Sunday, 17 June 2012

Can Icelandic Cash Save Oxford's Libraries?

If, as we are told, Oxfordshire County Council has now started to recover the money it placed in Icelandic banks, a total of £5 million, what is going to happen to that money?
Library campaigners should speak up now and demand that some of it is ear-marked to saving threatened libraries. Let's cross names off the list of closures, let's restore library opening hours and let's insist on paid librarians instead of volunteers or automation.
Oxford City Council also had £3 million invested in Iceland and can hope to recover most or all of it, which is some of the best news we have had all year. I think it should make a contribution to the costs of running Bury Knowle Library. Why? Because it rents out the building to Oxfordshire County Council, thereby making us pay to use what we already own.
We the residents and council-tax payers paid first to buy the building. Then we paid to lease it from the City Council! The minimum we can expect after that is to get a guarantee that our library will be maintained and the costs of running it properly with professional staff will be met in the future.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Are Library self-service machines dangerous?

A friend of mine tells me that he always gets an electric shock when he uses library self-service machines. You have to touch the screen and they zap you with an electric current.
This is just one more reason for disliking library self-service machines. Another one is that they cannot talk and cannot recognize you when you come back into the library next time. They can't answer your queries and can't sympathize when you return your books late and have to pay huge fines.
Are these impersonal contraptions going to be introduced in all our public libraries? Maybe everyone doesn't get electric shocks, but surely it is a loss of quality of life.
The world seems to be caught in an endless spiral of destroying jobs to save money, and thus putting everybody on the dole.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Headington Library as an issue in the City Council Election May 3rd 2012.

You may thank that our libraries are not an issue in the forthcoming City Council Election, to be held on 3rd May 2012. The public libraries are run by the County Council, aren't they? Yes, but Bury Knowle House and Park are owned by the City. (Note that I don't say thay are "owned by the Council" as public ownership does not mean being the property of the council. The councillors and council employees merely run the place).
Bury Knowle House and its park belong to the people of Oxford and are now leased out by the City Council to the County Council to be used as a library. I believe the lease is due to expire in 2016. What this means is that the people of Headington are paying to use something that already belongs to them. This does not seem to me either fair or logical. When there is a shortage of funding we cannot afford to pay for what we own already. I suggest that it would be better to make over the library building and park to the people of Headington for use as a library free of charge. Since the City Council used our own money to purchase the building, how can it then expect us also to pay rent?
The idea of one of our councils paying rent to the other just means that we are paying to use our own property - it is a stealth tax.
In view of the recurrent threat to libraries and attempts by the County to close them, I would question the right of the City Council to raise money by renting out our property and then spend the proceeds on anything apart from funding the library itself. The building should be owned by the local residents and used without charge of any kind.
This is one of my policy ideas and it will be on my leaflets in the forthcoming campaign (I am a candidate in Quarry and Risinghurst).
I have heard that there has been a court case that has decided that using volunteer staff to keep libraries open is illegal. I think that is unhelpful. Does the judge who decided this case ever use his local library? I wonder. He can probably afford to buy all the books he reads.
Of course I would like every library to have properly paid staff. It is awful to make librarians redundant and I don't want to underrate their specialist skills. However in a situation like the one we are in now with an economic mess on our hands, allowing volunteers to help could just provide one more option to avoid complete closure.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Save Headington Library group.

Dear all,

Here is an update from the Save Headington Library group.

As you know, the Group has encouraged all those who have attended our meetings or signed up to our membership list to send in individual responses to the County's consultation on the future of the library service.

The Group has also sent suggestions to the countywide Save Oxfordshire Libraries Group and these have have been incorporated into the SOL response (please see attachment)

Oxfordshire County Council has received around 3,500 responses to date, in addition to the detailed submissions from a number of Library Groups, Town and Parish Councils and other organisations. 

What happens next?

All these responses will now be evaluated and drawn together into a report by an independent organisation.  A reference copy will be available in each library and a copy will be published online at in advance of the County Council’s Cabinet meeting at 1pm on Monday 12 December 2011.  The Cabinet will consider the report on the outcomes of the consultation and will agree the way forward for the library service and its savings targets for 2012/13 to 2014/15.

Information about Cabinet meetings including agendas, minutes and reports is available at

Information about how you can address this Cabinet meeting is available at

It is unlikely that we shall send out any more updates until 5 December 2011 when the report should be made publicly available.

Best wishes and many thanks for your continued support.

Response from Save Oxfordshire Libraries to Oxfordshire County Council’s Library Service Consultation.

Response from Save Oxfordshire Libraries to Oxfordshire County Council’s Library Service Consultation.

Save Oxfordshire Libraries (SOL) is an alliance of campaigning groups supporting libraries across Oxfordshire.  At present, we represent 20 libraries, including some described as “core libraries” within the Council’s current proposal.  There is a wide range of formal organisation within the groups, ranging from registered charities, to long-standing Friends Groups and some recently organised groups that have no formal status but are nevertheless recognised by their local communities.

