Efficiencies: Sharing services

 

This is all about councils sharing aspects, or all, of their library provision.  Uniting libraries from two or more councils into one unit can save money by reducing number of managers and backroom staff while benefiting from other economies of scale.  It also allows users greater access to services between boroughs.  Councils considering sharing services tend to be of the same political party.  This move very much chimes in with current Government policy – “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.” (Ed Vaizey, Libraries Minister).  The Future Libraries Report (p.12) claims merging back room services “may save 5 to 10%” of costs” while merging all services may save “10 to 25%”.  The Report goes on to emphasise that merging library services needs a strong political will and a commitment to open-ness and fairness (for example, one council may already have cut more than the other before the merger and this should be taken into account).  There are also employment law implications (e.g. TUPE).

The public seems to be in favour of merging services, with a Tri-Borough survey showing “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” (ConservativeHome).

Councils necessarily lose some control over the service and it may be problematic to disengage if one council decides to go back to entirely running its own service or switches political allegiance. Different systems in different councils can cause problems when joining up different libraries, including different ways of gathering and analysing data. Also local pride, for example in the case of Cornwall linking with Devon, may cause some unpopularity.  In the case of Bromley, the Bromley Cuts Concern lobby group, said: “The merger will mean unaccountable Bexley staff and councillors having a say in how our local services are run”. Merging services is not easy and there should be a project manager assigned to the task.

“What’s more, we’ve proven that tri-borough working can actually improve services for local people. Our residents can now borrow books from any library across the three boroughs, expanding their choice to more than one million books, including specialist collections like the Westminster music library and the fashion collection at Chelsea library.” One year on, does sharing services work? - Guardian (20/6/12).

Documents

  • “Services shared: costs spared?”- Local Government Association, August 2012.  Analysis of financial and non-financial benefits of sharing services.
  • Shared Services – Unison Scotland 2013.  A critical look at the process including high costs of starting the process, job losses, higher tax rates, centralisation and loss of personal service.

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