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Proposal for keeping libraries open as social enterprise libraries

In this article I describe my proposal to the Northamptonshire County Council which would potentially enable us to keep all our libraries. Specifically we’ll be looking at the concept of social enterprise libraries.

The Current Situation

The Northamptonshire County Council has said that it must save about £28m every year for the next four years. In order to do this they say the library services needs to take its share of the spending cuts.

They’ve published a detailed report about the situation on their public consultation page.

The council has suggested three options. All these require removing at least 21 of their 36 libraries from their books. This would leave 15 libraries funded by the public.

The three options are:

  1. To keep 15 large and medium sized libraries and offer the remaining 21 to the communities to manage.
  2. Keeping 15 large and medium sized libraries and close the remaining 21 libraries.
  3. Or finally keep 8 large libraries and close the remaining 28 libraries.

Here I’ll introduce the concept of social enterprise libraries.

Very simply, social enterprise libraries would be financially self supporting libraries that find commercial ways to fund themselves.

My proposal

If the libraries are closed they’d be irrevocably lost.

So consequently it makes sense to hang on to as many of the libraries as possible.

In order to succeed we’d need to blend in new, community specific services into each library alongside the traditional service.


I propose we take the council’s option one with two modifications. Firstly that we negotiate council support for the training of the communities to manage the service. Secondly to negotiate financial support through a seven year transition period.

The basics for self sufficiency

In the report from the council it is fairly clear that the traditional library role has lessened in recent years. This somewhat weakens the argument to commit public funds to prop up a declining requirement.

However it also showed that the effectiveness of the library services itself in comparison to all neighbouring counties is impressive. In other words we have the most cost effective service in the locality.

As a result the expert libraries staff along with pro-active people already in the community, such as the friends-of groups, could forge the new structure together from the outset.

How much is money is needed every year?

Currently the taxpayer funds all the libraries. The table below shows the total spent every year is just over £6m.

This is split into three types of library large, medium and small. In the plan all of the small libraries will go and about half of the medium libraries will go.

Therefore if we split out the costings to reflect this we’ll see the following table.

Consequently the social enterprise libraries are those in the left columns and the remaining libraries are on the right side.

I’ve factored in the slightly better results for the medium libraries. This is to account for what I think the council would rationally choose. This leaves a £2.1m annual budget that needs to be raised by all the communities to sustain the 21 libraries.

That equates to an average yearly funding requirement of £100,000 per social enterprise library.

The council’s report suggests that the communities will need to self-organise to make this happen which is true. But the communities need to be ready, more accurately – to become ready.

This leads me to the next key aspect – Transition.

Transition

As the council members will know that people in the communities will need their support to take on the extra responsibility of becoming skilled civic organisers.

I propose that the council achieve this in both of two ways:

  1. To provide training to the local communities to self-manage the libraries.
  2. And to provide the transitional funding to give the communities time to manage this fundamental shift.

Below I propose a five year transition period following a two year training period.

This is the same information but shown as a graph.

This proposal is still work in progress. I’ll most likely update it with more details as new facts become clear.

Of course many questions still persist. Questions like whether we can get enough people interested? Or what services could be introduced to bring in cash? And so on.

But considering the alternative, it seems like a worthy goal.

But how to generate ideas?

With enough input from people in the communities we should be able to create enough ideas for getting to that £2.1m for the social enterprise libraries. I’ve started with two ideas:

  • I’ve created a forum so people can discuss ideas for the libraries. Discussions can be at specific library level.
  • I’m aiming to call a planning meeting soon to test if my ideas in this proposal seem useful. Please do contact me if you’d like to be involved.

The forum is a place where communities can develop and discuss funding ideas

My personal commitment to this proposal

I am willing to donate some of my professional time without charge in helping any or all of the 21 libraries to get started with their social enterprise.

You can email me at paul@taxshopgroup.com

Thanks

Paul Connolly

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About the author

Paul Connolly

Paul is a tax practitioner in the UK. He holds a practising certificate from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants.

He also lectures accountancy and tax at the University of Northampton.

Paul volunteers as a board member of the Northamptonshire Credit Union.

He is also an open data researcher, producing datasets and programming open data driven applications.

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