Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Public Sector Equalities Duty’

On the 24th July Surrey County Council Cabinet is due to reconsider plans to remove staff from ten libraries across Surrey and replace them with volunteers.

In reconsidering the decision SCC must, by Court Order, abide by the judgment handed down on 3rd April 2012. The Council must this time show due regard to its public sector equalities duty (PSED) and it must this time make a reasonable decision*.

Whether SCC will have done enough to abide by the court order by the 24th July remains to be seen. This is a battle that could run and run…and run.

But we don’t think it is in anyone’s interest for us still to be arguing over the libraries policy in another year’s time. We have, therefore, written a letter to council leader, David Hodge, proposing a compromise that will enable all parties to move forward.

We have proposed that paid staff and the library management system remain in place for stability, sustainability and to meet the needs of vulnerable groups, but that volunteers could assist in the delivery of services and be able to have a greater say in what additional services are offered.

We have further suggested that a community consultative group (CCG) is set up at each library – a forum in which volunteers can contribute to a shared vision of how their library can provide better and new services for the local community.

Our proposal costs no more, and probably less, than SCC’s current proposals and it is a solution around which the whole community can unite.

We hope that SCC gives the compromise serious consideration.

*(in failing on Wednesbury principles – para 109 of judgment – Mr Justice Wilkie judged that SCC had made a decision that was “so unreasonable that no other reasonable authority would have made it”)

CILIP’s policy on volunteers in public libraries

CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) reformulated its policy on library volunteers in June 2012 (http://www.cilip.org.uk/get-involved/policy/statements%20and%20briefings/pages/use-of-volunteers.aspx). We reproduce the policy below:

CILIP believes that society benefits from the contribution that trained and skilled library, information and knowledge workers make to developing and delivering services. We do not believe that volunteers should undertake core service delivery or be asked to replace the specialised roles of staff who work in libraries.

Volunteers have long supported and provided highly valuable additional support, working alongside qualified and paid staff, and they should be acknowledged and valued for this role. They should also be given appropriate role descriptions, training and management.

CILIP is opposed to job substitution where paid professional and support roles are directly replaced with either volunteers or untrained administrative posts to save money. This applies to all library and information services in every sector.

If this happens services will suffer and will be unsustainable. What remains would be a library service unable to serve the community comprehensively, support people’s information needs or provide everyone with the opportunity for learning and development.

CILIP will not assist in recruiting or training volunteers who will be used to substitute the role of qualified, trained and paid library and information workers.

We acknowledge the difficult times that we live in, but now more than ever, high quality information services are vital to people’s lives, and local communities, learners, workers and businesses need the support of a trained and skilled workforce to thrive.

Read Full Post »

They say that if you tell yourself something enough, you will eventually believe it to be true. This is the hole that Surrey County Council has dug itself into.

SCC has convinced itself, by mantra, that it lost the judicial review on a technicality. This, despite the judge not saying anywhere in his 10,000 word judgment that his was a technical ruling. This group-think denial by SCC is leading it into further trouble.

In an attempt to shore up its unlawful decision, the council is engaging in a quick box-ticking exercise. Hurrying to retake its library decision, it is attempting to consult with too few people and on too narrow grounds.

The council’s consultation asks some library users narrowly what equalities training should be given to volunteers (see previous blogs for details). In its haste it addressed most of the envelopes incorrectly. Recognising its error, it has put back its decision to a later cabinet meeting (24th July) and has sent out further consultation documents, confusing those that received and sent back the first set.

We now know that many have sent in two consultation returns, many have not sent in any, and others have not received either set of documents. Further, SCC has requested that Community Partnership steering group members send in two sets of consultation returns each, perhaps to bump up the numbers and perhaps to increase the number of favourable responses. Who knows?

Quite what SCC is hoping to learn from such a shambolic process is not clear. The information does not seem to be that important to SCC in any case. Helyn Clack, SCC Cabinet member responsible for libraries, gave this response in an interview about the library plans with the Surrey Mirror:

 

Can you envisage being persuaded by further consultation?

Helyn Clack: Probably not.

If that’s the case, why is the council wasting everyone’s time…and money?

Open letters

Mrs Carole Deakins, Chair of New Haw Library Community Partnership Steering Group,  sent an open letter to SCC CEO David McNulty  last week, updating him on progress, but also criticising SLAM for “challenging the decisions of our democratically elected representatives.”

We drafted this open response to Mrs Deakins, congratulating her on her progress and spelling out why we felt it necessary to challenge our democratically elected representatives.

