Council meetings

Agenda item

Library savings programme update


3.1 Liz Dart (Head of Culture and Community Development) introduced the report. The following key points were noted:


·      The outcome of the consultation on the proposals for the libraries had been presented to this committee in autumn 2015. Mayor and Cabinet had then decided to ask officers to develop more detailed plans for Catford Library and to agree to extend the community library model to three libraries: Manor House, Forest Hill and Torridon Road.

·      Twenty organisations had registered an interest in running a community library but many fewer had submitted a full proposal. The potential partners for the new community libraries had been assessed using the following criteria: proposed use of building including library service; organisational capacity; capital funding plan; ability to take financial responsibility; and plans to involve the community.

·      Two organisation had submitted a bid for Forest Hill library. One organisation wanted ongoing revenue support which the Council was unable to provide so the proposals could not be progressed further. The proposal from V22 was let out spaces on the first and second floor as artists’ studios. The ground floor would largely be kept the same. V22 hold the lease on Louise House.

·      Only Greenwich Leisure Limited submitted a full proposal for Manor House library. The proposal had a strong focus on income generation by providing a nursery in the building. This would have required extensive alterations to the lower ground floor and a part of the grounds to be sectioned off to create a play area. The play area was a Ofsted requirement for a nursery. Manor House and its grounds are Grade II* listed. It was felt to be unlikely that the required planning consent could be obtained for these plans. The Council was now without a partner organisation for Manor House library and would go out again to a partner.

·      Some of the lessons learned were that for a particularly challenging building such as a Grade II* listed one, the Council should be more explicit about where it can be flexible about the exact terms of the lease agreements. A partner organisation would not necessarily need to take a full lease on Manor House but could take on the role of a premises manager, similar to the structure of some of the community centres in the borough. Previously, the Council had not been explicit about what a less than full lease would look like.

·      Greenwich Leisure Limited had also submitted a bid for Torridon Road library but had felt it was not feasible to take this on without also managing Manor House library. The Archibald Corbett Society and the Archibald Corbett Resident Association had been discussing a merger, and had now presented a late bid for the Torridon Road library. The bid provided enough content to warrant further investigation but needed to be developed further. Mayor and Cabinet would be asked to approve the Archibald Corbett Society and the Archibald Corbett Resident Association as the preferred partners for Torridon Road library and to delegate authority to the Executive Director for Community Services to negotiate a premise management arrangement.

·      A draft plan for the ground floor of Laurence House including Catford Library was presented. The receptions would be integrated to provide one for all visitors. Two library assistants would be kept in this structure and they work alongside the other staff on the ground floor.


3.2 Liz Dart, Antonio Rizzo (Head of Library and Information Service) and Geeta Subramaniam answered questions from the Committee. The following key points were noted:


·         Greenwich Leisure Limited could submit a new bid for Manor House library. As the setting of Manor House was also listed, it would be difficult to provide a sectioning off of the grounds that would fulfil both conservation requirements and child safeguarding requirement. A glass partition for example would not meet child safeguarding standards.

·         From mid-September, the library service would no longer be responsible for the management of Manor House as the savings programme had been agreed and would be implemented. Council staff would maintain the building and keep the building secure, but it would not library staff performing these services.

·         A new report was being prepared for September to provide an update on Manor House library and the search for a new partner organisation. A balance needed to be found between the number of staff, the number of hours they would be available and the budget.

·         Conservation officers have advised that it would likely be easier to make changes to the lower ground floor. Income could still be provided to an organisation from the upper floors.

·         The library self-service terminals would be maintained in the Forest Hill library. These terminals allowed people to request books, pay fines and renew library books. These would be maintained by the Council. Other services could be accessed on any web browsers. The general IT systems in all libraries including community libraries were being reviewed by the Council’s IT department for upgrades.

·         A bid that contained provision of IT support to library users would be considered favourably in a situation of competing bids. It might not be possible for an organisation to include such provision in their bid as they needed to consider many aspects include sufficient income. The provision of IT support was not considered to be a necessary element of a bid.

·         The library service offers a training programme for all community libraries including equality legislation and health and safety requirements. Library staff employed by the Council were not required to undergo Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks on advice from the Council’s Human Resources department. Partner organisations that would be approved to manage the community-led libraries would also not be required to perform DBS checks on their staff and volunteers. Organisations were not permitted to perform DBS checks on any employees unless DBS checks were required for a specific role. DBS checks were normally only required for staff that worked with children on an unsupervised, one to one basis. 


3.3 The Committee made a number of comments. The following key points were noted:


·      A discussion was needed on whether any plans for income generation in Manor House would limit opportunities for community use. This could be mentioned in the update report in September.

·      The Committee should be updated via email about any key developments in the process to find partner organisations for the three libraries.

·      The Committee questioned whether the advice that library did not to undergo DBS checks was accurate, as members of school governing bodies as well as staff and volunteers in community centres were required to undergo DBS checks.

·      Some members of the Committee felt that the availability of IT services and support in public buildings such as libraries was necessary when the Council was working to provide more and more of its services online. Other members of the Committee felt it would be difficult to impose conditions on partner organisations to provide IT support by trained individuals, especially given the difficulty in ensuring this was available during all opening hours.

·      The Committee had considered the emails sent to them by the Chairman of The Users & Friends of Manor House Library and the Chair of the Torridon road library users group.

·      Councillor Hilton had been unable to attend. She welcomed the short-listed bids. She wanted to submit a plea that current IT equipment in libraries would be available to the partner organisations to avoid settling them with significant start-up costs, while appreciating the potential difficulties with use of the Council’s servers and access to the Council’s information.


3.4 RESOLVED: that the report be noted, that the different positions for each of the libraries with regards to the library savings programme be noted, that a further update on the library savings programme for Manor House library be presented at the next Committee meeting on 15 September, that the Committee be updated via email on any key developments over the summer, and that the following of the Committee’s views be referred to Mayor and Cabinet alongside their consideration of the library savings programme update:


A)   The Committee felt that it was important that libraries could offer assistance to members of the public with the use of computers and IT, especially in light of the Council’s aim to increasingly digitise its services.


The Committee therefore recommends that, as far as is practicable, agreements with the partners organisations for the community libraries include provisions to ensure that technical support by trained staff and/or trained volunteers is available to residents;


and that the following of the Committee views be referred to Mayor and Cabinet for a response:


B)   The Committee was advised that the Council’s library staff were not required to undergo Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, based on advice from the Council’s Human Resources department. Partner organisations that would be approved to manage the community-led libraries would also not be required to perform DBS checks on their staff and volunteers.


The Committee was concerned about this viewpoint, as school governors and some staff responsible for managing community centres were required to undergo DBS checks. The Committee noted that library staff often worked with children and could at times find themselves alone with a child.


The Committee therefore requests that outside legal advice is sought on whether Council staff, staff paid by partner organisations and volunteers working in libraries would need to undergo DBS checks.


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