22 July 2019                                                                                     

Chris Munday
Commissioning Director
Children and Young People
London Borough of Barnet

 Dear Mr Munday

 Independent review of Barnet Libraries

 As you will be aware, at its 11 June meeting, the Community Leadership and Libraries (CLL) Committee agreed to an independent review of Barnet’s radical changes to the library system. We are concerned that this review should be thorough, open, transparent, well-publicised, and that you should personally have no role in it.

 Independent? The case against Capita’s involvement

As we have documented in letters to the Minister for Culture, we have serious concerns about the Council’s ability to carry out a truly independent review.

In addition, we have learnt that the Barnet procurement rules grant Capita the right of first refusal for all tender processes, including this review, which will be put out for tender.  Is this true? In the case of the libraries review, this would surely constitute a conflict of interest, because the review is due to consider the impact of the reductions in space in libraries, which was a core feature of the supposed cost savings, designed and implemented by Capita. In addition, Capita continues to benefit financially from the downsizing and de-staffing of libraries, both via its Estates and Customer Services Group (CSG) contracts.

 Capita’s involvement in “downsizing” libraries

·         Capita, via its Estates contract, provided the estimates in income (£546k per year) that were used to justify the closure and replacement of children’s libraries, study spaces, computer and community rooms in 13 libraries with “commercial spaces” on the grounds of projected net savings of £2.162m from the library service budget (by 2019/20).[1]

·         Capita, via the same contract, managed the “refurbishment and remodelling” process that they projected would cost £4.41m.[2] In November 2017, the Council admitted the costs had risen to £7-8m, undermining the claim of a “payback time” of two years.[3]

·         Of course, rather than enhancing the buildings, this “remodeling” has largely led to drastic reductions in facilities and services for residents, including loss of library space, reduced access and locked toilets.

·         Despite nearly doubling the costs, the projected income failed to materialise.  According to information sent by Chris Smith of the Estates department to councilors on 12 July 2019, rental figures currently agreed are £243k per year (some of which appears to still be subject to negotiation). In general the targets are less than predicated four years ago, despite overall rent increases in London.[4]

·         According to FOI requests, £700k was spent on reconfiguring just three libraries (Chipping, Edgware and East Finchley). It is unclear from the Council’s figures how much has already been earned by these spaces as, for example, East Finchley remained empty until June/July 2019 and there is at yet no lease signed for the nursery at Chipping library.  However, even once the planned rental value for these spaces is achieved, the total annual income will be £57k, which represents a payback period of twelve years on the capital spend. (Alarmingly, the Council does not appear concerned at the disparity between remodeling costs and rental income. [5])

·         As the Council’s chart makes clear, other libraries still stand empty despite the continuing loss to the community of their library purpose and others have been let to the Council for offices – not part of the original plan for commercial income.

 Ongoing benefits to Capita

·         The renewal of the IT system was another core feature of the library transformation project, necessitated partly because of the reductions in staffed hours, though these costs were never included in information provided to councillors at the time. [6] In practice, this renewal has meant a further £2m contract going to a Capita-provided system. What is less clear is whether this renewal was in part also necessitated by the massive data loss caused by Capita error in 2016/17, for which Capita repaid an undisclosed sum in compensation.[7]

·         The overall costs of the library transformation project has never been publicly accounted for and appears to be continuing to increase, three years after the plans were approved. For example, John Dix (aka Mr Reasonable) has established that in 2018/19, the year after the remodeling works were apparently completed, Capita was paid an additional sum of £259k for “library downsizing and IT supply”.

·         As John Dix has also calculated, Capita is paid £8 every time a library user contacts the library service by telephone, via its CSG contract.

 Therefore, we would like your assurance that Capita or any of its subsidiaries or associated companies will not be allowed to tender for the review nor be involved in any way other than in the provision of data required by the researcher.

 
Thorough? - Concerns about Equalities Data and monitoring

Please let us know who will be responsible for updating the Equalities Impact Assessment agreed by councillors at the CLL meeting. In particular, will it be part of the tender; will it be carried out by the Library Service/Children’s Services or will it be another section within Barnet Council or Capita? Will this updating include data from the Partnership libraries? We note that none of the charities running these libraries have themselves reported on equalities data for their branches.