Read Full Post »

It looks like Surrey County Council has sent out as many consultation documents as its going to.

Many people have been baffled by the questions in the documents and many have said they won’t send in responses – not out of apathy but because they genuinely have no idea how to provide appropriate answers. We agree that the questions are most peculiar and difficult to answer but, although this may look like we’re trying to help the council, we do think it is important to respond.

We can’t tell people how to respond – that has to be up to you – but many people have told us they have emphasised the importance of paid staff in their responses. One gentleman that kindly shared his response with us, agreed to let us post it here. We have removed his name and library by request.

Questions 2 – In order to offer an inclusive service to all, what training do you think volunteers need? Are there any particular needs of people with protected characteristics as set out in the letter that you think the training should take account of?

Wouldn’t it be more difficult and expensive to train very many volunteers than it would be to train 2 or 3 paid and permanent members of staff? Has this been thought about?

I think training is not as much the issue. It is about permanent staff being in consistent and regular contact with library users over an extended period of time. I’m not sure that volunteers working just a handful of hours every other week could replace that.

I have a difficulty in using the library. It took me a few visits to the library to properly explain to the staff. After that, the librarians treated me with a lot of respect and gave me the service I need without any fuss. I don’t need to ask anymore and it makes everything a lot easier.

It would be embarrassing to explain my needs every single time I went in to the library to a different person each time. It is much better for me if I can tell staff once and then they know and can be discreet each time I come in to the library.

As I say, I don’t think the problems in serving people with “protected characteristics”, or whatever you want to call it, can be solved just by training of volunteers.

Questions 3 – Please could you give any other comments you may wish to make about how the Community Partnered Library proposal might impact on people with protected characteristics.

As I said above, one of the benefits I find most valuable of having paid, permanent staff is that they get to know me through consistent contact.

It’s like when I call up the phone company and have to talk to a different person every time. I tell them that I told their colleague before what the problem is but I have to go through the whole process all over again with a different person every time. It’s infuriating.

This will be the same with the library. I want to deal with one or two people, not a different person every time. It would be embarrassing having to go through my needs every time I go in the library. I use the library a lot and it is important part of my life. I am accepted there. I worry that if I have to explain myself every time I go in, I’ll probably stop using the library, and that will be a real negative in my life.

We think this response perfectly illustrates what we have said for a very long time now, and also reflects the findings of the judicial review. The “equalities” problems with CPLs can not be dismissed as a technicality, as SCC have tried to do. They are real and genuine issues and can not simply be addressed by a bit of training here and there.

Local residents should be able to use their library whilst maintaining their self-respect and dignity. Volunteers have gallantly come forward to stop their library from closing, with the noblest of motives. We encourage the use of volunteers but there are genuine problems with only volunteers taking over the managing and delivery of the library service. SCC need to take them seriously.

Read Full Post »

PRESS RELEASE –

The High Court has today handed down its final Order in the volunteer-run library case, declaring that the Council is guilty of a full breach of its Public Sector Equalities Duty and ordering a quashing of the decision to make 10 libraries across Surrey volunteer-run.

This latest Order is a crushing blow to Surrey County Council which has until now tried to claim that it lost the Court case on a technicality and that it could continue with its plans. But now the issue has been put beyond doubt – the Judge has ordered that SCC is in full and substantive breach of the law and cannot implement the decision to proceed with volunteer-run libraries taken in September 2011.

The Council must now revert the libraries to the way they were prior to September 2011, including a return of all paid staff, a return of the Library Management System and the return of staff counters. All ten libraries are once again part of the Core Managed Library Network.

The Council recently announced that it hoped to retake the decision in June and carry on regardless, but this latest Order means that a simple retaking of the decision would not be enough.

Lee Godfrey, spokesman for SLAM, said: “The County Council put a gun to the head of local people over this policy: ‘run your library for free or we will close it.’ It is good news that the High Court has finally put a stop to that nonsense.

Surrey County Council has been sent a very clear and strong message. Its library plans were ill-judged, unwanted and illegal. The Council had a good run over its library plans but it’s now over.

We wait to hear from SCC after this latest Court Order, but any attempt to continue with the policy would be an affront to decency and the law. The Council has spent a fortune on these library plans for no benefit – it’s now to time to cut its losses and not waste any more taxpayers’ money on the folly.”