Executive Summary.

Insufficient information has been provided for the public to make an informed decision on the proposals in the consultation.  The Quantitative Analysis lacks intellectual rigour.

The proposal that half the county’s libraries should be partly staffed by volunteers is unworkable, inequitable and not cost-effective. 

Some savings have already been made but there is still scope for reductions in staff at management level and sharing of services with other authorities.  Oxfordshire’s service appears inefficient compared with other counties: work needs to be done on understanding the reasons for this.

The current proposal is unfair to rural areas.  A more equitable solution should be found.

A full Service & Community Impact Assessment (SCIA) must be completed before any vote on the proposal.

Officers are now defending the proposal by claiming that making more equitable savings would undermine the principle of a “comprehensive” service, referring to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council as supporting them on this.  But they contradict themselves by saying they have not sought endorsement for the proposals from the MLA.

The Quantitative Analysis.

The document setting out the analysis which has been used to underpin the proposal is fundamentally flawed for the following reasons:

1.      The criteria used for deciding what statistics should be fed into the analysis are said to derive from the Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) report “What do the public want from libraries”, November 2010.  However, the passages from that report which are said to be the sources of the criteria are not quoted in the consultation document, and have still not been made available for public scrutiny.  Indeed, when officers have suggested which passages are relevant, these have proved to be vague suggestions about why people might no longer use a library; and in some cases, different passages have been quoted to different questioners.

2.      The Analysis document as originally produced failed to provide any references that would enable the public to go back to the sources.  This practice is intellectually sloppy[1], but also fails to adhere to the Council’s own promise in "Ask Oxfordshire Strategy" (July 2011)  to "provide sufficient information to allow people to give intelligent and considered responses" (p.10)

3.      While some references have since been produced (more than a month after the original publication), no attempt has been made to reveal the limitations of the data used – limitations which are always given in good statistical analyses, and have indeed in this case been acknowledged in some cases on enquiry: e.g. whether the study in question is sufficiently “powered” to answer questions about small areas of the county. 

4.      There are no “confidence intervals” for any of the data: a fundamental requirement for all statistical analysis.  Indeed, the public are warned by newspaper columnists to beware of articles about statistics that fail to recognise the importance of including confidence intervals[2]

Since there have been many people and groups who have picked up flaws in the detail of the analysis, we shall not reiterate them here.

Proposal to replace staff with volunteers.

The header for this section goes to the heart of the matter: none of us would wish to devalue the role of volunteers, but they should always be supporting employed staff not acting as a substitute for staff.  When OCC approached Oxfam for advice on staffing libraries with volunteers, Oxfam said: “you need to invest in infrastructure, you need to invest in the services, you need to have skilled people and then you supplement that with lots of great skills with people who want to volunteer”.[3]

Volunteers could enhance the service provided in libraries where the staff complement is sufficient to ensure that at least one member of paid staff is always there: that would enable a volunteer to offer their particular skills without being required to offer ALL the skills of a Senior Library Assistant – as set out in the draft “job description” for volunteers that has been circulated to some library groups but is not publicly available.  If there were only a “buddy” on the end of a phone several miles away, all responsibility would at times fall on the volunteer(s):  this would be particularly crucial at busy times of the week, which appear to be the same times for every library.

The other fundamental point about volunteering is that, by definition, it has to be voluntary: that would seem to be self-evident, but what we are being told at present is that we have to volunteer if we want our libraries to stay open.  That is tantamount to blackmail and certainly not likely to persuade people to offer their services.

To take up the matter of the “job description[4].  At the meeting between SOL and OCC representatives on 6 September, it was stated that the document had not been made generally available because it has not been finalised.  This means that members of the public could volunteer without having any idea what they were signing up for.  While we are not suggesting that OCC is deliberately deceiving the public in this matter, failure to inform potential volunteers of what their role might be, means that they are in effect deceived.  In our experience, people who were considering being a volunteer have decided to offer their time elsewhere once they have seen the document.  Of course, we can see why all the roles of a Senior Library Assistant might need to be in the job description: if the only person in a library is a volunteer or volunteers, someone has to cover all the responsibilities of current staff.  This reinforces our case that volunteers should only be used in the presence of a paid member of staff.  Moreover, the proposal runs counter to principles in the Charter for Strengthening Relations between Paid Staff and Volunteers[5], which is recommended by OCVA:

  • The involvement of volunteers should complement and supplement the work of paid staff, and should not be used to displace paid staff or undercut their pay and conditions of service.

