September 8, 2013
The Key Financial information in a library service
We hear about library closures brought about by financial necessity in councils. And we ask questions about how the money is being spent and where savings might be made
For someone not used to the way councils present financial information it is very difficult to obtain the key information to answer those questions. The style of reporting is quite different to anything that someone used to commercial accounting would recognise and the documents are not readily available and when they can be found they are hard to understand
What one needs are
1. CIPFA data. This is the annual return made about libraries to a body called the Chartered Institute of Public Financial Accountants - a body which holds data about public services. The presentation of the data is very hard to understand and is not much help unless one can make a comparison both with previous years and with councils as a whole... but it is a report of costs and important performance data
2. The budget book for libraries. In each council there is a spreadsheet which gives detailed analysis against budget headings of how the money allocated to libraries is spent . The budget book is also generally very unclear about what the headings mean - but it is an account of proposed expenditure
3. A reconciliation between the CIPFA figures and the budget book. On first inspection it is generally very hard to see how both can be an account of the same thing- because very often CIPFA includes costs that the budget does not. Therefore one needs to see how that council has produced both
4. A management structure chart showing the libraries themselves and the other functions that are carried out in the library service. This will not be clear from any of the previous documents, but is needed to identify where money is spent .. It needs to explain the headings in the budget book
5. An account of the 'Council Service Charge' - which is the recharge made by the council for various services of which the libraries make use and can go under a variety of names (HR, systems, tax collection etc)
It is only with these pieces of information clearly presented that one can have an intelligent discussion about what the priorities are and where savings can sensibly be made that damage the service to the public.
I have never seen a council in which this information is available to the councillors responsible for making budget decisions- but perhaps there are some somewhere
Posted by Perkins at September 8, 2013 11:19 AM
Yes a good basic list. The financial information provided to the public when library changes are proposed is often inadequate? Why?
Perhaps ACE/SCL could suggest to their council colleagues that this data is made available at the start of any public consultation on library service changes? If not supplied, library campaigners should ask for the information via a Freedom of Information request.
Posted by: libraryvolunter at September 8, 2013 4:44 PM
With respect to the CIPFA data - how to find , interpret and understand it - I have a database of figures from all councils going back fifteen years- which is very helpful for understanding the issues in individual councils
If ever a campaigner - or a councillor- wants to have access to relevant figures in that database, I am extremely willing to help them (free!)
Posted by: perkins at September 8, 2013 7:23 PM
Frankly, I don't know what good greater knowledge in these areas would produce. Having seen the processes as Dorset closed one library and forced eight to become community-managed, it is perfectly obvious to me that Officers will lead Councillors by the nose and whatever the Officers' agenda, that is the one which will prevail.
Posted by: Hazel Robinson at September 10, 2013 9:59 AM
Hazel - aren't you being too fatalist and accepting of low standards in local government?
(1) Council services belong to the public not the officers. There is judgement involved. The public should be able to understand the logic and the numbers behind a decision - particularly in controversial areas like closing libraries.
(2) Council disclosure culture is stuck in the pre-internet age. There is virtually no cost in providing information which is already available internally so why isn’t it provided if the public want it. Also alternative strategies are rarely discussed. Councils tend to say ‘there is no alternative’.
(3) In the public domain,on the internet at least, aren’t library consultations too often a dialogue of the deaf i.e. Councils – “we need to save money and our library network is out-dated” and campaigners - “keep the library network and the staff as they are.”
With the financial numbers you may be able to have a more constructive discussion.
Posted by: libraryvolunteer at September 10, 2013 8:58 PM
My experience is that Councillors looking for savings from non-statutory services (which they think includes libraries) are forcing Officers to make hasty cuts based on inadequate management accounts.
I've looked at my local Budget Book, and gone through it with the Chief Librarian, and it is still near-on impossible to make sense of it as a budgetary aid.
Many proposed cuts remove an amount for one budget line only to increase cost elsewhere other areas of saving are not suggested as they appear in other's budgets (such as Customer Service, Museums, IT, Building Services, etc.).
Library Services should be producing their own management accounts as a working document and when making cuts should then may this available to campaigners (with the usual caveats).
Posted by: John Walker at September 11, 2013 11:47 AM