|3 || CALL-IN OF THE DECISION OF CABINET MEMBER FOR COMMUNITY SERVICES IN RESPECT OF THE REVIEW OF COMMUNITY LIBRARY OPENING HOURS |
The Chairman welcomed all participants to the meeting.
He explained the purpose of the meeting to deal with a call-in request relating to a decision made by the Cabinet Member for Community Services on 13th September 2012 in respect of the review of Community Library opening hours.
In précis the decision taken would reduce the hours of opening of community libraries by 35 hours per week having taken into account survey information from service and non-service users; library staff and performance data; and the views from the Neighbourhood Services Scrutiny Board held on 11th June 2012.
The Chairman reminded the meeting that the decision had been called-in on certain grounds and it was the Call-In Committee's role to consider whether, in the context of those grounds, that all relevant factors were taken into account by the Cabinet Member in reaching the decision and that it was a reasonable one, in the circumstances.
The grounds to the Call-In were: -
i) Proportionality - The cut in library hours was not proportionate to level of savings being made.
ii) Options - That no other savings options had been submitted to the Cabinet Member.
iii) Equalities & Diversity - The proposal would unfairly and disproportionately affect vulnerable groups with the greatest need.
The Chairman then invited Cllrs Brown and Hodgson, two of the signatories to the Call-In Notice to explain the grounds contained within it. In brief they made the following points: -
Cllr A Hodgson
It had been argued that a 8% cut in library opening hours was not proportionate to the level of savings sought i.e. £54k from a staffing budget of £2.8m (approx. 1.9% saving). Although having read the Cabinet Member's response on this point, Cllr Hodgson accepted that the cut was more proportionate when compared with the staffing budget of £642k for the 10 community libraries affected by the proposal. In effect, the ground was withdrawn.
Concern was expressed that there had been bias towards lunchtime closures. In the survey, the lunchtime period was represented by two one hour slots whereas other time periods were over longer periods. It was argued that when the data for the 12 - 2 pm lunchtime period was aggregated, its ranking compared to other times of the day was elevated consistently for all of the libraries. Cllr Hodgson circulated a spreadsheet of this further analysis. Meeting participants had time to examine this submission. He argued that lunchtime closures might have a negative impact on usage at other times of the day.
The Fair Treatment Assessment, made available to the Call-In Committee, was not submitted to the Cabinet Member when making her decision. This document made reference to footfall data, which had not been presented at any of the earlier meetings. Specifically, it refers to the fact that 56% of respondents in the 19-24 age group preferred the lunchtime opening compared to 34% of those aged 54 and under. This data supported lunchtime opening. The impact assessment contained in the document's summary highlighted the proposal's impact on people of working age who are in employment, education and training and require access to libraries at times that compliment those commitments. It also referred to the impact on younger adults, those using the libraries' facilities in seeking employment. He argued that the timing of this decision was unfortunate given the current economic climate.
With regard to other options, He referred to para. 4.3 of the report to Neighbourhood Services Scrutiny Board and the potential to realise savings through co-location of services or community asset transfer. He argued that this did not appear to be happening. He referred to discussion at the last Full Council meeting, and the possible co-location possibilities highlighted through the Youth Services review.
Cllr Hodgson circulated a table which gave an analysis of the percentage reduction in hours, which he argued highlighted that some libraries would be hit harder than others by the lunchtime closures.
Cllr L Brown
Cllr Brown raised the importance of the Dickens Heath Library to the local community and requested that the Cabinet Member should be asked to keep this library open.
She expressed concern over the validity of the survey with a participation rate of 9%; the survey had not been well advertised and questioned why non library users had been surveyed.
Staff numbers had already been reduced at the Dickens Heath Library, including staff with a very strong community focus. She questioned whether further cuts would be manageable.
She had conducted her own survey over the lunchtime period and had found a constant flow of users of different age groups and for different purposes.
Cllr Brown argued that the proposed closures would help the social economic disadvantage affecting that remote area.
The Cabinet Member was then invited to respond, in the context of the grounds to the Call-In, explaining the scope of the decision, the factors taken into account and the reasons for the decision.
Cllr Mrs Wild with the support of Officers made the following points: -
Cllr Mrs Wild did not respond to the ground of proportionality as her written response had been accepted by the Members representing the Call-In and, in effect, had been withdrawn.
On the subject of options considered, she circulated copies of her signed decision notice. The Committee was given time to read this. The notice demonstrated that there had been options. Option 1 - to make no change and therefore not make to required saving; the original option 2 with a proposed reduction in opening hours of 47 hours across 10 community libraries; and a revised option 2 reducing opening hours by 35 hours and reducing the impact on lunchtime closures. Cllr Mrs Wild argued that any reduction in hours is regrettable, but the costs associated in covering lunchtime was far higher than at other times of the day owing to lone worker provisions and staff travel. Accordingly, if the suggested lunchtime openings were to be reduced further then there would have to be disproportionate cuts at other times of the day to achieve the required savings.