And the fact that volunteers are being introduced in order to cut costs is contrary to another principle in the document:

  • The added value of volunteers should be highlighted as part of commissioning or grant making process but their involvement should not be used to reduce contract costs

Indeed, the current proposal does not follow OCC’s own guidance on volunteering (Valuing Volunteers 2011) which states that ‘OCC does not regard volunteers as unpaid employees’. This same guidance makes it clear that consideration needs to be given to whether ‘the role requires expert knowledge’. Valuing Volunteers also reminds service managers that they ‘need to consider which member of staff will step in if a volunteer is not available’.

The proposal for recruiting so many volunteers over the next 3 years is unworkable.  OCC has declined to make an estimate of the number that will be needed.  We have, therefore, had to make our own estimates.  This has been made very difficult because of the inconsistency of the information from which we have needed to work.  We have been told, variously, that the proposal is to cut 1/3 or 2/3 of the basic staff budget for each library concerned.  The consultation document, on the other hand, says (p.10) “one third volunteers and two third paid staff” or vice versa, and verbally it has been made clear that this implies proportions of current paid staff hours, not the opening hours of the library.  Where there is currently more than one staff member, on different salary grades, the effect on the staffed opening hours would vary according to where the largest element of the cut fell: on the higher or lower paid worker, or workers.  This is further confused by the fact that there is no uniformity across libraries about the proportion of hours in contact with the public compared with non-contact hours.

Our estimate is that the number of volunteers needed in libraries (taking into account the need for slack in the system and various regulatory requirements) is between 600 and 1,200: a spreadsheet is provided with this document that gives a figure over 1,000.  The uncertainties arise from the factors explained above and in what circumstances volunteers would have to work in pairs.  We would point out that Age UK Oxfordshire, which has been recruiting volunteers for several years, has still only reached the figure of 400.

We find it both illogical and unfair that OCC’s proposal is trying to impose the provision of the most volunteers on the smallest communities.  These are rural areas where people are already volunteering for many other projects, and indeed some projects (such as youth centres) are struggling to find sufficient volunteers.  Many library groups[6] have stated that they do not believe there are enough people in their area with the capacity to commit to volunteering in a library.  The Council admits that it has done no research to support their contention that volunteers would be available for libraries to the extent needed by the proposal.

The Council wants to make Friends groups shoulder the responsibility for ensuring that their local library has volunteers available to keep the library open – groups do not want this imposed responsibility.  Groups would need to decide who was and was not suitable to be a volunteer, presumably after taking references, which is the normal practice for recruiting volunteers.  Saying “no” would be the difficult part.  Groups would need to have someone available at any time to take messages form volunteers who were unable to fulfil their arranged hours, and then find a replacement: an unreasonable burden on people’s time. 

We wish to point out that there is NO recognition anywhere on the Council’s website of the level of support currently provided by library Friends groups.  While the contact details of some (but not all) Friends groups are listed with the individual libraries, nothing is said about how much Friends groups currently contribute: neither their moral support nor their financial contribution.  Friends groups already contribute to enhance the services provided by their local library: while some manage to raise only enough to buy extra books, others actually pay for some of the staff hours.  If the Council fails to recognise either in words, or in the libraries budget, what Friends groups contribute now, how can they expect people to contribute more?

The Council has not done an estimate of the costs of the various forms of training required and appointing a central co-ordinator for volunteers.  The excuse given is that they do not know how many volunteers there will be, but a budget is not a budget if it has a column for indicative savings but no estimate of the costs that will need to be set against those savings.  Therefore, SOL has attempted to do it own estimates, recognising that some of the training will be done in house.  We were told in our meeting of 6 September that our estimates are too high, but in the absence of figures from the Council, we contend that the proposal is not cost-effective.  The total figure in the indicative savings table sent to SOL by OCC is £336,297.93: this would be the amount saved in the Community Plus and Community Libraries by March 2015, and would be gradually introduced over 3 years.  Karen Warren, acting County Librarian, has said that the cost of the co-ordinator will be 50k-60k p.a. (including oncosts): this information should be made public – there is no mention of a co-ordinator in the consultation document.  We estimate that training courses in first aid, health & safety, fire safety and induction courses into how to work in a library will entail an annual cost, in round figures, of about £170k [7]– this assumes a uniform recruitment level over the 3 years, so in practice the cost could be higher or lower in any given year.  Add on the cost of the co-ordinator and this becomes £230k per year.  (These figures omit the cost of CRB checks of about 11k every 3 years, which OCC insists the Friends groups must fundraise to cover.  Note that OCC has not given the source for their assertion that the checks can be carried out for £11 per person: this must be rectified.  It is also unclear whether OCC will be liable for an additional £33 on top of the £11 to meet the full cost of “enhanced” CRB checks.)  The overall effect would be to bring the saving down to no more than £100k per year (£70k if OCC has to contribute to the CRB checks): we contend that this level of saving is not worth the potential damage to communities if the volunteer system fails.

Scope for cost savings elsewhere?

