Speedo Fit an example of digital legacy

Four years ago a 19 year old hoodie (my term of affection for a digital genius) walked into my office with an idea for an app. His idea was not just about improving information for the consumer but, if it worked, could add granularity to our existing sports facility database. The most common way of promoting timetables at this time was pdf’s, but his idea was to get pools to maintain their timetables live; something that didn’t exist then.  We not only provide the swimming pool data, but become angle investors too along with Channel Four who invested a matching amount. By the end of 2011 Apple voted it their favourite sports app.

Thinking as a consumer, a keen swimmer, a water polo club captain and a developer of iOS apps, Dan Morgan, the creative genius, saw a win-win for the pool operator and the consumer. He created an app that was fun and informative for swimmers whilst giving simple to use software so pools could maintain their timetables live on the app and their own website.

Four years later over 50% of all public pools across the UK now use this free embeddable timetable system including the newly opened Olympic Aquatic Centre in London. Consumers view the live timetables over 500,000 times a week and around 200,000 registered swimmers tell  us their favourite pool, how often they go and distance they swim. Some pools like the Triangle at Burgess Hill Sussex, has over 1,200 customers favouring it.

The original app was called Splashpath and this morphed into Speedo Fit a year ago and has since launched in over 100 countries and is now seen as a Great British success story and one of the best examples of digital legacy post 2012 Games. To see a short video produced when the app went live in the USA follow this link.

In 2012 following demand from consumers and operators the start-up company Active in Time (AiT) now based at the Google Campus in East London launched a fitness app called GymJam and in 2014 a new smart watch app called SwimIO for the Pebble Watch.  The watch helps swimmers from all over the world connect as it’s not simply a swim watch, it’s a smart watch that runs a swim watch app. For someone that loves notifications and is into the ‘quantified self’ like me the app/watch counts how many lengths I swim, it can tell the difference between my swim strokes and provides the algorithmic data on to my smart phone in the changing room.

Smart watches and tracking devises are part of the new trend, Bring Your Own Device, (BYOD) whilst working out. A growing number of consumers already do, so why not encourage it. It seems sports and fitness will be less about the venue and product and more about the experience and instant feedback.

You can download Speedo Fit and GymJam from the Apple app store for free. Checkout how many people have favoured and recorded work outs at your sites and it’s fun to search for pools in cities around the world too.

David Minton, Director The Leisure Database Company, supporter of Active in Time and cCLOA Member

Is there a Parks Alliance?

  Back in October 2012 I represented cCLOA at The UK’s first Public Parks Summit. The country was still inspired by the Olympics where our green spaces had been the arenas for a wealth of inspirational sporting moments. The sector had at last woken up to the need to pull together to prevent parks being an early casualty of the austerity measures.

So what’s happened since……..

The summit led to a series of round table debates and the formation of a transitional Parks Alliance to try to create a united voice for parks. On the 8th May 2014 I represented cCLOA at a meeting hosted by the transitional board of the Parks Alliance at the highly impressive Birmingham Central Library, which I believe is the biggest library in Europe.  

Sue Ireland – from the City of London Corporation outlined the work that the transitional board would like the Alliance to undertake:

  • Promoting and protecting public parks
  • Evidencing the value of parks
  • Developing the parks workforce
  • Provide leadership
  • Sharing ideas
  • Parks champions – seek to establish a single Councillor in each local authority area as a Parks Champion.

How will the Alliance be set up?

The plan is to establish a company limited by guarantee that could then look to obtain charitable status. The setup of the company and establishment of a permanent board is likely to take up to two years. While this seems very slow, I do agree with the transitional board members that the Alliance needs solid foundations if it is to make a difference and not just become another fragmented voice in the parks sector. The Alliance has commissioned a communications agency who has developed a brand and a website is due to be launched imminently.

Do we need a Minister for Parks?

The main theme for the day was whether the Alliance should lobby for a Minister for Parks; the Head of Greenspace Scotland (Julie Proctor) challenged this saying that rather than lobbying for such changes, it’s better to effectively promote the sector against the governments ambitions and sell these benefits to the relevant Ministers. Greenspace Scotland seem to have used this model successfully.

