The Library's future is at risk
News Update - 31 October 2017
Report on SPAL to Surrey County Council's Communities Select Committee
The results of the recent consultation and survey on the future of SPAL are being reported to the Communities Select Committee (of Surrey County Council) at its meeting at 10.00 a.m. on Tuesday 7 November 2017 in the Ashcombe Suite at Surrey County Hall (Kingston upon Thames KT1 2DN). The meeting is open to the public.
You can access the report by going to the Agenda for the Communities Select Committee meeting via the Surrey County Council website (www.surreycc.gov.uk) and looking at the Agenda Reports Pack (pages 27-48).
The Report sets out why Surrey County Council considers changes to SPAL to be necessary; describes the consultation process; describes (in an Annex 1) recent trends in usage of SPAL; in Annex 2 includes the 2015-2016 [sic] budget (i.e. budget figures which are more than 18 months out of date); in Annex 3 a list of charges (with some rather superficial and slightly confusing comparisons to other performing arts libraries); and in Annex 4 a "Full Consultation analysis".
The Report's conclusions are as follows:
" SPAL is a highly respected and appreciated service but with high running costs for its output and with a declining level of users and business a more effective operating model needs to be developed which also achieves the required savings of £180,000 from the Library Service's budget effective from 1 April 2018-19.
 In terms of making SPAL more cost effective in any framework, three problems need to be addressed: labour intensive staff processes due to less than ideal computer system; a solution to the high staff and budget impact of the ILL [Inter Library Loan] system; a new pricing regime which is realistic for its market and does not deter the many small groups who use the service.
 The user survey had a good level of response and has given a clear steer on the views of users on the three options. A useful range of organisations have stepped forward to discuss involvement in the future of SPAL. While option 2 [finding a way of making SPAL independent of SCC] had the higher number of positive responses - nevertheless results also indicated that a high proportion of users would still use the Service as outlined in option 1 [relocating the music and drama collections separately to other main libraries in the County.]"
The Report then makes the following Recommendations:
"The Communities Select Committee agrees that:
i. Further evaluation work takes place in relation to costing a new IT system better suited to the specific needs of a performing arts library such as the system currently in use in Nottingham;
ii. the Library Service carries out further analysis of the current ILL systems and propose a range of changes which would improve the financial viability of the ILL service and also evaluate the impact of withdrawing from the systems;
iii. the service produces and implements a range of revised pricing for PAL services which can be implemented in shorter and longer timescale;
iv. Option 3, closure of the service, is removed from the list of options. Having done feasibility studies of option 1 the service is confident that keeping the music and drama collections intact and relocating them within main libraries in the system is a practical way for PAL to continue to operate under the remit of SCC with a different operating model and could achieve the required budget reductions. There is no evidence the music and drama collections need to be co-located. The service will continue developing option 1.
v. the service works as a priority on option 2 for which a preference was expressed in the questionnaire - an independent future for PAL, and in tandem Option 1 as a safety net to continue to make the collections publically available if a suitable partnership cannot be established. Currently the service is working on a number of leads which have arisen from the survey and the additional stakeholder contacts."
FOSPAL's preliminary comments:
1. We have deliberately reproduced verbatim the Report's conclusions and the recommendations to the Committee (i.e. including grammatical and punctuation "infelicities") because we believe they are instructive (see paragraph 4 below).
2. It is clear that there are operating inefficiencies (e.g. the inadequate IT system and the way the current Inter Library Loan scheme works) which are causing the costs of SPAL to be higher than they need be. These are not new issues and could have been addressed much earlier. It is welcome that they are now being considered.
3. Consideration of a new pricing regime (to increase income while recognising the different categories and nature of users) could have been addressed much earlier. We are aware that a number of user groups have specifically suggested this and it is welcome that this is now to be addressed.
4. The Report, we suggest, significantly understates the support for Option 2. 1458 people responded to that question in the survey and 61.9 per cent strongly agreed or agreed with that option (rising to 66.8 per cent of the 933 respondents who are representatives or members of music groups) (statistics provided to FOSPAL by the Library Service). It could be simply a typographical error but we think (note the semi-colon at the end of recommendation iv) that there is a strong possibility that recommendation v. was added at a late stage (following the strength of opinion expressed by users) and, but for that strong expression of support for Option 2, the Library Service would have been proceeding only with Option1.
5. Although the Report contains much factual information and information on trends of usage which it is important to know, there is very little analysis in the Report on these reasons for trends and the comparative information about other comparable services elsewhere is, at best, superficial.
6. There is a clear implication in the Report that the future of SPAL is not at Denbies. And yet there is no information about why that should be the case. FOSPAL understands that Surrey County Council is committed to its lease of the premises at Denbies until April 2021 so it is not obvious (except perhaps in terms of transferring the cost from one budget to another within SCC) why SPAL should not continue to operate from Denbies for a reasonable time while other options are being properly considered.
In summary, we welcome some aspects of the Report's conclusions and some aspects of the Recommendations but we believe that the clear direction of travel by the Library Service was towards Option 1 which has only been postponed because of the clear user feedback that Option 2 should also be seriously considered. When read in its entirety (particularly the sections dealing with what has happened in neighbouring counties such as Sussex and Kent and the fact that many groups from just outside Surrey (e.g. the London Boroughs of Kingston) use SPAL) there is a clear opportunity to look at the possibility of expanding SPAL into a regional performing arts library service (perhaps involving SCC and other authorities) to expand its user base and rebuild its "business model". This is what FOSPAL would like to see happen and we hope many users and supporters of SPAL will continue to bring pressure to bear on Surrey County Council to look seriously at that option.
News Update - 17 October 2017
Surrey County Council's public consultation on the future of the Surrey Performing Arts Library closed on 2 October. We understand there were a very large number of responses and submissions to the consultation - thanks to all of you who battled through the survey to complete it and to those of you who wrote to your county councillors in support of SPAL. We understand a report following the consultation is going to be discussed at the Communities Select Committee of Surrey County Council on Tuesday 7 November although that will only be confirmed about a week beforehand when the agenda for the meeting will be published. We will post an update after the agenda has been published.
FOSPAL Chairman (Mark Welling) and the Executive Director of Making Music (Barbara Eifler) have jointly offered to attend the meeting and answer questions from councillors but whether or not they will be able to do so is in the discretion of the chairman of the committee.
In the meantime, Surrey County Council asked FOSPAL to write to them with our views about what Option 2 (transfer of the library to another organisation) might look like - if that option were to be seriously considered. You can read FOSPAL's letter on that subject here.
News Update - 11 September 2017
You can find the latest FOSPAL newsletter here
Surrey Performing Arts Library