Save Oxfordshire Libraries recognises that OCC has made efforts to reduce the costs of the library service by removing 6 posts at senior management level, has reduced front-line staff in those libraries where self-service machines have already been introduced  and plans to halve the staffing in mobile libraries.  However, the service still appears to be very heavily staffed at middle management level.  There are currently (information from OCC) 32.11 FTE in Management & Professionals and 22.41 in Service Support, against 147.96 front-line staff.  Those proportions appear unbalanced with a back office to front-line ratio of more than 1:3.  Instead of spending money on consultants to analyse the consultation responses, it would have been better to do more analysis of the staff structure to see where more savings could be made.  Executives within the SOL alliance would have been prepared to offer free assistance with this, but information about staffing and finance was only released in September: too late for us to do detailed analysis.

Reduce management numbers at front-line level?  We are informed that at least one librarian was told 2 years ago that if she wished to keep her job, she needed to accept a demotion from Library Manager to Senior Library Assistant – and consequent reduction of salary.  She was told that there were plans to do this in other libraries, but so far it has not happened.  We are told by individual libraries that they believe there would be no damage to the service if Library Managers were shared across 2 or even 3 libraries.

Oxfordshire’s service appears inefficient compared with other counties.  Using CIPFA data, we find that in 2010-11 Oxfordshire ‘s library service, with a population of 639k spent £2.4 million on Service Support and £3.1 million on Other Expenditure; whereas in 2009-10 Staffordshire, with a population of over a million spent only £713k on Service Support and under £2.2 million on Other Expenditure.  (The years are different because OCC failed to complete its CIPFA return in 2009-10.)  So OCC spent over 2 million more in these areas than Staffordshire with its larger population.  OCC’s high central cost mean that the per population cost is £8.58 compared with £1.58 per population for Staffordshire.  Similar examples could be adduced by comparisons with other counties.

Oxfordshire could do much more to reduce its cost base by sharing back-office or full service functions with neighbouring local councils. The recent MLA report [Future Libraries 2011] indicates that up to 25% of library costs can be saved in this way. In June 2011 Ed Vaizey, Minister for Libraries, endorsed the merger between 2 library services and stated ‘ we really do need to see much more of this type of merger, saving back-office costs to save the front-line.’  We note that the section of Northamptonshire County Council’s website about their library service talks of “provid[ing] services to other authorities that save them money and generate income for us”: this is clearly an opportunity for OCC.

The current proposal is unfair to rural areas.

In formulating their proposal OCC “determined that, all else being equal [our emphasis], the most appropriate areas for library sites would be those places where the highest numbers of people already either live, work or study etc.”  But in Oxfordshire all else is not equal.  Oxfordshire is the most rural county in SE England, with 78% of the land under agricultural management[8]. It is unusual in so far as almost half of its population live in rural areas[9] 

Increasing recognition is given to the challenges faced by many people in rural areas where services are declining in number and access becomes more difficult because of distance, relative unavailability of transport and expense.[10] Age Concern has reported that nearly half of our rural areas are in the worst 10 per cent of the country in terms of access to services, such as GP practices and supermarkets.[11] 

Among the criteria that OCC used in the previous proposal, was one defined as, ‘evenly spread geographically’; the inclusion of this criterion indicated that the Council recognised then that there was a need for (at least some) libraries to be fully funded in areas at some distance from town libraries.  This criterion of geographical spread has been dropped this time around: presumably, it did not fit with the Council’s emphasis on catering for the ‘highest number’.  Consideration of where libraries are currently situated and the broad ‘catchment’ area of many rural libraries would enable a plan more in line with the population spread of Oxfordshire. 

It should be noted that the Council’s own graphs posted on their website in February of where “active users” come from to use libraries shows that many people choose to travel 2 miles and even further to what they regard as their local library – if anyone had actually asked users the reason for this, instead of using a speculation about how far people might be willing to travel, they would have found, as library groups did when talking to the people signing petitions in favour of keeping a staffed library service, that people in rural areas use the library that is near the Post Office, near the village shop (not supermarket), near the local school, or in the same building as a community activity.  In short, the local library is an essential element of what constitutes the hub of a community.

Council officers have used some strange arguments to justify their proposal, such as: “Cuts to larger libraries would devastate the library service”.  This is not logical.  The Council are keen to use volunteers in the rural libraries and do not mention that their use there would devastate these libraries. Given that many of these rural libraries would be almost wholly dependent on volunteers to keep going, surely the claimed negative impact of volunteers would be greater in rural than larger urban libraries.

