When your past catches up with you!

  Public Libraries are a “statutory service”; Local Authorities are required under the law to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” service. But, unlike Schools and some Social Services NO direct cash comes from Government to support Public Libraries. Local Councils have to fund them through the Council Tax along with everything else. Also as many Councillors will tell you, the basic grant from Government has been reducing over many years; hence many “statutory services” have to compete for whatever the Council can afford. Also, Public Libraries fall into this strange world, they are locally funded but have a Government Minister taking final responsibility as to how they perform. Over many years the exact definition of what makes a Public Library service “comprehensive and efficient” has been the subject of extensive debate with only a very few Local Authorities being “investigated” . The outcomes of these long, complex legal exercises often result in the Council having to review the most important issue for local government and that is, how local people were consulted on whatever plans they had for the service.

Add to this the Governments budget plans to “reduce the nations deficit” linked to the “voluntary cap” on Council Tax and there we have the current difficult mix that local Councillors are trying to cope with.

So what of Public Libraries, the core book lending service has been in decline, the costs of running numerous Branches continues to rise, some on wonderful  town centre sites which are much coveted by property developers. The pressure on Councils particularly around the rising costs of care for a growing elderly population mean that everything is up for grabs. So it is not surprising that in some Local Authorities the local Public Library is under threat.

What with our son getting married, the Olympic Games and a holiday in lovely Cornwall – there I was minding my own business when I received an e mail. It was from the Government Department responsible for Public libraries – the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It was from a senior civil servant who I had met on one occasion when he interviewed me for a role on a now abolished “quango”. The message asked me if I would be interested in applying for the job of being the Departments specialist Advisor on Public Libraries – thereby being the person who worked with Ministers and local Councils as they tried to grapple with the hot issue of cuts in Public Libraries. So I applied, went for an interview, something I have not done for some years, and was offered this part-time role!

“It’s a job for a brightly costumed super hero” said a close friend. Not for a semi-retired ex-local authority bureaucrat who has done with the tortuous struggle of managing a variety of local authority services, including Public Libraries. But, it’s been more than personal vanity that has prompted me to go back to work! Public Libraries are really important local services. They provide a vital link into the world of reading, information and community. However, they must be affordable, relevant and innovative if they are to invite the many who just “walk by” to get involved.

So, I may be taking on a hugely frustrating task, but how can anyone just stand by and watch!  I will keep you posted on how I get on…….

Yinnon Ezra MBE, DCMS Advisor for Libraries & Retired cCLOA Member

The Pennies are dropping about the role of local authorities in supporting Sports Development

The old adage “never waste a crisis” appears to be so true these days. The pace of change and impacts on the shape of the services we provide is profound. The very real threat of the re-scoping (or even whole withdrawal) of local authority sport services appears to be focusing minds of Sport England and National Governing Bodies. I will explore this point further shortly, but thought it helpful to provide some feedback from recent meetings that engaged cCLOA Executive members.

  • cCLOA meeting with Mike Diaper and Chris Perks
  • National Development Directors Forum

Meeting with Sport England

Richard Hunt, Vince Paliczka and I meet regularly with Sport England, providing a cCLOA ‘reality check’ in support of Sport England’s national strategy and programmes. The following key message came out during the discussion:

  • Sport England recognises the need to land their work better in localities, indeed much more of their funding is now being targeted at Local Authorities. An example of which is the £40 million Community Activation Fund, the first round will be out in January 2013.
  • Sport England is pressing NGB’s to think more innovatively about working locally. Some NGBs have been better than others and the current whole sport plan proposals are a significant improvement. Pilot work is planned to try and create a more systematic way of NGB’s engaging with LA`s.
  • School sport is still under discussion. What appears clear is that there won’t be a return to school sport partnerships. Announcements are likely to be made in the New Year with serious consideration being given to increasing the status of school sport and PE in the OFSTED inspection.
  • There was some discussion about measurement and the Active People Survey. There will be no immediate change to the existing measurement cycle, however methodology is changing with more face to face and mobile phone interviews and the survey also reaching down to 14-16 year olds. The changes in methodology may have an adverse impact on future reported participation rates  (The data will allow analysis at 1×30, 3×30 and 5×30 minutes). There have been lengthy discussions with Department of Health in the context of physical activity measurement and active people.
  • The Sport England health pilot fund has had 269 applications requesting £62m of funding. The oversubscription may result in Sport England slightly increasing overall funding available and it’s evident that Sport England are working hard on joining up with the health agenda. Furthermore, they will soon be launching a health based economic toolkit, to help demonstrate the financial and social benefits of various interventions.
  • Finally, we discussed how cCLOA could help Sport England engage with Local Authorities. We agreed to work together on workshop sessions exploring how best to design and deliver the locally based funding streams and NGB engagement. In addition we will work with Sport England in developing our guidance and support around Health and Well-being, linking with the Health fund pilots.

NGB Development Directors Forum

Hot on the heels of our meeting with Sport England Richard and I attended the National Development Directors forum. This is the third session we have been invited to as Sport England have wanted senior input into the question of how to best to embed NGB whole sport plans locally. This is a positive step and the sessions are well attended with all the major NGBs represented. The session was focused on looking at local delivery from two standpoints:

  • What are the problems in delivering locally from an NGB perspective
  • What are the problems in delivering from a Local Authority/local perspective

The problems previously generated from regional NGB events formed the basis for discussion; unsurprisingly more issues arose during discussion. But there were some common themes by way of solutions that are worth reflecting upon:

  • There need to be much better and smarter communication “same language, different accents”
  • Simple presentation of respective goals/aims/plans
  • Explore opportunities to package and market NGB products locally ( rather than separate NGBs)
  • NGBs are likely to focus their efforts in areas that are most receptive and where they can achieve greatest impact
  • There needs to be quality discussion locally, recognising issues of scale.

The overriding message was that NGBs want to do things better, after all they will be held to account through payment by results, but are still learning. They often find navigation around the key players locally difficult and confusing. They do understand that a one-size fits all approach will not work and we have a role as local leaders to help make things work better.

So are the Pennies dropping about local authority roles? 

Without doubt the answer is yes, but there is a massive challenge in finding a better way of working given our primary role as commissioners (not operators).  Discussions have been ongoing with the core cities over the past few months with the aim of trying to find a scalable method of better landing sport programmes in localities. Part of that work will revolve around piloting a more systematic and structured engagement process between a locality and those NGBs who want to focus on that particular area. Leeds has been identified as a pilot area to test some of the thinking and work will be on-going over the next 4 months to try and test a new way of working. The NGBs and Sport England are fully supportive and will want to roll out elsewhere if it works. It sounds too simple to be true. But the simple things often work best.

Mark Allman, Head of Sport and Active Lifestyles, Leeds City Council & cCLOA Executive Member