While the Alliance gets to grips with its priorities and tries to raise enough funding to establish itself, there are some quick wins that help to promote our green spaces. Love Parks Week runs almost concurrently with the Glasgow Commonwealth Games – it offers a great opportunity to combine parks with cultural and sporting events and to try to reignite some of the magic we witnessed in 2012. I asked Keep Britain Tidy who manage Love Parks week for some promotional blurb to share with cCLOA members –  

Love Parks Week (Friday 25 July 2014 – Sunday 3 August 2014)

Love Parks Week is a platform for hundreds of park lovers to join forces in the UK’s largest celebration of green spaces. Over the last six years the campaign has made huge steps forward, building up to 1,100 events and 1.4 million participants last year. This year Love Parks Week will be ramping up its fight for parks and encouraging the creation of a year round movement with the launch of a new brand – ‘Love Parks’, after all a park is for life not just for summer. To help do this we need as many people as possible to hold and attend events. For more information and to upload details of your event please visit www.loveparksweek.org.uk

Summary

  • cCLOA members need to be proactive in their management of parks and continue to show how they deliver the council’s wider objectives
  • The Parks Alliance is looking like being an umbrella organisation
  • While the core messages were worked on at the session, more work is needed to agree a prioritised plan
  • A small number of members are keen to use the Alliance to lobby government in a way that doesn’t fit with cCLOA principles on issues that seem unrealistic e.g. ring fencing parks budgets
  • As such I think that we should support the principle of a Parks Alliance, but wait until the organisations objectives are clear before we decide if we want to be part of the Alliance.

All views appreciated. Cheers

Ian Brooke, Head of Service, Leisure, Parks & Communities, Oxford City Council & cCLOA Executive Member  ibrooke@oxford.gov.uk  07500 950 770

Is it that time already?

 These are the personal views of Yinnon Ezra, Specialist Advisor for Libraries, and not those of DCMS.

The year at DCMS has really flown by! What follows are some thoughts about my time in DCMS, which ended on the 31st December 2013 and some wider observations, which I hope won’t bore the reader too much.

I had not expected to go back to work after nearly forty years in Local Government and the voluntary sector, but as I mentioned in my very first blog, what made me go back was that I was still reading in the press that when it came to the huge challenge of finding savings in public libraries, Council Members were still being advised to cut book funds, reduce opening hours and close libraries. I was given this advice in my first Chief Officer role in 1991!  Hence, I did feel that, even at this stage in my working life I could add value.

So how has it gone?

Very early on I agreed with DCMS that given the enormity of the brief and the obvious restrictions of a part-time job, that I would focus on Leadership, Shared Services and Public Libraries doing ‘other people’s business’.

Leadership

The Local Government Association (LGA) has an excellent programme of seminars for Local Authority Cabinet Members/Portfolio Holders that give Members the opportunity to discuss frankly how to deal with everything from community consultation to finance. The variable nature of Local Government is a huge strength, but so much more can be done by sharing what works. More of these seminars are planned in 2014 and cCLOA colleagues should ensure that their Members are both aware of their existence and that they go along.

I have spent endless hours talking to Local Authority colleagues – at the last count it was 46! These discussions have been wide ranging and I have described the approach Local Authorities have taken to budget reductions as grouped into Three Divisions – the First where service transformation with innovation is central to the way the Council as a whole is being managed – here you will see the best in political and officer leadership linked to a clear forward plan. The Second is where the Council has gone through much ‘agony’, have agreed an approach which has been implemented,  but now find that even more cash is required and are stuck between electoral cycles. The Third is where there is no plan and the Authority is going from one crisis to another – fortunately this group is getting smaller. I have often asked the question about whether discussions have taken place with other LAs in similar positions; the answer is always in the negative.  But out of this I have been able to create a small ‘dating agency’ where colleagues have been able to talk confidentially with others. What has delighted me is that there is now real evidence that these discussions have changed some plans. So many colleagues talk about the “fatigue” of constant change and the “loneliness” of “having to make hard decisions”.  But there is a great deal of  ‘re-inventing’ the wheel going on – the LGA is an important ‘shoulder to lean on’ and can quickly find someone out there in local government world who can help!  Laura.Caton@local.gov.uk  is the contact person.

For DCMS the importance of having a creative proactive relationship with Local Government is crucial to ensuring that Public Libraries and Cultural Services as a whole flourish. This diverse, complex, autonomous, immensely resilient and innovative sector is a key partner. Despite the financial situation, many still continue, to demonstrate an enormous commitment to Public Libraries and support for Culture.  DCMS working with the LGA is important, but it is vital that this conversation happens outside the Culture roundabout – it is the Leaders of Councils, Chief Executives and Corporate Directors that need to be engaged at all times. There are numerous examples of outstanding practice that demonstrate the integration between corporate Council objectives and Culture.  From the re-invention/creative refurbishment of Public Libraries as vital community/citizen information centres to huge regeneration schemes with Culture at the heart. I have suggested a number of new ways DCMS could stay in close contact with this group linking into SOLACE and the Regional LGA Meetings – hopefully local government will be seeing more of DCMS Ministers. 

