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?
Given the recent large increases in energy prices will the Council consider investigating an
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
2 Contract Cleaning
Has the Council ever considered putting the cleaning contract out to tender? If so what was
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.
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?
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
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.
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
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