Purpose of the report:
To provide Select Committee with a progress update on options for the future of the Surrey Performing Arts Library (SPAL) and the risks and benefits of the options, so that a recommendation of Select’s preferred option can be made to Cabinet.
Declarations of Interests:
Barbara Eifler, Executive Director, Making Music)
Peter Milton, Head of Cultural Services, Surrey County Council (two minute statement)
Denise Turner-Stewart, Cabinet Member for Communities
Mark Welling, Chairman, Friends of Surrey Performing Arts Library – FOSPAL
Rose Wilson, Head of the Library Service, Surrey County Council
Anna Wright, President, International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML)
Key points raised during the discussion:
1. A supplementary question was asked by Mr Miller regarding the response provided to the public questions he submitted which are attached as Annex 1 to these minutes. Mr Miller sought clarity on whether Surrey County Council (SCC) would continue paying rent on the site where the Surrey Performing Arts Library (SPAL) was located at Denbies Wine Estate. He was informed that SCC would continue to pay rent on this property until 2021 as per the contract with Denbies. These costs were, however, met through SCC’s Property Services budget and did not form part of the £180,000 savings that the Library Service were required to make through SPAL.
2. The report was introduced by officers who provided Members with an update on progress against the recommendations made by the Communities Select Committee at its meeting on 7 November 2017. Members were advised that officers had continued to progress work regarding Option 1 which proposed separating the music and drama collections of SPAL and relocating them within existing libraries. The Committee heard that the Library Service had conducted analysis of SPAL users’ postcodes to identify where people who loaned items from the service were clustered and that this would inform locations of where the SPAL music and drama collections could be moved to should Cabinet agree to pursue Option 1.
3. Members also received an update on progress against a recommendation made by the Committee at its meeting on 7 November 2017 suggesting that the Council establish a forum with SPAL user group representatives to investigate the viability of an outside organisation assuming responsibility for the SPAL collection. Officers thanked user group representatives for their contribution to the forum which was echoed by Members. The Committee heard that representatives on the forum had proposed another option for the future of SPAL whereby responsibility for the collection would be transferred to a charitable incorporated organisation (CIO). Details of this proposal can be found within Annex 4 to the report considered by the Select Committee.
4. Officers also highlighted that they had continued to look at ways of reducing SPAL’s operating costs in addition to those that had been introduced since the Select Committee meeting on 7 November 2017. Members were informed that officers had devised a model for SPAL that would enable it to operate at a cost of just over £10,000k a year to the Council. Details of how these additional reductions in expenditure could be achieved were tabled at the meeting and are attached to these minutes as Annex 2.
Alison Griffiths and Cameron McIntosh entered the meeting at 10.15am
5. The Chairman of Friends of Surrey Performing Arts Library (FoSPAL), Mr Mark Welling, sought clarity from officers on the figures that had been tabled at the meeting and asked why expected income from the Service had been halved in the operating model that had been put forward. Officers emphasised that expected income was based on projections from the data and information that was available to the Service. The reduced income from the Service was predicated on factors such as the impact of shorter opening hours, increased charges for borrowing items, fewer staff and less participation in the Inter-Library Loan System. This was challenged by Mr Welling and the Chief Executive of Making Music, Ms Barbara Eifler, who suggested that these figures were based on incorrect assumptions about user habits. Specifically, they stated that reduced opening hours would not have a detrimental effect on income as users would adjust their borrowing from the Library in accordance with times when it was open. They also contested officers’ view that increased lending charges would deter people borrowing from the Library highlighting that SPAL was the only means of accessing music scores and playsets for orchestras and drama groups in Surrey and beyond. These groups accepted that it was necessary to raise annual subscriptions and borrowing fees to ensure that SPAL remained sustainable and would continue loaning items from the Library despite these increases.
6. Discussions turned to the recommendation made by the Communities Select Committee at its meeting on 7 November 2017 requesting that officers undertake further analysis into the possibility of adopting Nottingham Performing Arts Library’s (NPALS) IT system to improve the efficiency of how SPAL manages lending. The Committee was informed that representatives from the Library Service had travelled to Nottingham to understand how this system worked and assess whether it would be suitable for SPAL. Officers advised the Committee of concerns that they had about the capacity of the NPALS IT system to process loan requests from single copy stock. This was challenged by user group representatives who stated their understanding that the system could be adapted in order to deal with SPALs stock of single copy items and that it was therefore something that the Council should give greater consideration to.
Marisa Heath entered the meeting at 10.35am
7. Committee Members highlighted the significant financial pressures that SCC was facing and the difficult decisions it was required to make in order to achieve a balanced and sustainable budget. The Council was not proposing closure of the Service but rather looking at options for how it could be run in a way that would reduce the financial burden. SPAL was, however, a service that was highly valued by residents across the County as demonstrated by the commitment shown by user group representatives in establishing a CIO with a view to assuming responsibility for SPAL. Members stated that it was right for the costs of SPAL to be borne by those who use the service although the Council could support them in this by allowing NewSPAL to use the site at Denbies given that SCC was committed to paying rent on it until 2021. This would also ensure that the SPAL collection remained together. Officers confirmed that discussions had taken place at the forum regarding the possibility of NewSPAL running the service at this site and this proposal remained on the table. It would, however, be predicated on NewSPAL paying a portion of the rent that would increase annually to support continued development of its business model. Ms Eifler advised the Committee that the business model proposed by NewSPAL was contingent on the collection being located at a different site due to the high costs associated with running the Service at Denbies.