The Arts Council of England are also important partners – besides many other things, they have a role in supporting innovative practice, bringing together  all those involved in the leadership of public libraries and ensuring that the best bits of Envisioning the Library of the Future are taken forward.  This together with the many opportunities around how Arts and Museums work even more closely with public libraries often with Archives provides exciting opportunities to grab new audiences.   Brian.ashley@artscouncil.org.uk  is the contact person.  

The 1964 Act

I have been very impressed at the process colleagues in DCMS go through when assessing if a local authority is in breach of the 1964 Act. Believe me, it is a really painstaking process and I have seen just how aware they are of their legal duties.

A great deal of discussion goes on about the statutory duty of local authorities to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ public library service.  It is my view that a statutory duty is only as good as the people who are responsible for making it happen and can only be delivered at a price the nation can afford.  Good innovative professional and political leadership can do extraordinary things particularly when money is scarce.

It is around the issues of Consultation and Communication on possible service changes arising out of balancing the books that there is the most concern. Setting out possible options clearly and honestly with a transparent analysis about costs and possible savings is essential.  I wrote an article with Graeme McDonald CEO of SOLACE and Janene Cox Chair of SCL called An approach to making savings in public libraries published in the Leisure Review.

Shared Services

There are a number of excellent examples of the sharing of services between local Councils. In the main this is around IT, Professional Support, Property, Human Resources and in some areas District and County Councils working together.  But bespoke arrangements continue in most places. The LGA have a team supported by Central Government who support shared services across all of local government targeting the bigger budgets.  For a small financial contribution, this could be extended to public libraries and cultural services.  The benefits of having someone in this important team would instantly secure the ‘raising of the profile’ of the sector in this important work – perhaps the investment could be linked to the amount of money saved? I have left this with DCMS colleagues to consider.   

Public Libraries ‘doing other people’s business’

It has not been necessary for me to become too involved in this area of work – as SCL with the ‘universal offer’ and the discussions within Whitehall led by Ed Vaizey Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries has taken this forward.  However, when in discussions with individual LAs l have spent time exploring the progress that has been made – some have taken this further expanding the reach of the public library into economic development and support to business with others focusing on the space being used for widening cultural activity particularly for young people – many are also expanding work around reading and literacy, Adult Education and Advice & Information.  Much more can be done to inform everyone about what public libraries do – so often the response is “we did not know you do that” – also the ‘rationalisation’ of public facing buildings – so much money could be saved if public libraries were the ‘Department Store of Public Service’!

Visits and Conferences

Given the time constraints, I was still able to visit a handful of local authorities including a very useful discussion with London cCLOA – I am very grateful to all for their time and insights. I was able to meet many colleagues at the LGA Leisure and Tourism Conference and contributed to The Library Campaign Conference where there was much debate, but hopefully a joint mission to widen the use being made of public libraries. 

So what are my conclusions after a year at DCMS?

It did take a few months to get used to everything particularly working from home.  I hope you won’t be surprised to learn that DCMS is made up of human beings who strive hard to assert the importance of Culture across all Government agendas. They have also had to make savings – people working in Local Government might take comfort from the fact that the men and women in Whitehall have also had their share of upheavals.

I have tried to ensure that the wider world is aware of what I have been doing through the blogs, articles, long telephone conversations, meetings and visits.  It has also been possible to show some senior civil servants local government in action which has been both useful and enjoyable.

I have found everyone to be dedicated, helpful, hardworking and willing to listen. But the pressure on diary time particularly when a Minister is so willing to meet, discuss and champion the Culture cause is enormous.

Everyone wants to ‘add value’ but Whitehall Departments are by their very nature a long way from the coal face – hopefully my role has helped to bridge this.

Finally, I mentioned to a senior colleague the feedback I was getting, particularly from excellent local authorities, on the central wider issue of whether the current model of local government finance is still viable? If nothing else there is a real need for new creative debate.

With very best wishes for 2014. Over and out!

Yinnon Ezra MBE MA FRSA & cCLOA Member

 

Musings on being awarded Public Servant of the Year

2012…well what a year that was, and I didn’t think it could get any better, but it just has!!

In public service, you work all your life trying to make things better for the community you serve, trying to make their lives a little bit easier, a little bit happier and certainly more fun and in 2012 when the challenges were at the highest the opportunities to achieve our duty became more and more apparent and more and more possible.