The lawyers representing the Claimants have also issued a PRESS RELEASE here 20120502- Surrey Libraries Press Statement

Read Full Post »

We were disappointed with Surrey County Council’s response that it is “pleased” with the judgment that it acted “unlawfully” and that it fell “substantially short” of what is required by the law.

We are also concerned that SCC wishes to dismiss the legal claim as a “technical” challenge. A local authority’s public sector equalities duty (PSED) should be central to its decision-making, not treated as a peripheral concern or considered as a technicality to be waved away.

We have, therefore, written an open letter to SCC’s CEO, David McNulty, spelling out SLAM’s position regarding Mr Justice Wilkie’s judgment and what actions we would expect SCC to take in order for it to show “due regard” to its equalities duty and  to make good its “substantial” shortcomings.

We attach the letter below

Letter_to_David_McNulty

Read Full Post »

Despite Surrey County Council’s rushed and confused statements on the day of the Judgment, it is very clear that the Judgment is categorically in the Claimants’ favour. Para 130 of the Judgment states:

“Accordingly in my judgment the Claimants have succeeded in establishing that the decision of the 27th September 2011 was unlawful.”

And in para 129:

“I have reached that conclusion both by deciding what was required for “due regard” and on Wednesbury grounds.”

The Wednesbury grounds state that the decision was “so unreasonable that no reasonable authority would have taken it.” It does not get more definitive than that. That SCC have stated that they “are pleased” with the Judgment reflects poorly on them.

On the Council’s Public Sector Equality Duty 

The Judge states in para 108:

“In  my judgment the Claimants have succeeded in demonstrating that the Defendant, on the 27th September 2011, failed to comply with its duty under Section 149 to have due regard to the statutory equality duties identified in subsections 1(a)(b)(c).

SCC has dismissed this breach of its Public Sector Equality Duty as a “technicality” and has boldly asserted, in public and in internal memos, that they will carry on implementing the plan – they have stated in fact, with ideological zeal and seemingly with a will to ignore the Judgment, that “SCC is intent on this policy”.

We say that SCC’s responses so far have been ill-advised. To put their failings down to a “technicality” and to “carry on regardless” is an insult to the legal process and to the Judge that has put together this detailed and thoroughly considered judgment. We call on SCC to show some dignity, gravity and respect for the law in further responses and in their future actions.

Indeed, para 115 recognises that the policy represents a “a complex and radical change”. Serious thought and consideration should be given to this complicated library restructuring project, not more “bland assertions” and defiance by SCC.

On Equalities training, monitoring and appraisal

The judgment, in its detail, raises very significant difficulties to overcome if SCC really are “intent” on pressing ahead with the policy. Para 116 states:

“embedding equality issues in the culture of the Defendant involve[s] particular emphasis being placed on significant compulsory training of all members of management and staff, by having equality issues as individual appraisal targets for staff and by having training for managers and tailored training”

Further, the Judge recognises that

“The duty imposed on the public authority is non delegable. It remains on the public authority charged with it”

And further still, at para 123:

“a significant amount of material to report to the cabinet which would have put flesh on the bare bones of the asserted recognition, in February 2011, that a change of this magnitude, at the cutting edge of implementation of this important policy, would require significant training of the volunteers, particularly in respect of Equality issues

The above three excerpts imply that SCC must, itself, train volunteers to a “significant” level in equalities issues and how to overcome them, and also to set volunteers “individual appraisal targets” (i.e. performance appraisals). This is easy to do if you only have 2 or 3 staff members per library, but to do it for 60-100 volunteers per library, or 600-1000 over all 10 libraries? Nothing is impossible, of course, but this will be a very difficult task and, of course, a very costly one for Surrey taxpayers. It would be much simpler and cheaper to maintain a small number of staff in each library, supported by volunteers.

And to sum up on the requirement for training, para 127 has this to say:

“In my judgment, the reliance by the Defendant on the same bland assertions that training would be required and monitored, as had been contained in the February report, fell substantially short of enabling the cabinet members to give due regard to this obvious equality issue at the stage the process had reached in September. “

On consultation

Para 118 states that

“The November 2010 EIA explicitly warned that residents … had not yet been consulted and that such consultation would be important to inform the proposals”

and that 

“no final decision would be taken by cabinet until that consultation had been completed and the results analyzed.”

The fact that SCC did not consult residents or library users at all over this policy has now been raised by the Mr Justice Wilkie. Before any further action is taken by SCC we would expect to see this consultation of library users and residents to take place.

