Open Letter to Rob Stewart, Cabinet Members, Councillors & Officers

And copied to: Deputy Minister Ken Skates, Edwina Hart AM, Liz Evans, Peter Black AM, Bethan Jenkins AM, Julie James AM, Byron Davies AM, Suzy Davies AM et al.

THIS IS QUITE A LENGTHY LETTER, SUPPORTERS, BUT IT IS WORTH READING BECAUSE IT COVERS ALL THE MAIN POINTS.

Re. Pennard Library

In autumn 2013, it was proposed that Pennard Library should close as part of the council’s attempts to save money. Due to a powerful community campaign led by Gower residents, the former Cabinet Member, Nick Bradley, made a written promise that the library service would remain – if the dilapidated library building were to be refurbished. In October 2014, despite grants being obtained in principle, the new cabinet members reneged on this promise and said that the outcome of the library service in Pennard would now be based on a review of the whole service.

After the Full Council meeting of 2.12.14, and the leader’s comments in the Evening Post on 13.01.15 [see note 1] our committee felt that it was vital that we wrote an open letter to clarify matters. We are concerned that the cabinet has been misinformed – firstly as to the stipulations of the CyMAL grant awarded to Pennard and, secondly, as to how the proposal evolved from a refurbishment to a rebuild. We are fearful that, pending the review, cabinet might vote to close Pennard Library, whilst being ignorant of the facts.

[note 1] “It could be that we have another library with a resource. If you call something a library it doubles your cost but if you call it a book club you can run it more cheaply — let’s look at it a bit differently. As long as there is a room with computers and lots of books that’s what we should be having” (Rob Stewart,  http://www.southwales-eveningpost.co.uk/Libraries-brought-book/story-25845738-detail/story.html#ixzz3OnEmedEr).

Business Plan

What Friends of Pennard Library is still offering to do is to take over the Pennard Library Building – either by leasing the site or by asset transfer – and independently raise grants to rebuild the library and cover all running costs of the building etc. The new building will include:

  • A library – roughly the same size as the current provision;
  • A café area;
  • An IT suite / meeting area / quiet study area;
  • A Vernon Watkins Archive, containing unpublished works;
  • A large exhibition / film room to the first floor.

The attached business plan has been welcomed by various bodies and is considered to be robust. You will see from the five year cash projections that the library will be self-sustaining with no need for a financial input from the Local Authority. Monies generated by the café and hiring out of facilities will be used to buy in staffing for the proposed community hub. In our worst case scenario we expect to make profits of c. 70k in the first five years – this is more likely to be c. 140k. Profits and grant opportunities will enable FoPL to secure a library service, IT provision and book stock. What we are offering is exactly what the leader has asked communities to do and this partnership model is advocated by the Expert Review of Welsh Libraries 2014.

Areas of Misinformation, Apparent at Full Council 02.12.14

  1. Firstly, at the Full Council meeting, it seemed that the leader believed that the rebuild plan was something that FoPL had devised independently of the Local Authority.As a matter of fact, it was the former cabinet’s proposal that changed – and FoPL worked with members and officers to this end. It is important to understand that a simple refurbishment was never an option. Former Head of Cultural Services, Iwan Davies, and the former cabinet member, Nick Bradley, asked FoPL to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which meant that income had to be generated by FoPL to take over the building and all of its running costs. This necessitated an extension with a cafe etc. The council would not accept the original CyMAL grant for the refurbishment until FoPL signed. This MOU was signed in May, and the CyMAL grant was formally accepted by CCoS on 2nd June 2014.With c. 300k of grants secured in principle, including 100k from the Pennard Community Charity, it seemed a waste of public money to spend this on an extension and refurbishment of an ageing building, with rotting foundations. It was apparent from meetings with officers that the planning department was not in favour of the extension plans. Hence FoPL proposed a rebuild, which was warmly received by the LA and the proposal was swiftly granted planning permission (within five weeks!). This was paid for with subscriptions and donations from FoPL members. CyMAL was fully on board with this partnership model and ministerial approval was given for a variation in the use of the grant.So yes, the proposal had changed at the behest of the previous cabinet – and was proceeding with its full blessing. To this end, FoPL members attended scores of meetings, working closely with officers. The rebuild was not an independently devised proposal. 
  2. It was also apparent at Full Council that members were misinformed as to the stipulations of the CyMAL grant of 118k. Both the Cabinet Member and the Leader said that there was a revenue tie in to provide the current service level for a five year period and thus incur unaffordable revenue costs.Firstly, the grant stipulations simply state the need for “a continuing commitment from City and Council of Swansea to provide a librarian led service as outlined in their e-mail of 22 February to CyMAL from Steve Hardman [see note 2]” (CyMAL: Museums Archives and Libraries Wales Community Learning Libraries Grants 2014-lc-008-012 Pennard Library). Please note from this that there is no five year stipulation. Secondly, there was no stipulation to maintain the status quo – i.e. a revenue cost of 44k per annum for staff, book stock and IT costs. According to Huw Evans of CyMAL, “a librarian led service” could have meant a librarian for one morning per week. Negotiations could have taken place so that the CyMAL grant could have been accepted by the current administration. Sadly, this did not happen.