 In correspondence with the Minister for Culture we have already raised our concerns on a number of occasions that the original Equalities Impact Assessment has not been complied with and that the Council’s overall Equalities reporting procedures have not included mention of libraries.[8] We now note the concerns raised in the recent Internal Audit about the council’s compliance with the public sector equality duty:

“Equalities data quality and analysis -Significant issues were found in the design and operation of controls relating to the processing and interpretation of equalities data at the Council. Data analysis was not sufficiently in-depth to identify equalities issues and support the targeting of interventions to improve equalities performance. As such, this activity did not support the Council to demonstrate that it is meeting the requirements of the Public Sector Equalities Duty.” [9]

Transparent? – Your involvement in the review

In correspondence with the Minister for Culture we raised our concern about your personal involvement in any review process, given the biased statements you have made about the nature and the purpose of the review. This is the relevant section of our letter of 20 February 2019:

[In June 2018] the Youth Assembly passed a motion for “more study spaces and communal areas in libraries” and called for “restrictions on the times during which youngsters can use them to be scrapped”. The purpose of the Youth Assembly according the Council’s website is to take “key issues…directly to Councillors who discuss how the Council can best address these issues”. Despite this, the Strategic Director of Children and Young People, Chris Munday, speaking on behalf of the Council at the relevant committee, rejected their demands, calling for “myth-busting” and stating that “libraries are there, young people are using them, there is an increase in satisfaction”.

We are particularly concerned by the conclusions Mr Munday went on to draw regarding the review: “I will make sure when we do the review we will be looking at how to continue to promote libraries in Barnet, because I am concerned that young people feel they can’t go to a library when they can”. Unfortunately, this suggests that the review, which is being organised by Mr Munday, will focus on justifying the changes that have been made rather than genuinely exploring their impact.
[10]

We also note that Article 1.3 of the council’s constitution states: “Ensure that no one will review or scrutinize a decision in which they were directly involved in making”.

 We believe this applies to your position and ask that you publicly state your role in the review. We are particularly concerned by any involvement you may have in selecting or briefing the contractor, developing or approving materials that will form the basis of data collection in focus groups and surveys, and in the development of recommendations from the review.

Publicising the review

It is in the interests of the entire community that the Council publicise the fact and content of the review, taking into account the promises given at the CLL meeting about extending its scope. For example, you have promised to include evidence from schools in the review. However, we consider that all schools in Barnet must be encouraged to participate in the review via the Schools Circular, and additionally that information about the review must be published on the library service website and twitter, in all Barnet libraries, to all library card holders where you hold an email address, in Barnet First and via all other modes of communication that the Council regularly uses. We also ask that you provide us and members of the CLL committee with a copy of the revised scoping report, the procurement rules for the review and the date of the tender as a matter of urgency.

 We look forward to your reply.

 Barbara Jacobson                                         Emily Burnham

On behalf of Save Barnet Libraries

 
Cc Mike Freer MP, Dr Matthew Offord MP, Theresa Villiers MP
Members of CES and CLS committees
UNICEF “family friendly cities” partner
Barnet Inclusion
Kisharon
NW7 Hub

NOTES

[1] “The commercial spaces income target is £546,000 income by 2019/20 financial year, this income figure includes all locations and will also take into account any capital investment. The model is to deliver total savings of £2.162m by 2019/20.” Response to FOI request ref 4446096 28 June 2018 which repeats information provided to councillors in March 2016

[2] The £4.41m is made up of “an estimate of the reconfiguration costs,” “calculated at around £3m,” and “the cost of implementing technology-enabled opening arrangements” estimated at £1.41m.

5.3.2 It is estimated that the investment required for the first three strands is £4.41m. Based on the projected saving, this represents a payback period of around two years”. Barnet Future Library Service https://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s30694/Barnets%20future%20Library%20Service.pdf

[3] Answer to Question 15 CELS 15/11/17:

 “The capital cost of the library programme refurbishment and remodelling programme are circa £7m-£8m. This has funded the remodelling of library spaces, the provision of new technology, new fixtures and fittings, flooring, redecoration and the addition of public toilets. This capital investment supports the proposal to generate year-on year revenue savings for the council.”

[4] https://www.ey.com/uk/en/newsroom/news-releases/16-04-11---london-commercial-property-rents-rise-by-70-in-five-years-ey-research-reveals

[5] “Reconfiguration costs are not related to income of newly created commercial spaces.”  Response to FOI request ref 4446096 28 June 2018

 

[6] 1.14.2 Barnet Future Library Service “An improved Library Management System (LMS) will provide an enhanced customer interface with the facility to place and track reservations online to renew items and to search an improved library catalogue. An online booking system will enable residents to book and pay for places at library events and activities”

[7] Answer to Qu 5 Policy and Resources Committee 11/12/18

[8] Annual Equalities Assessment as reported to Policy & Resources Committee 11/12/19

[9] Page 34 of the Annual Internal Audit Opinion 2018/2019

http://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/g9846/Public%20reports%20pack%2016th-Jul-2019%2019.00%20Audit%20Committee.pdf?T=10

[10] http://www.savebarnetlibraries.org/2019-barnet-library-review---our-letter-to-dcms-and-barnet.html. Note that since this statement by the Youth Assembly it has been disbanded by the Council, pending its re-organisation.Type your paragraph here.