- Councillors were dubious of the robustness of the business case, the following opinions were voiced:
- That the business case would not be accepted by a bank if we were asking for a loan;
- The Pennard Community Charity did not accept this business case as being viable;
- Tracey Macnulty, Head of Cultural Services, believes that only FoPL, rather than another third party, would take on the running of the library service in Pennard. Was this because the business case is not viable?
Answer: Firstly, 1a is a matter of personal opinion. The Welsh Government accepted the business case and on that basis the minister changed the conditions of the CyMAL grant from a refurbishment to a rebuild. The business case was initially prepared by Susan Geary, who does this professionally (Aurora Business Services, Ltd). The coffee shop figures and sales etc. were based on advice from a local businessman who runs a coffee shop. All figures are evidenced based – many on actual quotations. Please re-read pages 30-33 of the business case.
Secondly, 1b is factually incorrect. This is not the business case which was submitted to the Pennard Community Charity. It has been through many revisions since then – and the financial sections have been totally rewritten based on advice and evidence.
Thirdly, point 1c raised a valid question. The Local Authority’s External Funding Committee, as of September 2014, was ready to endorse our business case, and even the current cabinet member said that he thought it was a viable plan. The reason that Tracey Macnulty believes that no other group will take on library provision in Pennard is that there will be no building from which to provide a service. The Cabinet member for Education wants to bulldoze the library and return the land to school use – at this point for additional parking space. Hence, we are asking the Community Council to lease us land.
Despite the above endorsements, to offer councillors peace of mind, FoPL intends to submit its business plan to a professional body for scrutiny and adapt it accordingly.
Additionally, it is worth noting that grants can be obtained for revenue costs – e.g. paying staff. Also, there is always the option – for the first year at least – for the community council to raise the precept by 75p per household per week. This would cover the current staffing costs and enable FoPL to get the library service on its feet. Costs would be less than 75p per week if we were to include other community councils on South Gower whose residents use Pennard Library. Obviously, the community would need to be consulted on this.
- Staffing: is three days for a library manager and three days for an assistant, more or less than the current situation? One councillor said that he didn’t think that volunteers were sustainable.
Answer: three days for a library manager and three days for an assistant is slightly less than what we have at the moment. The figures in the business case are there as indicators, in that if less cash is generated than expected, less can be spent on staff. Conversely, if we obtain more grants and generate more income than expected, we can pay for more hours.
We are not proposing a library staffed by volunteers. Evidence from England indicates that this would not be sustainable. The model we are proposing – of paid staff supported by volunteers is viable. We have a good track record of opening the FoPL shop seven days per week since July. Out of our 60+ volunteers – some help occasionally. However, we have 30+ hard core volunteers who are there week-in-week-out and have recently voted to continue to open the shop beyond Christmas. They are committed to the future of the library and some are so dedicated that they would work regular shifts at the proposed library.
- Fifteen car parking spaces will be lost. At peak times, all car parks on the campus are full. What if the school, as a matter of child protection, puts a gate across the car park and denies the community use of these spaces?
Answer: If the community hall were to be extended, it is doubtful that all fifteen parking spaces will be lost. In addition, the bulldozing of the current library will provide further parking.
As a governor, I can assure councillors that the school meets Estyn’s security standards. No-one can access the school as doors are locked and gates chained. The only access is through the main entrance, and the door is only opened to authorised persons.
It would be untenable to gate the whole parking area, as there are many visitors and deliveries throughout the school day. Reasons for denying FoPL a lease need to be based on evidence. This fantasised catastrophizing has no basis in reality and such a suggestion has never been voiced by governors or the local authority or Estyn.
The community needs to decide whether it wants eight or so parking spaces or a library service.
- One Councillor referred to the block site plan distributed at the meeting and said that the proposed building was too big for the site, would be overpowering and not likely to be granted planning permission.
Answer: as per the information given in the presentation, the block site plan was for information purposes only. We are not proposing that the building in the business case be built. At this stage, an extension seems preferable – and need not take up the whole area.
- One councillor stated that he wanted to see £350,000 in FoPL’s bank account before the lease is granted.
Answer: This misses the point that grants cannot be awarded – or even applied for – before a lease and planning permission is obtained. Obviously, if after securing a lease, grants could not be raised, the land would simply return to PCC.
- One councillor mentioned the possibility of a 25 year lease.
Answer: The information in the deeds shows that the land shaded in yellow would be available to lease for 87 years, whilst the land shaded in mauve is available for 63 years and we would like to lease the land for the fullest time possible. This is because many organisations require at least a 50 year lease before offering grant monies.
- One councillor stated that he would prefer the option of an extension, and if the project were not sustainable then the land should revert to the PCC and the buildings become the property of the community council.
Answer: This makes total sense and forms a perfect exit strategy. If an extension could also incorporate toilets and a kitchen which is accessible for those renting the small hall, then this would be a win-win situation.