When I look back and do that reflective thinking I learnt so well to do on the Leading Learning Programme, I don’t just think…No… I actually have to pinch myself…just to check whether all of what happened here in Merton really did take place!  It was an awesome year and just great to spearhead that year.

From Olympic & Paralympic Games to Torch Relay to Borough Group Support Unit to funding bids to community investment to community & business engagement to business as usual ! And then, of course there was the little matter of the visit to the borough of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness Prince Philip.  There are so many fun filled moments and telling people about them still creates laughter for people who weren’t even there.

Well this work, this pleasure gained me Merton’s own accolade of Employee of the Year 2012 and following that one of my managers, Francis McParland, put me forward for the Guardian Public Servant of the Year Award and with Merton on board the application was on its way… and the rest is history… you all voted for me so THANK YOU for your support, it really is much appreciated.

I bet though you are all sat there thinking why her? And I guess I would be too in your shoes!  This is the way it is though…you never ever know what opportunities are around the corner and we all know that we make our own success through managing our performances, driving to achieve excellence and as true leisure & cultural sector professionals we take the world and our communities with us on the way.  Right time, right place some may say, but what I would say to you is whatever you put in, you will get out…My real pleasure was hearing all the joy throughout the year, dealing with compliments rather than complaints and laughing with Merton’s people as we took our journey together.

I am not anything special, I am just one of you, but I did create my own opportunities and deliver against promises…and I will continue to do that knowing that more opportunities will arise and more fun will be had… Of course, it is not always all rosy and of course we all have our challenges to overcome, but if we can all be resourceful and work together I still believe that we can ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” because on the whole those are the services we do deliver!

Stay positive, ever hopeful and carry a great big smile…we are all winners and always will be.

Christine Parsloe, Leisure & Culture Development Manager, London Borough of Merton and cCLOA Advisory Panel Member

An approach to making savings in Public Libraries

By Yinnon Ezra MBE MA FRSA, Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), Public Library Advisor (these are his personal views and not those of the DCMS), Graeme Mc Donald, Chief Executive Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Janene Cox, Commissioner for Tourism and the Cultural County Staffordshire CC & Chair of Society of Chief Librarians.

THE CONTEXT

The Public Library Service is one of the most highly valued ‘choose to use’ public services in England.   It is frequented by millions of people, covering the whole age range, all ethnic backgrounds, and geographical spread – there is a Public Library or an access point to the service near you.

 Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 local Councils are required to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ Public Library service. This responsibility is superintended by the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport who holds an ‘intervention/investigation power’. A local authority that has been deemed by their local communities to have failed in their ‘statutory duty’ could be investigated.  This process is guided by complex legal issues which involve lengthy argument, public hearings and evidence – sometimes taking many months to draw to a conclusion.

One of the main issues/findings  - reference John Sharland’s work – Library Closures –Learning the Lessons  -emerging from this for Local Councils is ‘communication’ – here both a poor consultation process and lack of feedback to citizens, linked sometimes to the lack of a coherent plan for these services, but still the requirement to find economies, which some would say was their motivation at the outset.   

Some cash for schools and Social Care come from Government through the annual grant to local authorities, linked to clear expectations on performance and accountability. The picture for Public Libraries is more complex, as for some Councils, most of the cash to fund the service is raised through the Council Tax – hence there are no immediate levers that can be pulled in Whitehall which deliver compliance to a particular standard of service. Over many years Governments through other Acts of Parliament or ‘direction’ have urged LA’s to devolve services to local people; encouraged new models of service delivery and more recently through the localism agenda are creating an environment that promotes greater community involvement in which the Public Library clearly has an important role.    

Many local authorities would argue that making savings particularly around Cultural Services, the label under which public libraries find themselves is NOT a new phenomenon. These services, which often include Arts, Archives, Heritage & Museums, Parks, Leisure, to mention a few, the latter having no ‘statutory duty’ attached to them, always struggle to attract recourses, but do better when Grant from Government for the other main services is steady or expanding. When this is reduced the impact is more direct, particularly when mixed into this is the regional variation in Grant distribution.

Even against this background there are outstanding examples of Local Authorities who have invested imaginatively in Public libraries. This has taken place across the country, in small and larger Councils making a decisive local impact. The pattern is around improved building stock, new libraries, tailored opening hours, adding new opportunities to improve the offer by providing access to other relevant services, providing free Wi-Fi, extensive digital resources, improving the links with learning and voluntary organisations – this is NOT an exhaustive list.