Service and Community Impact Assessment

An Initial Service & Community Impact Assessment for the previous proposal was carried out December 2010 and published among Council papers in January 2011.  At its meeting with OCC on September 6th 2011, SOL was told that the Council intends to carry out a full assessment for the current proposal, as required by law.  While the initial SCIA included details of alternatives that had been considered up to that point, we do not know what other options were considered before the new proposal presented at the end of May.  The December document considered how to mitigate the effects of greater isolation for older people, children and those who have limited access to transport.  We trust that the new SCIA will cover the same considerations and more, including what would happen if our prediction is correct that the number of volunteers demanded will not be available to maintain the library service in some areas.  We also trust that the new SCIA will be complete before there is any question of seeking Cabinet approval for the new proposal.

The Council’s new defence, which is NOT in the consultation documents.

Faced with so many criticisms of the consultation documents and the proposal, OCC is now relying on “hearsay” reporting of dialogue with the MLA to underpin rejection of any attempt to suggest alternative proposals.  They claim that any suggestion that volunteers might be spread more evenly across the libraries would undermine the provision of a “comprehensive” service, and that the MLA agree with this; except that they also say they have not sought endorsement from the MLA![12]  Attempts to use Freedom of Information requests to find out what was said between OCC and the MLA are blocked by claims that there are no minutes of the meetings.  (We have now been told that they gave draft copies of the consultation documents to the MLA in May, but nothing more.)  On top of this, they make threats that the Secretary of State could intervene if they do not stick to their version of a “comprehensive” service, even though they know that legal cases are still ongoing which seek to produce a clearer definition of “comprehensive”. 

This intransigent stance means that no attempt can be made to design proposals which would be fairer in the sense of having equal impact across the county.


Throughout the consultation process, Save Oxfordshire Libraries has sought to work in co-operation with the Council to design better proposals.  Within the groups represented by SOL are people with all the range of skills needed for this task: the equivalent of a consultancy firm offering its services at no cost.  We trust it is not too late.

Contact details for Save Oxfordshire Libraries: c/o Dr Judith Wardle, 21 Common Road, North Leigh, Witney OX29 6RD.  Tel: 01993 881880.  E-mail:

This response is endorsed by groups from Adderbury, Bampton, Benson, Botley, Burford, Charlbury, Chinnor, Goring, Grove, Headington, Hook Norton, Kennington, Littlemore, North Leigh, Old Marston, Sonning Common, Summertown, Watlington, Woodcote, and Wychwood.  Individual library groups will also be making their own submissions, with particular points appropriate to their local circumstances.

[1] Assignments written by first year undergraduates would be rejected if sources for references were not given in one of the standard formats.
[2] For a straightforward explanation of “confidence intervals” see Ben Goldacre’s piece in the Guardian of 20 August 2011.
[3] BBC Oxford News 19 June 2011.
[4] “Volunteers in Proposed Community Libraries”, OCC August 2011 – author not stated.
[5] Agreement between Volunteering England and the TUC, 2009.
[6] For instance, at their meeting with OCC on 20 June, Burford Friends stated “Those that already volunteer in Burford are sitting in this room, and we simply cannot take on more volunteering commitments.”
[7] Taking the cheapest sources we could find: training in First Aid would be £203 per person every 3 years, Fire Marshalls £93 per person every 2 years, Health & Safety £93 per person every 3 years, and induction courses by council staff  £82 per person, per day.  Provision should be made for a turnover in volunteers of at least 10% per year.
[8] Oxfordshire Partnership report ‘Oxfordshire 2030’.
[9] This compares to 19.3 % for England as a whole DEFRA ‘Rural Communities’
[10] Rural Framework for Oxfordshire 2007 – 2010. ‘Rural areas in Oxfordshire rank relatively poorly on national measures of access to services, such as health, education and retail compared with other rural areas in the South East’.
[11] Indices of Deprivation  2007 quoted in Age Concern’s ‘Tale of two Counties’ 2010
[12] In answer to questions from SOL, the Council replied on 5 August, “the county council has been in dialogue with the MLA throughout the development of the proposal that is the subject of the current consultation.  The council has not however sought their formal ‘endorsement’ and hence it is not documented.”

Monday, 5 September 2011

The future of Headington Library is not yet secure

Save Headington Library Group

The County has bowed to popular pressure and has reconsidered its library proposals

Instead of cutting half of all the county’s libraries, it has now proposed to keep all of them open and will introduce a self-service system throughout.