In conclusion

Mr Justice Wilkie’s judgment presents vast difficulties for SCC which can not be ignored, must be given weighty consideration, and can not be overcome by “bland assertions” that training will be provided or that “we can press ahead anyway”.

The costs of implementing the volunteer-run library policy had already outstripped the meagre amount of savings claimed (claimed savings were just 1/10,000th of the Council’s net budget) before SCC started fighting this expensive legal case.

The effort and cost of the significant amount of ongoing training required, and monitoring of that training, will be considerable.

We say it would be far simpler and cheaper to keep a few paid staff in place in each library, return the Library Management System to each library, and keep the 10 libraries within the managed network. And if volunteers can add additional value and services, then all well and good.

SCC should not press on with its ill-thought and ill-judged policy, and should now find the dignity to abandon it.

We will shortly be writing to Surrey County Council, setting out SLAM’s position.

Read Full Post »

[Due to the need to get this post published a.s.a.p.  it has not gone through the usual review process. It will therefore be published in the author’s own name as a first draft, subject to change]

In order to make a profit, many (especially large) private businesses will focus on selling products or services to those in the broad centre: those with a reasonable amount of disposable income, with predictable requirements and without onerous barriers in place to provide them with the product or service. This is why, when a private company engages in provision of public services, it signs up to rigorous checks to ensure it is serving all members of the community.

The public sector ethos is quite different, containing at its core the principle, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” A progressive taxation system is in place, both nationally and locally, to ensure the first part of the principle is adhered to, as imperfect as that system is. To ensure the second part, a sense of public duty in “civil servants” is in part relied on but, recognising that this can never be enough, legislation is put in place to ensure that the needs of all members of the community (and especially the vulnerable and those with “protected characteristics”) are met.

The Equalities Act 2010 is one such Act, which puts in to law further stringent demands on local authorities to ensure all community members’ needs are met in the provision of public services. The Equalities Act 2010 should not be seen as a “technicality” on which to be tripped, but should be put front and centre in the consideration of public service provision. The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) must be at the heart of decision making, not a peripheral concern.

The legal challenge of SCC’s decision to force volunteers to run and manage 10 libraries in Surrey is founded upon this PSED, as laid out in the Equalities Act 2010. (The implicit broader issue highlighted by this case, that of an increased use of the “third sector” in public sector provision, is recognised.)

This author would question, although not part of the legal challenge, whether it is fair to ask unsalaried volunteers to be burdened with such stringent demands as laid out in the Act, whether the volunteers are fully aware of the extent of their to-be legal obligations in this regard and, indeed, whether the duties imposed may become too arduous for well-meaning volunteers to shoulder for any extended period. Moreover, the cost of ensuring regular training for a large number of volunteers in their duties under the Act – especially given that any volunteer can walk away with no notice at any point – must be significant and must be subtracted from any hoped for savings.

The Claimant’s case in short is that, whereas SCC may have carried out an Equalities assessment of closing libraries, it did not carry out a similar assessment, or any mitigation exercise, based on setting up Community Partnered Libraries. Also, that concerns and adverse feedback about the libraries policy from Disability Empowerment Boards were not brought to the attention of decision makers. And that the answer of, “training will be given to volunteers”, is not enough to show “due regard” to the Council’s Public Sector Equalities Duty, and that the non-specified training is not enough to show that any adversed impacts on Equalities groups are mitigated.

It is the Claimant’s argument, therefore, that SCC is in breach of section 149 of the Equalities Act 2010: in breach of its Public Sector Equalities Duty.

In response, the Defendant (SCC) claims that an embedded framework of Equalities “awareness” is evidence that “due regard” is generally given. Also, that the introduction of CPLs means that the worse impact on Equalities groups of outright closure is avoided. And that “training and support” of volunteers will be enough to mitigate most adverse impacts of volunteer managed and delivered libraries.

These legal arguments should not be viewed in isolation, but in addition to the very many concerns as to the merits and wisdom of the libraries policy raised by SLAM and supporters over the course of the long campaign, not least of which is the relatively tiny amount of claimed savings of the project (just 1/10,000th of the Council’s net budget).

Due to the complexity of the case, judgement has been deferred, with the decision being handed down next week. We are hoping that the decision to force volunteers to run 10 libraries will be quashed, and that SCC will then consult with residents, library users AND volunteers – and will consequently devise a long term vision for the library service that is sustainable, inclusive, and that recognises the value of well resourced and staffed libraries to local communities (and yes, that includes the use of volunteers).

We hope…

Lee Godfrey

Read Full Post »