Many of these innovations have also addressed the decline in both book lending and visits. By designing these improvements in partnership with local people some of whom may not be regular library users some LA’s have been able to reverse or at least reduce this trend.

AN APPROACH

The Public Libraries service is local – hence very diverse. This is hugely positive as there is no ‘one size fits all’ as the communities they serve are all different. This diversity follows through into how ‘reductions’ are managed. One approach to savings is to look at a year on year percentage cut taking the salami-slicing approach – some LA’s have been open about the various savings options they wish to introduce with real effort being put into engaging communities. 

Others have developed robust plans to co-locate, re-locate, reducing the administration of the service by sharing with others including being proactive with either neighbouring Councils or with a County working with a Borough  – all producing new ways of making the best possible use of local resources.  Where this has been achieved local customers perceive little or no difference in service quality or that it is still being managed by their familiar accountable local Council. In future years this process will need to accelerate to deliver the growing scale of savings required – barriers between Councils both personal and political will need to be overcome. 

There is also the traditional approach to savings in some LAs which has not changed in many years; cut the book funds, reduce opening hours, reduce the building maintenance budget and potentially close libraries.  It is this approach that must be addressed as it leads to a gradual diminishing of service, not transformation, reduces access, content and eventually relevance.

Some LA’s having taken these decisions at the beginning of the budget discussions and have found themselves, because of public opposition unable to take them further; this has the effect of freezing the service in time, immune to change for the foreseeable future.

KEEPING IT SIMPLE

Vision and Consultation

The important first step for any LA should be a clearly expressed vision for the public library service. This must be informed by the views of local people, it is not about recycling the views of existing users, but ensuring that the vision embraces those who do not/will not/won’t use the service. This must also suggest how these aspirations  will be met – collecting this information can sometimes be a challenge – but many Councils have wide experience of testing the quality of services through regular citizen surveys using good inexpensive market research is also well worth doing.

Just what does the service cost?

Savings for public libraries, starting as they do with a set of fixed assets be they the number of buildings needing staff with quantifying support costs like IT, Human Resources, to corporate costs arising from being part of local democracy is complex. Getting to the bottom of what the services costs is crucial and difficult to disaggregate, but needs to be done accurately – given that it is fundamental to deciding on the financial targets being set. This may sound like an obvious step but many LA’s find this difficult often coming out with a set of figures which change during the heat of public scrutiny and debate.    

Communication

Communication is the key and has to be relentless – setting out possible options clearly and honestly with a transparent analysis about costs and possible savings should be encouraged.  Including how savings could be made through, for example,  possible reductions in tiers of staffing, shared services with others, partnerships with community groups to list only a few.  It is important that any analysis is done openly and shared with staff and local communities so everyone has the same data set.

Implementation

It is after this process that decisions should be taken about the future with a clear timetable. On implementation it is well worth reviewing what has been done, checking that it meets the set objectives in the ‘vision’ including how it will attract new users and deliver the savings.  Then the task of setting out what success looks like with a set of possible ‘intelligent local indicators’ not ‘outputs’ that demonstrate whether the service is making progress may be worth considering.

CONCLUSION

These simple steps are not profound or new, but they are inclusive and involve local communities in a process which is transparent and creates the opportunity for genuine consensus. Where this is not possible, at least the issues would have been well debated with the Council seen to have listened making its decisions on the best analysis. The approach will require flexibility and openness from all concerned as a different service will emerge.

Sport England Procurement Toolkit

Sport England has long been an advocate of best practice and a source of advice and guidance in the sports and leisure sector, providing toolkits and guidance in areas such as strategic planning, design guidance, governance and asset transfer. During the last 12 months there have been an increasing number of requests for assistance and guidance in the area of leisure contracts and their procurement.

In 2011 Sport England completed a procurement process for the management and construction programmes at the National Sports Centres (Bisham Abbey, Lilleshall and Plas Y Brenin) which produced significant financial savings and strategically aligned outcome focused contracts over a 15 year period. Following the completion of this process Sport England undertook to develop a toolkit and guidance on Leisure Contracts and Procurement.

The aim was to produce a suite of documents that would assist client bodies to adopt good practice, reduce cost and time in the process and to achieve contract partnerships which can deliver local outcomes.

The toolkit and contract documentation has been produced following wide consultation across legal and leisure consultants active in the sector, a range of Local Authorities, leisure operators, DCMS and BISL.

The objectives were to:

  • Promote best practice
  • Reduce costs and time for clients and contractors in the procurement process
  • Advise on fair contractual positions which can be adopted and avoid lengthy dialogue
  • Encourage partnerships which deliver increases in participation, enable the promotion of broader social and health outcomes and achieve financially sustainable leisure provision.