Although other authorities had been forced to close libraries to meet budget reductions, this had not been necessary in Solihull, and she demonstrated how the service offer had been maintained and extended in some areas.
She referred to the point made earlier over co-location and better use of assets and advised that such possibilities were being pursued but such transformation takes time and would not realise any savings in the timescale demanded by the Medium Term Financial Strategy.
Cllr Mrs Wild stated that she was also willing to explore other means of maintaining services and quoted the example of Knowle Library whereby additional opening hours had been secured through the use of volunteers
On the question of the Fair Treatment Assessment, the Cabinet Member acknowledged that the document had not been submitted to her decision session but referred to para 7.6 of the report submitted on that occasion which confirmed that the assessment had been completed and had identified no significant concerns, with mitigating action being taken to minimise impact on any group or individuals. She acknowledged the points made earlier over lunchtime usage by people of working age and younger adults but argued that lunchtime closures were now only being proposed where usage statistics supported it. The most popular hours of usage had been secured for all age groups. She contented that the unemployed cited as being disadvantaged by the lunchtime closures could, owing to their circumstances, attend the library at other times of the day.
The point was made that the reduction in opening hours implemented in May 2010 had resulted in only one complaint, not about lunchtime hours. As a result of those changes there had been no decline in visitor or issue numbers, so evidently users had changed their patterns of use.
Call-In Committee Members were then invited to ask questions of the Cabinet Member, which resulted in the following comments/ responses: -
A question was posed as to whether during the options review, consideration had been given to the present location of the libraries; are they needed in their present positions? Could a library be replaced with a mobile provision rather than tinkering with the opening hours of the existing facilities? The Cabinet Member referred to the Budget Strategy Group (BSG) process as part of which one option put on the table was to close libraries. As a result of discussion in the cross party BSG this option was not put forward as part of the formal budgetary process. Closing libraries had not been an option, unlike in some other authorities. More recently the option of closure at lunchtime at all community libraries had been discussed in the BSG but dismissed as being unacceptable. Other means of delivering the service, such as co-location, as mentioned earlier, were under consideration but such proposals take time to develop.
A Member referred to the Universal Credit arrangements to take effect from April 2013 and asked whether the service had considered the impact of this, in particular in terms of access to the internet at the libraries. The Cabinet Member detailed the number of public access computers available at each of the libraries.
Following earlier comments over library closures, a Member referred to the fact that Birmingham City Council had had to close some of its libraries.
A Member queried the fact that in 2010, a reduction in opening hours of 33 hours had resulted in a saving of £95k, whereas the latest proposal of 35 hours would result in a £54k saving. The Head of Library and Information Services advised that the changes in 2010 had involved the deletion of senior management posts, hence the higher savings made.
A Member commented that for him the most significant statement was that following the 2010 changes only one complaint had been made and there had been no detrimental impact on usage.
On the exhaustion of questions the Chairman invited the Committee to consider, in the context of the remaining Call-In grounds, namely options and equalities, and based on what the Committee had read and heard during the meeting, whether the Cabinet Member's decision was reasonable.
In response to a question, the Cabinet Member confirmed that any evaluation of the decision would take place 12 months after implementation. She was happy that the outcomes of that evaluation should be submitted to Scrutiny.
i) That the Cabinet Member for Community Services' decision on community library opening hours taken on 13th September 2012 be affirmed as a reasonable decision and take immediate effect, and
ii) That the outcomes of the evaluation of this decision be submitted to Scrutiny in early 2014.
|4 || CONSTITUTION OF THE CALL-IN COMMITTEE |
The Senior Scrutiny Officer advised that there had been some correspondence in advance of the Committee over its constitution. For the avoidance of doubt he explained that this Committee is constituted with seven Members, but owing to the circumstances of this Call-In, the Green Party had not been able to take their seat on the Committee.
A Member expressed concern that the Overview & Scrutiny Procedure Rules were not explicit over who can or cannot sit on a Call-In Committee, in particular those Members that may be affected by bias.
In answer to a question, the Senior Scrutiny Officer advised that one Member had not been able to take the Green Party seat on the Committee owing to the fact that he had participated in the discussion at the Neighbourhood Services Scrutiny Board on this topic, had voted against the Board's recommendations and asked to have his name recorded as having voted in this way.
On discussion the Committee: -
That the Overview & Scrutiny Management Board be asked to review the Overview & Scrutiny Procedure Rules and Scrutiny Guidance with regard to the Call-In process, in particular Member bias.