August 26, 2013
Chief Leisure Officer and the Chief Librarian
When a council finance officer needs to prepare for how to handle reductions in expenditure and the suggestion is made that the library service has to reduce its budget, the job of preparing a plan falls to the Chief Leisure Officer and the Chief Librarian
These are not elected people, they are generally well-paid officers of the council
There is no guidance given - no stated purpose for the library service - no rationale . It is at this point that the plan must interpret any 'local' need - and therefore where an argument for cutting expense may lie.
There is no accepted way of presenting financial information , no usual process of analysis, no tradition of what the libraries are for
It is only when a plan has been written with perhaps a few minor alternatives for how it might be implemented, that it gets to be seen by elected councillors - and, if they are the governing party, it is their job to defend what their officers have proposed
So when councillors find themselves defending a plan to close libraries, it is very hard for them to have understood or even to have influenced what is going to happen
It is a strange and rather amateurish system - given the amount of money it costs
Posted by Perkins at August 26, 2013 1:09 PM
A little misleading Tim? Leaving aside the question of whether councillor should have to take responsibility for their decisions (I think they should) the structure you cite is by no means universal. Maybe that's part of the problem
Posted by: An ex-chief librarian at August 26, 2013 9:51 PM
I get asked by councillors to look at the plans made for them by officers - who are always the chief librarian and sometimes (I grant you) someone with a title like Chief leisure officer.
They are often impenetrable and incomprehensible - and to a person new to the subject (as the portfolio holding councillor often is) they make it hard to be responsible for what is being said
I don't think I am being misleading - I think this process lies at the heart of the problem
Campaigners assume that there is a political force driving these changes - and between that and the ineptitude of the minister lies the solution.
But I have observed over a long time that it is these plans and presentations, which are normally of incredibly low standard and confusing to boot - that cause the problem in the first place.
For example it is very rare indeed for a councillor to be shown what is called 'the budget book for libraries' - which is the detailed analysis of costs - and have explained to them what the various headings mean. I say that officers are deeply reluctant to let councillors see that kind of detail . It takes a very demanding and experienced councillor to extract full information from officers
It is almost impossible for a councillor to obtain information about how the council recharge of service costs is made up. I have been in meetings when officers even get really angry when that information is asked for. The process is not what it should be.
No one would disagree that councillors should be responsible for the decisions. I just happen to think that senior council officers and civil servants are just as responsible and should be accountable to the public for what they do .
And, incidentally, to those who griped about my assertion that there are still councils that pay professional membership fees for CILIP - I can relate that last week one such rang me up to tell me that they have now stopped! (And - no - I won't say who it was!)
Posted by: perkins at August 27, 2013 9:48 AM
You're absolutely right, Perkins. It is the councillors who should be setting the policy, and the staff (officers) who should be carrying out this policy, but all too often, the tail wags the dog. It doesn't help that councillors who are members of the relevant committee on the council often don't even belong to a library. Of the 10 or so county councillors who I gave a presentation to a few years ago, not a SINGLE ONE was a library member, even though they were sitting on a scrutiny committee on this very subject. So they rely on what the officers tell them, and the officers' main concern might not be the future of libraries, but be much more about how to hang onto their jobs.
Posted by: Amanda Field at August 27, 2013 8:41 PM
That is a fairly irrelevant point, Amanda. Most councillors don't have direct experience of social services, yet we expect them to manage that service.
Posted by: Steve of North Ealing at September 1, 2013 9:38 PM