The aim was to produce:

  • A Toolkit with guidance on procurement routes and process
  • Template contract documentation and guidance
  • Guidance on balancing quality, increasing participation, achieving broader outcomes in health and wellbeing, community engagement, commercial performance and cost.

It is intended that the toolkit will assist the strategic decision making stage for clients and help to establish a sound basis for the procurement phase.

There is guidance on undertaking the procurement process and encouragement to focus on the key issues to reduce the procurement period. Where there is clear best practice or accepted market positions these have been highlighted, and where there are options the benefits and implications of different routes have been outlined.

The document is web based and will be updated on a six monthly basis or when legislative changes occur.  The documents will not replace the need for quality specialist advice though it may enable clearer more focused briefs to be developed to ensure that consultants are deployed as effectively as possible in the process, enabling them to add value through focusing on key areas.

It is a complex and continually evolving area and Sport England will endeavour to update the documents on a regular basis, your feedback is important in helping us to improve the material.

For further information, view the toolkit here or contact: Kevin Mills, Strategic Lead Capital Projects and Facilities, Sport England Kevin.mills@sportengland.org  or

Andy Farr,cCLOA Member and Director, FMG Consulting andyfarr@fmgconsulting.co.uk

So do we really need superheros to sort out Public Libraries?

These are the personal views of Yinnon Ezra, Specialist Advisor for Libraries, and not those of DCMS.

I mentioned in my first blog that the response of one of my close friends to taking up the job of part-time DCMS Public Libraries Advisor was to get myself a bright costume and some “superpowers”, as in his view that was what it was going to take to make any impression on “the state of public libraries” in England. I have now been in the post for a few months; this will bring you up-to-date with “what I am up to”. I will come back to the “superhero” stuff later.

My first task was to find out what “was going on”. There is a great deal of material around; the internet is full of informed web sites and statistics. Add to that the many comment pieces, conferences, seminars, launches of “new initiatives” and regular stories in newspapers about the “awful” state of our public libraries and one quickly becomes overwhelmed. Making sense of all this is a struggle, but it did not take long to absorb the landscape. Also, talking directly to Local Authorities about their plans, although time consuming, has given me quite a good sense of the reality. So my impression…….

Variable -is probably the best word to describe the current picture.

There is much impressive and innovative work going on in public libraries. Some of these initiatives taken by hard pressed Local Authorities designed to enhance, develop and expand the reach of their Library services are excellent. In contrast there are Councils where “time has stood still”, the budget pressures only highlighting other issues which need addressing  – but many have a positive story to tell, sometimes being really enthusiastic about the success of new partnerships or finally finding the money for new books, a lick of paint and some new furniture.

“CUTS”

The response to the reduction in the cash available to Local Authorities (LAs) has also been impressive with many responding calmly and with care. Most have dealt sensitively with Public Libraries – it is my view that in general this service has fared better than most as higher percentage reductions have been required by others – this may not be possible in the future. Some have faced the challenge openly finding the dialogue with local communities enlightening with many new ideas being tried. As one Senior Manager put it “it is the relentless pressure with no end in sight that is particularly difficult” – this was expressed more as a statement of fact than a grumble. The general mood is that “we need to get on with it” but that the “same old solutions will not deliver in the long term”.

“TAKING THE STRATEGIC APPROACH”

Early on it was clear that to make any sense of the “advisor” role it would need to split into two – the first was being available to talk quietly to specific LAs – the second was to focus on a few strategic issues to which I could add value. None of this would be possible without the active support and involvement of the Local Government Association (LGA) particularly the Leading Members of the Culture and Tourism Board .Getting to know the many new Members will take time, but with the help of Senior LGA Officers, attending the Annual Conference in Chester and meeting the Board we have agreed to work closely together on the following themes.

Leadership –Political & Professional – The LGA and Arts Council England have worked together organising seminars for Leaders of Councils and Cabinet Members which have been very successful in terms of sharing best practice and how to “engage others” within the Council about Public Libraries. This is important but needs to be done constantly given the number of LAs involved and local election cycles. The next of these is in the summer which I will be involved in. I have also reached out to the Society of Local Government Chief Executives who have agreed to assist in the general  “ profile raising” of Public Libraries this will include the many Corporate Directors who have these services to manage within ever increasing management portfolios. The key issue here is to constantly inform them about what Public Libraries do, but more importantly how they can assist with taking forward corporate policy.  Public Libraries have a key role in for example, advice and information to citizens, assisting with the “localism” agenda through regular contact with communities, some are forming “commissioning” relationships with the Health Service– the list is much longer than this.

