of the library service and its parent institution?
4. Have the stakeholders in the library service, especially user communities and staff, been properly consulted?
5. Has professional advice been taken in determining the proposals for change?
6. Do the proposals allow a council to meet its statutory obligation? (that is, the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964)

Save Doncaster Libraries request to be informed of the council’s strategic plan for libraries and information services, as a matter of public interest. There has not been a proper needs assessment informing any strategic plan that may be in place. If there is not yet a strategic plan in place, this should be done as a matter of urgency but also to a high standard.

The Council is already aware of this criteria and has been in communication with CILIP and made them aware of the current situation and what is planned.
Library Survey
Save Doncaster Libraries are concerned that the phrasing of the library survey placed in libraries, being circulated by safety wardens and available online is leading and biased. For example, question 11 only provides examples of cost-cutting that are likely to be of detriment to communities.
We believe that the library questionnaire is not an adequate method of data collection on its own and that other methods, such as focus groups and public meetings, should take place for a number of reasons:

* In order to engage as many members of the public as possible
* In order to include library users and non-users who do not currently visit branch libraries in the consultation process
* In order to include library users and non-users who do not have access to the internet or who are not aware of the online questionnaire in the consultation process

We also note that the questionnaire has not been made available in any language other than English and is not immediately available in large print or Braille. This makes the questionnaire inaccessible to a number of Doncaster residents, which significantly affects the representativeness of the sample and reliability of any data gathered.
It is important for this consultation to be more than a tokenistic gesture fulfilling a legal obligation. Save Doncaster Libraries request to be informed about the council’s plan for consultation and the stages it will employ.

Your sources have not made you aware of all the activities included in the consultation such as community meetings, P arish Council meetings,  hard to reach groups, non library users at supermarkets and shopping centres, unemployed at opportunity centres, visually impaired residents, children and young people, Older People’s Parliament, elected members seminar, letters to MPs, trade union and staff consultation. Your reference to Question 11 does not refer to Question 12 which gives communities the opportunity to give their own views to cut costs. We also needed a set of examples to inform residents of what was available and to get specific views.
Treatment of Library Staff
Save Doncaster Libraries were recently made aware that a number of library staff have been told not to be involved with the Save Doncaster Libraries campaign and that they are not allowed to attend council redundancy meetings. This is an inappropriate demand to which staff should not be subjected. Library staff should be able to defend their jobs and the valuable work they do without being threatened by managers and the council. Save Doncaster Libraries urge the council to cease sending emails prohibiting staff from defending themselves during the forthcoming swingeing cuts to public services.

Library staff have not been told they cannot be part of the campaign. What they have been told is that whilst they are at work they cannot take part in any arranged sit-ins or other activities.

There have not been any ” redundancy ” meetings, however Council briefings are currently taking place on a regular basis to keep staff informed about the current central government cuts situation facing local government. All staff are being strongly encouraged to attend.
Stocking and Staffing of Doncaster Libraries
CIPFA statistics show that Doncaster Libraries and Information Services currently invest a very small proportion of their budget – amongst the lowest in the country – in book buying and professional staff. Save Doncaster Libraries believe that these areas are of the most importance to good library services, which is demonstrated through successful library services who invest in professional staff and good quality stock and see a directly correlating rise in library use. We urge Doncaster Council to pay attention to Annie Mauger’s recommendations and those of other libraries experts in order to provide a public library service of a standard that meets the increasing information, social and cultural needs of its communities.

Your comments are noted.

Thankyou.

We look forward to your response. I will also post this letter to ensure that you receive it.

Lauren Smith on behalf of Save Doncaster Libraries

We responded with the following email on 1st November, and await a response:

Dear Ms. Miller,

Thank you for your response,

Could you please provide information about the following:

* What changes are being made to the management system and staff structure of Doncaster Library and Information Services
* What opportunity the public and the Save Doncaster Libraries Campaign will have to comment on the strategic review
* What examples of national best practice are informing the way forward

Our source of information about the consultation process is the council itself – the problem lies with the council, in that adequate and transparent information has not been provided to the public or the Save Doncaster Libraries Campaign about the consultation process. We therefore request a detailed breakdown of the consultation plan and process, and information about which groups of stakeholders are involved in consultation, including timescales.

A meeting took place on 20th October, for council staff to be informed about the Comprehensive Spending Review and the impact this would have on council services. The libraries were scheduled to be closed at the time of the meeting to allow staff to attend. The libraries were not closed, and as a result the staff were unable to attend the meeting, which renders the strong urging for staff to attend the meetings redundant. This marginalisation and ill-treatment of public library staff is unacceptable.

Regards,

Lauren Smith on behalf of Save Doncaster Libraries

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