It has completed some research into how many people live, shop, work or study within a one mile radius of each library, and has ranked the results in 5 league tables: Headington is in Group 2 and Old Marston is in Group 5

County is now proposing to keep Headington Library open for the existing number of hours and it would continue to be run by county library staff

It proposes that Old Marston Library becomes a community plus library, phased in over a three year period, which means it would be run with two thirds volunteers and one third paid staff

The Save Headington Library Group welcomes the change in the County's proposals as this would mean that existing services at Headington may be saved if the results of the consultation are favourable. But other rural and small libraries will see cuts in services as they will have much less county staff support and you may wish to highlight this in your comments

In filling in the questionnaire, we suggest everyone takes care with the questions about volunteering. It is possible that the county officers may use the number of people willing to volunteer as evidence that less county library staff are needed across all the libraries in the county when they summarise the results of the consultation. You may decide to leave this section blank

If you would like to comment on these proposals and would like a hard copy questionnaire to send back to the County, then please contact the Save Headington Library group or pick up a copy from Bury Knowle Library. To fill in the questionnaire online, please go to

We are members of the bigger Save Oxfordshire Libraries group. Their committee is asking the County Officers for more information about the proposals, particularly about the way in which they will be funded, what volunteers will be expected to do and training and health and safety issues around volunteering, and whether the county is still considering outsourcing the library service to an American company

Save Oxfordshire Libraries group is hoping to put forward some alternative options for the County Council to consider which would mean running all the libraries with county staff, not with volunteers. They will hold a meeting with all members to discuss this in early September

Please do send in your comments on this consultation by 30 September 2011 to make sure Headington Library services continue to be provided by paid library staff

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Chinnor Library Group

Report from Richard Sherwood on his meeting with representatives of Oxfordshire County Council at County

Hall, Oxford on 23 August 2011.

The meeting started at 10.00 and finished at 12.00

The meeting consisted of OCC answering questions which had been submitted earlier with discussion

following up on answers given.

The Council was represented by

1 Karen Warren, Acting County Librarian (Social & Community Services)

2 Simon Kearey, Head of Strategy & Transformation (Social & Community Services)

3 Desmond Fitzgerald, Policy & Review Officer (Chief Executive's Office)

4 Richard Oliver

5 Howard Cox (Environment & Economy - Planning Implementation)

6 Darrell Marchand (who dealt with questions about electricity)

7 Carole Stow, Consultation & Involvement Manager, Chief Executive's Office

It was not clear why Mr Fitzgerald was present as he said nothing and was not referred to by anyone else.

He left at an early stage.

Mr Kearey lives in the Chinnor area and uses the library.

Some of you will remember Ms Warren speaking at the meeting at Watlington Church. She is very wellinformed

and had obviously done her homework.

Mr Cox and Mr Oliver left the meeting after we had dealt with section 106 aspects.

Questions are in bold. Each is immediately followed by the OCC answer. Where a passage is in quotes it

indicates a reasonably fair and accurate report of what was said. My comments are italicised. The accuracy

of this report would undoubtedly be better in places if I had been accompanied by a shorthand writer. “FoI”

refers to a Freedom of Information request submitted in June 2011 to OCC by Richard Sherwood and Becky



1.1 Is electricity supplied by a single supplier for all libraries?

Yes. It is bought through specialist brokers who act for more than one local authority. It is considered that

buying in bulk enables price reductions to be negotiated. The present arrangement was for four years and

lasts until 2012. In effect the price is reviewed annually. The price achieved on each review depends on

electricity prices generally.
Rates prevailing at the moment are certainly lower than I pay for electricity at


Meter readings are taken by staff monthly.
It is not clear how well this works because OCC acknowledged

that some of the big variations between the spreadsheets for 2009-10 and 2010-11 are due to estimated


When was the price last negotiated?

See above

Given the recent large increases in energy prices will the Council consider investigating an

alternative supplier?

This will happen in 2012

What is meant by an “energy survey”, the expression used in reply to FoI question 1.5?

The question was: ”Has any investigation been made of installing a more efficient system? (See for example

the costs of gas at Goring.) If so what was the outcome? What would have been the estimated installation

and commissioning cost?”

Karen Warren read rather rapidly from a manual the gist of which is that it is an assessment of each property

against benchmarks. The benchmarks seem to be those obtained from within OCC and from other local

authorities. Apparently it does not involve actually looking at each property. Ms Warren gave an example of

what they look at: energy efficient lighting is up to 70% cheaper than the old-fashioned type and they

consider whether the installation expense would be justified to achieve a saving. “There is no capital

available for energy investment.”
No reason was given for having done no survey since 2001 except that

they do not do it very often!

1.3 When were costs of supply to Chinnor library last considered? Was any change of supplier

made following that?

See 1.1 above

1.4 Given that Section 106 funds are, and further such funds will become available, will the

Council address the question of installing a modern gas-fired space-heating system at Chinnor?

Section 106 monies will be used to install self-service across the County. Ms Warren said that each unit

costs £6787 and they consider that Chinnor needs two. However such an installation usually requires some

“remodelling” of the library layout. In answer to my question about the cost of this Ms Warren said that the

total self-service installation including remodelling is expected to be £40,000. This is about improving service

not cutting staff.
This means the remodelling would cost over £26,000. No details were offered showing how

this figure had been calculated. The nearest I got to an explanation is that they usually find that other things

can be done at the same time and might, for example, install movable shelving to enable the room to be

used for other purposes as they are anxious for libraries to be made available for other uses.