Shared Services – ICT etc. – Libraries do not figure in the major LGA initiatives in this area of work as the savings in for example Social Care or Highways are considerably higher given the size of budget – also the Future Libraries Programme had supported a number of schemes, the learning from which is still available. I was heartened to see a list of Library Authorities that do share services, but in the main this is around the purchase of stock and some sharing of professional skills. The opportunities around ,sharing IT, perhaps with the one library card where geography permits, communication costs, property management, co-location of services in two tier areas, corporate support costs, to name just a few areas of work, is being taken by a very few Authorities. So many individual Managers tell me that “there are real savings to be made including perhaps improving services” also Councils are at different moments in tendering cycles. Clearly this is complex, but on a recent visit to Canterbury I was inspired by the real co-operation in service delivery between Kent CC and Canterbury City Council at The Beaney – House of Art and Knowledge – well worth a visit! I have also been talking to the LGA about IT and the possibility in the future of some sort of framework being constructed for the purchase and running of IT systems.

Libraries contributing to other relevant agendas – the progress around “public libraries doing other people’s business” is also positive but variable – that word again! It is important to encourage discussion within Whitehall about what Public libraries can do; but also within local environments where duplication and lack of knowledge inhibit creative working together. The Society of Chief Librarians Universal Offer is particularly welcome as it very explicitly takes this forward.

Finally, if you have something you want to share which touches on any of the issues I have mentioned in this blog, please let me know. I am particularly keen on learning about any successful examples (or lessons learnt) around the shared services agenda.

So, it’s not about bright costumed, “superheroes” or flash gestures, but making sure that inspirational practice is shared and then turned into action – more next time.

Please do feel free to leave comments below; although I will not be able to respond to them all individually, I will pick up on them in my next blog.

Yinnon Ezra MBE MA FRSA, DCMS Advisor for Libraries & cCLOA Member

Fighting culture’s corner in an age of austerity

I was invited to hear the Rt Hon Maria Miller MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, give a speech on “Testing Times – Fighting culture’s corner in an age of austerity”.  Held at the British Museum – what a fantastic inspiring venue, established in 1759 and the UK’s number 1 visitor attraction.

Introduced by the BM’s Director Neil McGregor, who made a number of quips about the Treasury and its mandarins. He made the case for how efficient the UK Museum sector is, outlining that in comparison to the GB the USA and Washington subsidy per visit to its major Museums is 2/3 more; twice as much in Paris, and they charge admission, and seven times more in Berlin.

Maria Miller started her speech by emphasising that culture underpins what it is to be British. Britain leads the world. Culture touches and underpins the structure of Britain. Culture, she argued, leads the regeneration of the UK. The Arts are not an add on. The government needs to continue to invest, Arts Council England funding needs to be seed corn and it has increased by 100m through the current government. There has been £700m given by philanthropists and the government actively supports and encourages giving. However she recognises that it isn’t the ‘silver bullet’ or the only solution – we also need to encourage creativity and commercial nous.

Culture and the Arts should not be ring-fenced or protected in the Comprehensive Spending Review; Ms Miller asserts, we don’t want to leave debt to our children and future generations.

Culture is however central to growth; and Ms Miller rallied the gathered throng with sound bites such as :

  • £3 billion will go into the Arts sector over the lifetime of this Parliament.
  • 40% of tourists cite culture and heritage as the main reason for visiting the UK
  • Enlightened local authorities don’t cut, but continue to invest – Ms Miller urged all LA’s to adopt this approach.
  • Creative industries are worth £36bn to the economy and are fed by a healthy cultural sector
  • Culture brings opportunities, jobs, regeneration and growth
  • Cultural diplomacy, it is a common language worldwide.
  • Britain leads the world, British museums and institutions are revered abroad. GREAT campaign that highlights the best of Britain from an investment and tourism perspective.
  • We specialise in creativity and innovation – the productions War Horse and Matilda were publically subsidised, but now massive creative and commercial successes.

Ms Miller’s summary call to arts and cultural sector leaders – continue being resilient, look for commercial and creative opportunities, position yourselves within the visitor economy.  Ms Miller will support the sector and fight the cause with the Treasury; positioning the arts not as on the periphery, but at the centre of economic growth

Moving onto Q & A, which was hosted by Ed Vaizey the Minister for Arts.