[note 2] “After further discussions with relevant officers and written questions from Pennard customers the following public question was tabled to Council on Tuesday 18th February. (A copy of the minute has been included below). At the meeting the Cabinet Member responsible for libraries gave reassurances that if the library was refurbished then a librarian led service would remain. Therefore we conclude that a library service would remain at Pennard at least within the lifespan of the current Administration i.e. until May 2017. However it is expected that some form of library service whether Local Authority controlled, Community controlled or a hybrid model i.e. community led with local authority support would continue beyond this time period. Officers are currently working with the Pennard Action Group to discuss further developments and the current bid has very much been on a collaborative basis” (From Steve Hardman’s Email to CyMAL, February, 2014).

The Way Forward
Finally, we acknowledge the positive letter received from Councillor Robert Francis-Davies on 1st December, charging officers to continue to work with FoPL to provide solutions. To this end, we have met with the Education Dept. to negotiate a lease on the library site and to discuss ways of FoPL covering the revenue for a librarian service.  We would respectfully ask for answers to the following questions:

  1. Will representatives of the Friends of Pennard Library be able to meet with the leader of the Library Review team, the leader and cabinet members, to present their substantive business case and to demonstrate how cash savings will be made for the City and County of Swansea?
  2. With planning permission already agreed for a new Pennard Library and a substantive business plan giving savings for CCoS in place, will members agree to support an application for a Leasing Agreement and new build project?
  3. It was noted in the LA’s survey [see note 3] on its budget cut proposals that the following statements were made:
    1. “Restructuring and co-locating libraries and local history services as part of a review of libraries and cultural services. Full consultation will take place when the review is completed. Proposals would not be implemented until 2017/18, this will save £260,000”.
    2. “As part of developing new models of delivery, review current Cultural Services business model and consider the potential of transfer to another model e.g. Charitable Trust or Joint Venture for some cultural services, potentially including Leisure services, libraries, museums and galleries and West Glamorgan Archive Service. Full consultation will take place when the reviews are completed, with evidence of a sustainable business case. Proposals would not be implemented until 2017/18, this would save £40,000 in the short term and more longer term”.

Are these statements true? If no changes will be made until after full consultation in 2017, how much time does the library service in Pennard have left? Will the outcomes of the review take us into the next financial year?

  1. Is it lawful to close Pennard Library? Would this not be in breach of the 2010 Equality Act, and the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act, as some of the Gower Community would be unable to access “a comprehensive” library service? The Deputy Minister, Ken Skates AM, expressed uncertainty on this very issue in a letter to Edwina Hart AM, and concluded that if the library were to close then the council should “provide a mobile library service to serve the Pennard community”  in order to fulfil its legal obligations (Eich cyf/Your ref EH.rj.FoPL.11.14). This would incur greater revenue costs for the CCoS as the mobile service has already been axed.

We hope that we can continue to work with the new administration to safeguard the library service – not only in Pennard – but throughout Swansea.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Joiner (Chair, FoPL: on behalf of the committee)

[note 3](http://www2.swansea.gov.uk/_snapforms/psp/sbp1214/budget_proposals.htm)

Advertisements