Pushing the boundaries

There was an interesting news story regarding the Met Police Commissioner’s comments that forces in England and Wales should merge and share resources with other police authorities or emergency services as a way of saving money and operating more effectively in the face of stringent cuts (Scotland has already adopted the approach and have a single merged service).

Now this is not just a salient reminder that even police forces are under pressure from the austerity measures but raises the issue once again of how public services should respond effectively to ever decreasing funding.

There is a lesson for library services here. In the rush to cut costs by reducing staff, service points, hours, stock funds, and introducing volunteers the one idea that has failed to gain ground with politicians is the idea of regional, rather than county/unitary, library services. However, there are many advantages to doing so including the sharing of expertise, back office functions, and merging staffing structures to achieve economies of scale.

I made a similar point in my own submission to Sieghart stating that we should seek to reduce the number of library authorities and merge services across local authority boundaries, either building on existing regional structures or creating new ones. This is nothing new and many within the profession including Cilip have made similar suggestions.

I have also argued for this approach in a previous post but unfortunately the idea continues to receive indifference at best and outright opposition at worse. Which highlights once again how local political expediency triumphs over innovation for delivering services.

I admit to finding it perplexing that more is not done in terms of merging libraries in different authorities that are geographically close, or larger library authorities delivering services for smaller ones such as Essex and Slough. Unfortunately, sharing library services is still the exception rather than the norm.

What’s not in doubt though is the spending commitments of the three mainstream political parties. The desire to protect funding for the NHS and education, as well as the rising cost of adult social care, will leave the rest of us scrabbling around for a smaller share of an ever decreasing budget.

The sharing of services across boundaries and different political affiliations might currently be unpalatable for many councils but in the not too distant future it may well become a financial necessity .

4 thoughts on “Pushing the boundaries”

  1. I think this is right – but you have to accept that one of the main purposes of amalgamations of this kind is substantially to reduce the number of ‘back office’ library professional jobs. Those carry much of the cost.

    Therefore it merits some time and consideration as to how that work could be better carried out when operating in a larger grouping.


  2. There is a lot to be said for pursuing this. In fact it is really essential now. Tim is right of course any merger would need to rationalise.

    I have some experience of police force attempts at merging. In this case 2 forces (one of which I was closely involved with), initially looked at a complete merger of two forces. A lot of work was done, the thing that stopped it eventually was the precept!! A further attempt was made some years later, but this time to merge one major function that would on first thoughts be simple to do. A huge amount of effort was made to do this, but too many obstacles were thrown up, too much resistance, too few people wishing to change what and how they did things.

    So, the message is, yes it should be done, and yes it could be done, BUT on every side changes would need to be made, a lot of work would need to be done,there needs to be a willingness and, may I say, an attitude by elected members to make it happen. It must be seen as creating a new service, not a take over, and there will have to be cost savings. However there are good examples in this and other sectors and other countries where similar things have been done. I recall over 30 years ago seeing a very good scheme in Melbourne Australia, of all book purchasing and processing done by one central organisation (run by a lecturer of mine when at college)., hugely successful. WE do really need some willingness to progress these ideas, some good faith and a different attitude. To save public libraries in the UK is almost too late with the state of national finances, so we need out of the box thinking, willingness, and action, and give and take on all sides.WE need to start from the point that this WILL need changes and pride and possessiveness put to one side., the future of the library is at stake! It needs a big and powerful person or group to tackle this, a little like Sir Matthew Evans did for the PLN, is there such a person or group? Some one with clout, intelligence, power and sympathy for the cause?

    Is this possible? Empires will crumble and councillors will have fits! But time is short to take up the challenge and show some ingenious and collaborative work and effort, or sit back, receive report after report and change nothing!!


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