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Shared back office costs saves libraries

Three flagship London boroughs are set to combine their library services as part of a groundbreaking move to secure the future of public libraries in the capital.

Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea councils have drawn up proposals to combine library services, saving taxpayers more than £1million a year and ensuring all of their 21 public libraries remain safe from closure.

Council leaders are next week set to go ahead with the plans which will mean, once fully implemented, residents will gain access to around 1 million books, hundreds of entertainment and cultural events and scores of weekly skills and education classes.

The move means that a one year old, living to the average life expectancy of 81, would need to read at least 26 books every day for the rest of their lives if they wanted to get through the whole Tri-Borough collection. The new arrangements will boost the drive to improve literacy in the capital through increased access to children’s libraries and specialised services such as regular homework clubs.

It comes as councils across the country are axing vital library services, with as many as 25 libraries expected to be closed in the capital alone over the next 12 months.

Cllr Greg Smith, H&F Council Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services, said:

"When money is tight some organisation’s first reaction is to slash services and try to shift the blame. Others think innovatively and develop solutions that save money, increase choice and improve services so they are more accessible and convenient for residents.

“Literacy is a fundamental cornerstone of a modern society and we need to get youngsters off their sofas and into our libraries. This is why we are finding original ways to strengthen and protect as many of our libraries as we can. Residents across the three boroughs will soon have access to more books than anyone could realistically expect to read in a lifetime.”

The proposals are being backed by the Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries Ed Vaizey MP. "When funding is short, it is important that local authorities find innovative ways to
provide this vital service, said Mr Vaizey. "Merging services across three boroughs is vastly preferable to library closures and I hope that other local authorities will come up with their own forward-looking plans for keeping libraries open."

Councillors at three separate Cabinet meetings are set to debate the proposals which also include:

  • Combining fostering and adoption services and youth offending services, with the creation of a single Local Safeguarding Children Board. In total this would save nearly £199,000 a year by 2014/15.
  • Combining environment management teams in H&F and RBKC, saving £1.5 million with a 48 per cent reduction in senior management (14 posts).

The library proposals are part of wider plans to combine some council services across the three boroughs in a bid to save £35 million a year by 2014/15. Adult, children’s, environmental and corporate services
are also expected to be combined with around 500 jobs going in management, back office and support roles.

Westminster Council leader Cllr Colin Barrow said:

"In these tough times, sharing back office functions and management with our neighbouring councils to drive out needless cost is the sensible and practical course of action to deliver savings to local taxpayers and protect frontline services such as our libraries.

“Throughout this process, we will ensure that each council continues to commission its own services and local priorities will still be driven by local people."

Collectively the three authorities must save £100 million by 2014/15. They have each signed a ‘Sovereignty Guarantee’ to safeguard local autonomy, responsiveness and identity. Each of the councils will retain their own councillors and decision making processes. Services key to local areas, such as housing management, licensing and planning will be not be combined.

H&F and RBKC have agreed to share a chief executive from October 2011. The two councils already share senior management posts in legal services, highways and finance.

RBKC Council leader Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell said:

“We want Tri-borough working to be about much more than just making reductions and this is a very encouraging example of how, by combining our management, we have been able to protect a frontline service and offer more choice as well. We hope to can repeat this pattern when we share
services in other areas."

The majority of residents support the principle of combining services, according to a poll earlier this year. 43 per cent, of 1,500 residents who took part in a telephone survey in February, said the three authorities should share as much as possible. 34 per cent said there should be some sharing of services. Only 13% of people were opposed to sharing services.

H&F Council’s Cabinet meets on June 20, RBKC’s on 22 June and Westminster’s on June 27.

Pictured: Cllr Greg Smith (H&F, second from left) and Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell (RBKC, right) with Ben Chang, Tom Rowe, Natasha Litherland, Olivia Remia and Ossie Gregory


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