8. User group representatives took the Committee through the business model and budget they had developed for NewSPAL to take over responsibility for running the Service. Members heard that the budget included projections for an increase in revenue from borrowing of 5% in the first year of operation and 10% in the second highlighting that these were conservative predictions given that the Yorkshire’s performing arts library had increased its income by 30% after two years of being taken over by a CIO. The Committee was advised, however, that financial investment of approximately £83,000 would be required from SCC to support the service in transitioning to NewSPAL. Ms Eifler acknowledged that there were risks associated with the collection being run by a CIO but highlighted that the Service would be managed by those who used it and, as such would devote time and energy to ensuring that NewSPAL was a success. She also emphasised the risks associated with separating the music and drama collections stating that this would lead to a gradual deterioration in SPAL due to there not being a dedicated resource to advise users on borrowing and returning music scores and playsets.
9. Further clarity was sought from the Committee on the risks associated with SPAL’s collection being transferred across to a CIO. In particular, Members highlighted concerns around whether it was financially viable for a CIO such as NewSPAL to run the service. The Committee heard that NewSPAL would ultimately need to be a self-funding organisation. Witnesses highlighted that charitable organisations had more flexibility in generating income than local authorities specifically around bidding for funding from external organisations.
10. Members asked whether the SPAL collection, including those items bequeathed by external organisations, was listed on SCC’s Asset Register. Officers were unsure as to whether the SPAL collection was included within SCC’s Asset Register but would find out and inform the Committee. The Committee heard that conversation had taken place with Making Music to ensure that the Kirby Collection would remain available to the public following agreement by Cabinet regarding the future of configuration of SPAL. Mr Welling highlighted that significant elements of the SPAL collection had been donated by outside organisations on the proviso that these items would remain accessible to the public.
11. Members asked if the door would remain open for a CIO to assume responsibility for SPAL if Cabinet were to agree to Option 1 as outlined in the Select Committee’s report. The Chairman of FOSPAL highlighted that SPAL users had done a significant amount of work since November in establishing a CIO and devising a business plan. He did, however, highlight that a political direction was required before NewSPAL could start the process of raising funds as it would be disingenuous to ask people for donations without an expectation that SCC would be willing to transfer the SPAL collection across to a CIO. The Cabinet Member for Communities highlighted the Council’s Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) which committed it to a saving of £180,000 from the budget for SPAL. The Committee was informed that the Council was unable to support the Business Plan which had been proposed by the SPAL user group representatives due to concerns around the financial viability of the business plan for NewSPAL.
12. Discussions turned to the financial aspects of the business plan which incorporated additional funding of £83,000 from the Council to support NewSPAL during its first two years of operation which would have implications for the Council’s MTFP. To mitigate these costs, Members suggested the possibility of NewSPAL running the service within one of Surrey’s existing libraries for a period of time by way of a transition period. This would provide NewSPAL with security of premises for its first year of operation, enable the Service to have longer opening times than the 18 hours proposed in the business plan and allow the time to train volunteers in providing the specialist advice and information that was required to support a performing arts library. Officers confirmed that there was scope to use volunteers to support SPAL if Cabinet decided on Option 1.
13. SPAL user representatives expressed concern with this proposal highlighting that the collection would lose its identity as a performing arts library and instead become a specialist music library. The Committee also heard that Option 1 which had been put forward by officers didn’t take account of the specialist music and drama items which were also included within the SPAL collection situated at Denbies. Option 1 proposed that these be dispersed across Surrey’s library network which SPAL users wished to avoid. The Committee sought clarity from SPAL user group representatives on whether they felt that NewSPAL could run the performing arts library within the context of Option 1. Mr Welling highlighted that this was a possibility although the charity would require complete autonomy in running the service and that NewSPAL would seek a legal agreement in this respect should it be put forward as an option to Cabinet. Members were further informed that NewSPAL was able to seek funding from external organisations if the collection was retained within an existing Library.
14. The Committee enquired as to which libraries had been considered to relocate the SPAL collection to should the decision be taken by Cabinet to support Option 1. Officers stated that they had identified areas within the County where the collection could be relocated to based on where users of the service were clustered but informed the Committee that they would be reluctant to name these libraries in the meeting as it would make it difficult to change at a later date. Ms Eifler advised Members that NewSPAL had already been promised to locate the Library by Woking Borough Council should SCC agree to transfer ownership of the collection.
Bob Gardner left the meeting at 11.00am and returned at 11.05am
15. The Committee heard from SPAL user group representatives that the proposal to transfer responsibility for the collection from the Council to a CIO as detailed within the business plan is the only option of those which had been put forward that provided detailed timescales and concrete figures around the budget. In addition, Members were advised that the organisations which comprised NewSPAL had demonstrated commitment and agility in setting up a CIO although certainty around the future of the Library was necessary before NewSPAL could develop any further.
16. The Committee expressed its support for Option 1 on the proviso that the entirety of the collection was retained together at a single, accessible library. This would give NewSPAL time to develop its business model further with a view assuming responsibility for the collection in due course. Members further agreed to review progress against the development of NewSPAL as well as considering the performance of Option 1 at its meeting in February 2019 or before.
17. Mr Welling highlighted that securing political support for the service to be run by a CIO would be crucial to the success of NewSPAL and highlighted that keeping the collection as a single entity within the same library was vital to the future of the service. The Committee was further advised that officers should give further consideration to marketing the items available within the SPAL collection as a means of improving income generation.
The Communities Select Committee recommends that:
Bob Gardner left the meeting at 12.35pm