My thoughts re Cornwall Libraries and One Stop Shops
My thoughts re Cornwall Libraries and One Stop Shops as I prepare for the Committee meeting tomorrow (17 July) that will make crucial decisions affecting every Library and One Stop Shop in Cornwall. Here is the background to why I have put so many hours into lobbying and preparing for tomorrow St Just Library: The case for a local solution (this includes a link to the full papers for tomorrows meeting). In short, I want the chance for local communities, like ours, to develop their own solutions, lets call it a ‘Deal’ for St Just or St Wherever. However, the recommendation being put to the committee is outsourcing the whole Face to Face service.
My notes are a bit wide ranging as I do not know quite what direction the meeting tomorrow will go BUT I am not the only LibDem desperately unhappy that the views of Library users are at risk of being ignored, if the recommendation is approved. So, I stress, these are notes to help me tomorrow but they show my thinking. I am hearing encouraging noises that the meeting might not be the bloody battle I fear and that a sensible way forward can emerge. Here’s hoping!
Consultation Outcome: 49% for model A & 38% oppose – devolving to local communities. There have been 14 expressions of interest including from St Just. 30% for model B 54% oppose – which is whole service procurement or ‘outsourcing’.
66% Respondents (to the consultation) were women & 94% of respondents were Library Users so Libraries are likely predominantly used by women. Interesting that the Council & the Cabinet are dominated by men. Need to keep in mind the decision might disproportionately affect women.
I had people say there is no point responding to the consultation because they will have decided the way forward any way. I assured them (perhaps naively) that they were wrong and that their views were important & would be listened to. If we ignore the preferred way forward, for community based solutions, then we as a council will play into the view of the cynic that the Council does not really listen. If model A was not financially viable then we should not have offered it. If, for option A to be viable we needed every community to respond, in terms of expressing an interest, we should not have offered the option as that was never going to happen.
Savings Potentials: The paper draws the committees attention to the fact that savings have been estimated for allowing communities that have expressed interest to develop and implement them. It then states that the actual savings could be lower but does not invite members to consider that in some communities, when the business case is worked up, the savings could be greater (& potentially realised sooner)!
Contracting out is portrayed as more likely to deliver the required savings. However, we know from other contracting out experiences of Cornwall Council & in Health that if you tell those bidding the savings figure they bid within it but cannot always then deliver to the standard required. Ask why can they do it cheaper than in-house? The Service provider will focus on specified indicators and it is very difficult with a service rather than goods, to define precisely all the parameters of the Service and expectations are rarely fully met. Providers can get into financial difficulties or walk.
Paper over-states the risks & negatives of option A and under plays the potential risks of option B and over states the benefits. There is growing evidence of communities running their Libraries around the Country and the role volunteers passionate about the Service can play. I can find less evidence, in the UK, of outsourcing.
St Just Bid: Does give the potential to free a building Cornwall Council can dispose of. Is based on bringing other services together. Potential to increase opening hours of Library & Tourist Information Centre & bringing together the Town Council, police contact point, DCH advice plus offering to provide a One Stop Shop Service to people in my ward to save them having to travel to Penzance.
The Recommendation to Committee of Option 2 Model B
The committee are encouraged to go with Option 2 Model B. This ignores the Towns & Parishes & communities that Cornwall Council wants to engage in other, less palatable devolution deals. Officers say that those bidding, to run the whole service, would be expected to work with Communities but that is very unlikely to offer St Just what suits them & St Agnes what suits their very different situation.
I will encourage the committee to go with option 1 model A, at least to give each the chance, within a defined timescale to work up their business case & for Cornwall Council to more accurately calculate the savings to Face to Face & the wider Council. St Just Town Council had begun discussions before this consultation begun & was looking strategically with Devolution & Community Network staff at ‘place based’ solutions across both Councils assets.
Alternatively I would encourage you to consider a hybrid that allows community bids to be explored but the tender process to begin with the remainder. I’m sure sufficient flexibility can be made, that within a set timescale, communities could drop out with their Library going into the tender or Libraries be removed from the Tender if other communities discover advantages from taking local control of their facility.
DEAL FOR CORNWALL
The report prepared for the PAC could not take into account the ‘Deal for Cornwall’ & specifically opportunities, as described by our Leader John Pollard due to “greater powers over public sector funding & more efficient use of public sector buildings”. It seems to me that time now needs to be taken to further develop the current expressions of interest & more accurately assess the financial & social benefits to Cornwall Council & communities of ‘local devolution deals’. Where there have been no expressions of interest, the ‘Deal for Cornwall’ creates new opportunities. Conversations can be entered into between local Members & Towns & Parishes as to where Libraries & One Stop Shops could be central to broader public sector partnerships, in those localities & the savings & innovation that might bring.
In summary, that would allow us to further develop proposals within option 1, model A whilst considering options that could open up in other communities, in the light of the ‘Deal for Cornwall’. The contribution the procurement of self-service technology might offer & savings to be achieved, could be assessed. The PAC can monitor & influence progress & still consider whether any part of the Face to Face Service should be put out to tender or whether ‘local deals’ can meet the savings & provide the service the people of Cornwall can unite behind.
WATCH FOR THE OUTCOME TOMORROW!