Will it also consider using such funds for improved insulation at Chinnor?

See 1.4 above

Why is Chinnor Library made to bear the whole cost of electricity to a building which it does

not exclusively occupy?

The explanation is that other users are “re-charged” when the amount is significant. These re-charges do

not appear separately in the spreadsheets.
I can understand that the administrative cost of re-charging for

small amounts is not justified, but I do not understand how the more significant amounts are covered.

In some cases sub-meters are installed to measure use by other occupiers.

Are there other libraries where the same “arrangement” applies?

Yes. Not all libraries are the same because some are in premises owned by the Council (as is Chinnor);

some are in rented accommodation with private landlords; and some, e.g. Neithrop which is part of Cherwell

District Council's Leisure Centre, with other local authority landlords.
One point which emerged here is that

OCC does have to pay the equivalent of business property rate on its premises. It is not entirely clear how

this is reflected in the spreadsheets and presumably it is re-charged in some way.

Were energy efficiency improvements considered when funds were more readily available?

This only happens when other works are being done. This is what happened when “one of the primary

schools in Chinnor” had work done recently and the opportunity was taken to connect gas and install more

economical heating.

2 Contract Cleaning

Has the Council ever considered putting the cleaning contract out to tender? If so what was

the result?

Apparently not in the sense that most of us understand
. QCS have to propose charges but no mention was

made of it being put in a competitive situation. The situation may be reviewed in 2012

2.2 Does QCS employ its own labour force or does it act as an agent in letting out cleaning


QCS is a very odd animal. Those at the meeting were not even sure what the letters “QCS” stand for,

although Simon Kearey thought it might mean Quality Contract Services. OCC call it a “traded service”.

This seems to mean that departments of OCC do not get their cleaning done “free” but are charged in some

way through the accounts, as we see from the spreadsheets. The staff are paid by OCC. Whether this is

cost efficient is not clear. No claim was made by OCC in this respect.

Westgate Site

The presence of this column in the spreadsheet for 2009-10 was described by OCC as “an accounting

arrangement favoured by a particular management accountant”.
(see 3.7 below)

3.1 What use is made, and by whom, of the ground floor?

This floor consists mainly of foyer, lifts, staircase, security office, with no separate offices as such.

3.2 Are there any floors above the second floor? If so, what use is made of it, and by whom?


3.3 Is there any space on either the first and second floors which is not used by the library?

“The roof space contains airconditioning machinery etc.”

3.4 What contribution is made by the Learning Centre to building costs?

“Oxford Spires are re-charged”

3.5 What contribution was made by Oxfordshire Studies?

“This is managed by County Property Services”

Who uses the office space?

“Community Services”

Why were separate costs shown for this site if is really the Central Library?

“This was an accounting arrangement favoured by a particular management accountant”

4 Mobile Libraries

Why do the costs for these not appear in the spreadsheet? (Their absence gives an extremely

skewed and very misleading impression of library operating costs)

“Because the OCC proposal is about the branch network. We are trying to make it cost effective.” Ms

Warren then said that with the original proposal (closing 23 libraries) the mobiles would have been expected

to do much more.

This does not address the point that the proposals affect the entire service and one cannot ignore the mobile


5 Staffing Costs

5.1 “The Consultation documents do not quantify the savings which the Council expect to make by

reducing staff time by one third or two thirds depending on branch.

What savings does the Council expect to make in each affected branch?”

“These are indicative savings”.
This seems to mean that the Library Service was asked by County to

calculate one third (or two-thirds as the case may be) of the staff costs of the community libraries, just to

provide a budget figure showing what the service would lose.
“The actual anticipated savings have not yet

been costed.”

There are similarities between the visitor figures for Chinnor and Neithrop branches. Why are

staffing costs at Neithrop (£28,785) so much lower than Chinnor (£42,355)?

Ms Warren disagreed that Chinnor and Neithrop are comparable because the number of issues differs

(Chinnor about 45,000 and Neithrop about 30,000).

She said that they are “holding vacancies” at places like Neithrop.
This seems to mean that they are

not filling vacancies pending the consultation and are covering by moving staff around.
Some of the staff are


“This is to do with re-charges”.

Soon after the meeting Ms Stow sent me details of the floor areas of Chinnor and Neithrop:

Chinnor - 150 sq metres

Neithrop – 74 sq metres

This clearly demonstrates that these libraries are dissimilar in size as well as in respect of issues.

Premises Costs

Comparing Chinnor and Neithrop, Chinnor has costs of over £4,000 but Neithrop has none at all.

What is the explanation?

“Neithrop is rented from Cherwell District Council. The building includes the Leisure Centre. The business

property rate is included in the re-charge”.

The amount of the re-charge was not supplied.