Jude Kelly made the case for community based Arts and not only the major institutions. She was worried that grass roots Arts will seriously suffer through the effects of the Local Authority cuts.

English Heritage asked should free access to Museums be down to the institutions to decide. The Culture Sec supports EH charging and also charging for certain exhibitions in major London Museums stating that we could learn from them. However, she holds dear the principle of free access.

You can read the full transcript of this keynote speech here.

Iain Varah, cCLOA Vice-Chair & Chief Executive, Vision Redbridge Culture and Leisure

The single cultural conversation – making a difference locally

The Local Government Association (LGA) and Arts Council England (ACE), through the single cultural conversation framework have committed to working together so that there can be a joint understanding of shared priorities, key issues and investment.

Local conversations between ACE and local authorities focusing upon the cultural offer will inform the single conversation at national level between ACE and the LGA and as national policy develops, this will inform the delivery of culture at the local level.

The library service Universal Health Offer is an example of how this joined up conversation can make a real difference and generate real improvement at both a national and local level.

The Universal Health Offer builds upon the generic library assets which include a network of local hubs offering non-clinical community space, public health information and promotion, signposting and referrals and creative and social reading activities.

There are 6 million people in the UK currently suffering from anxiety and depression and 2/3 of these people are not receiving treatment and are looking for quality health information.

As part of the offer the new Books on Prescription scheme for England will be delivered through all public libraries in partnership with key national stakeholders, and will be complimented by mood boosting collections.  Thus providing a quality assured national reading list, supporting creative reading and also encouraging local links to reading/social activity.

Funded by an ACE Libraries Development Initiative grant of 20k the development of the health offer and Books on Prescription has been a national partnership that will enable libraries to articulate their role in supporting the new public health responsibilities of local authorities as part of the commissioning landscape.

The Health Offer is a national strategy that can be delivered and tailored locally.  It positions libraries as strategic health and well-being delivery partners.

As such it is a really good example of how a single conversation nationally can result in an overarching strategy and product which can be delivered locally.

Another example is the development within my own authority, Staffordshire, of the ‘Prosperity Wheel’. This is about taking a holistic view to prosperity and a strong cultural offer is a vital component.

As both the professional and political leadership of the County Council worked up the prosperity wheel it has resulted in much greater appreciation within the local authority of how culture can deliver / impact upon other service areas priorities.

So for example:

  • All of our libraries are now Wifi enabled.
  • They are all Start2 centres where job clubs, small businesses lone workers are located use the space for meeting, training or day to day activities.
  • As a result 81 people who attended the Job Club at Leek Library found work in the last quarter.

The Start2 development has been commissioned by Economic Development and supported by higher education partners, Job Centre Plus and Chambers of Commerce.

Achieving this has meant saying and evidencing ‘We are part of the solution not the problem’.  We may not actually save lives, but what we do – really effectively – is improve the quality of lives.

Janene Cox – Commissioner for Tourism & Culture, Staffordshire County Council & cCLOA Member

Strategic leadership needed on public health

 At our recent health and well-being round table the key message coming through was that sport and physical activity professionals must show leadership at a strategic level to meet the challenges of the public health agenda.

The roundtable, facilitated by cCLOA and hosted by the Local Government Association, drew upon expertise from organisations including CIMSPA, the County Sports Partnership Network, the Department of Health and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.

There has never been a more opportune time to maximise the value and contribution that the culture and sport sector can make to creating healthier, stronger and happier communities. And in view of the contribution that the sport and physical activity sector can make to stemming the tide of escalating health care costs, cCLOA is now seeking to facilitate a more unified approach amongst councils, culture, sport and leisure providers, the third sector and health partners.

The roundtable discussions clearly demonstrated that we have to be proactive in our position with health and well-being boards and local commissioners – and to be successful in this we need to focus on local need, provide good data on impact, improve our knowledge base and exhibit leadership at a strategic level.

The sport and physical activity sector has an opportunity to make a difference to our health; through everyday activity, helping influence lifestyle and inspiring a generation through sport.  But we need to be creative, utilise non-traditional methods and understand who our customers are and what they want.

We all recognise that sport and physical activity has a significant role to play in preventing avoidable illness and tackling obesity, but across the country the implementation and success of long-term interventions has been patchy. Public health needs to be part of the DNA of the industry and people in the sector need to win the hearts and minds of health professionals.

The roundtable has been invaluable in setting the scene for cCLOA’s guidance and support across health and well-being. We have also forged the opportunity for a single message that all sector organisations can buy into – so let’s get on with it.

Richard Hunt – Chair, Chief Cultural and Leisure Officers Association