2.3 Use of non-library areas of Chinnor building

Given that the library service is struggling to reduce its operating costs will consideration be given to

charging other users (whether other parts of the Council or otherwise) for their use of the building?

OCC made reference to the possibility of Chinnor Parish Council taking over the space not used by the


In the Consultation Introduction, paragraph 1 states that the “only route available to us was to

withdraw funding from a significant number of our libraries”. What other routes were investigated?

What was the outcome of any consideration of these?

“Hours cuts would have left some libraries unviable, particularly as, pre-Christmas, we were looking at a

50% reduction to achieve the savings then required”.

The Consultation Introduction says that the Council wants to “encourage use of library

buildings as community space” but does not say on what financial terms. What terms does it

have in mind? If no terms are in mind why has this not been considered, particularly as the

Council is anxious to reduce the net cost of running the service?

“It is not always practical to re-charge.

“Previously we could not use unoccupied areas as community space because our insurance did not cover it.

Cover is now being changed so that we can.”

The Consultation says “Property costs are relatively low”. Has the Council enquired why this

is? Is it because they have not been maintained properly, a reflection of bad management?

“This is compared with the country as a whole.

“There is a mix of properties. Some are small. Property management has been outsourced”

A lot of the properties are OCC-owned which means that no rent has to be paid.
(No mention here of recharging.)

“Why are employee costs “relatively high” (as stated in the Consultation)? Relative to what?

How do top level employee costs compare with the comparators(s)? What does the Council

intend to do about this?”

“Oxon is an expensive to place to live. Unlike some authorities with a small number of large libraries, we

have 43 and it is more difficult to achieve staff savings.”

“ We are revising our management support structure and hope to achieve a saving of 16%”
This is the first

indication I have seen of any attempt by OCC to reduce operating costs otherwise than by reducing paid

branch staff.

9.3 “It is not clear whether the Council considers that the library service currently meets

needs. What is its view?”

Ms Warren said “OCC constantly pushes its services re meeting needs”.
This does not actually answer the


“Is it necessary for the service to include films now that they are so readily available for hire

from other sources? See Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.”

“It was an income generator and has protected the library service. It still generates income. It attracts

people into the building. We cover a market that no-one else serves.”

No figures were produced to support this statement. David Cannon has previously said that the information

in the spreadsheets is insufficient to judge whether this yields a net income after all expenses have been

paid (for example no purchase costs are shown, only hire charges and sales.

10.2 “Why is no information given about the working of that part of the library service which

the public never sees? (A proper consultation would contain enough information for the

public to make informed comment).”

“The Holton site is not included in the statistics. The consultation is about the branches. The item M32000 in

the spreadsheets covers area managers.”

It was assumed that I knew what the Holton site does. I don't. Is it the main book store?

10.3 “Why is no information given about what section 106 funds the Council holds for each

district having a library and might reasonably expect to hold?”

A list of these agreements covering the whole county was handed to me. There was insufficient time to

consider it at the meeting.

Since the meeting I have considered the list and have the following comments:

The agreements vary in date from 2001 onwards. Some, like the St Andrews School Chinnor agreement, will

never yield any money because the permitted developments will never be carried out. Some are related to

multiple planning permissions on the same site.

The list discloses something which has not previously been disclosed about Chinnor library contributions: the

agreement for Land rear of nos 7,9 & 11 Oakley Road "allows for the money to be used for non-library

infrastructure". It does not specify what these infrastructures might be. The amount involved is £1,808.83. It

has already been received but is yet to be spent. I intend to ask OCC if they have any plans to use this other

than for the library. Quite a lot of agreements in the County have this provision and some actually say what

the alternative possible expenditures are e.g. a site in Peppard Common which allows expenditure on "local

education/library/waste management/museum resource centre and social & health care required or any

alternative which achieves a similar benefit".

The total potential amounts receivable by OCC are enormous, but the list includes cases where planning

permission has been refused (and therefore no money will ever be paid) so at first sight it can be a bit

misleading. In the SODC area £205,751 has been received of which £173,167 has been spent. The list does

not say what it has been spent on.

10.4 “Does the council have any specific proposals for how such funds will be used in


See elsewhere in this document.

10.5 “What methods do the Council use to compare performance variations between


“A comparison is made between branches on a monthly and quarterly basis.”

Different officers are involved with each of these reviews.

“What lessons does the Council consider can be learned from such comparisons?”

“Lessons learned in one branch are applied to others.”

Revised structure chart: I note that there is a Building Superintendant for Central Library but

the chart does not expressly indicate where responsibility lies for other building e.g. Chinnor, and for

services such as energy. Where do they lie?

“Central Library is a very big building and due to the complex nature of the site a superintendant is

necessary. Responsibility for these aspects in relation to other libraries rests with the appropriate

departments of OCC e.g. Property Services.”

Richard/documents/library/Meeting OCC 23.8.11 Notes for SOL