Library Provision in Fife

The decision to review library provision was made on the basis of sustainability. The libraries identified for closure were in most cases not being used significantly by the public and in some cases in buildings that were unsuitable. Some were open for only a few hours a week. The way libraries are used today has also changed.  Fife has one of the largest library provisions in the whole of Scotland.  Even should these libraries close we will still have one of the largest provisions. As part of the consultation communities have been asked to come forward with plans for how they can sustain their local library provision. So far a number of communities have done so and council officers will continue to work with those community groups to develop their plans. One of the main drivers for the review is about sustainability, and that is why we are also looking at options to incorporate library provision into other council buildings. Key aspects of the sustainability approach is that funding of the book fund will be maintained.  Other councils have cut this, which means the quality of the library provision declines in real terms.  We are also expanding the housebound service for the elderly, which given we have an aging population, we think is an important provision. We are also rerouting the mobile library service to provide more effective coverage and help mitigate the impact of branch closures.  We are also committed to relocation of public access PCs into other local facilities. The recent Fairer Fife Report also encouraged local people to get involved in supporting the sustainability of services on the basis that public funding is increasingly challenging and therefore other ways to retain services will need to be looked at. Therefore a key part of mitigating the closures, and to move the overall library service to a more sustainable footing is working with communities on their ideas for how this could work in their area.  The Labour Administration is very supporting and welcomes groups coming forward and with Council Officer support, hope that they can indeed take their proposals forward for the long term. People have raised concerns about library closure and literacy levels and the impact that the closures might have on children learning to read.  Did you know that of the majority of the 137 primary schools in Fife have a school library provision? In terms of literacy this has been a huge focus by the Labour administration since we came into office in 2012. We have invested in literacy and numeracy and as result Fife is now bucking the Scottish national trend on attainment. We are one of the few authorities that is closing the gap between the richest and the rest. Even in our high SIMD areas we have seen improvement in literacy of around 10% last year. This has attracted a lot of national interest, including visits by SNP Ministers, including the First Minister, to schools in Fife. The reason I am raising this is to highlight our commitment to literacy and education. We have chosen to deliberately invest in key programmes such as early years, nurture etc because we believe by adopting a preventative agenda we can make better use of our resources and improve the lives of more young people in Fife regardless of where they live.  You can read more about our approach as part of a feature in the Sunday Mail see the link here: SUNDAY MAIL - BUT WHY SHOULD I HAVE NO CHANCE? These are challenging times for public service provision.  How do we sustain services with significantly less money and increasing elderly demographic changes - essentially it’s about trying to find the right balance in times of unprecedented budget cuts. The challenges we are all facing in terms of public services have not just arrived this year; public service funding has been systematically eroded through lack of realistic funding for a very long, long time. Fife Labour has tried to fight these cuts.   In terms of this budget we proposed that we might raise council tax – we would raise around £11M which we believed would help offset some of the cuts we would need to make.  John Swinney’s answer to that was to say he would take £4.6M back from us. When we thought that might still be a good idea (along with other local authorities), he then imposed a triple hit – taking money back from social care and education – delivering effectively the threat of a £25M cut if we don’t play ball.  Last week we had to sign up to those £38M cuts or else he would simply take the £25M from us. The reality is due to the extent of the budget cuts facing the council,  we are now having to consider cuts to areas of provision that we would, under normal circumstances, not want to consider. But if we want to preserve front line services, investment in literacy and numeracy etc, then it is about choices as there is unfortunately less and less scope to do all the things we want to do Vs the things we must do. The £38m cut this year is estimated to potentially mean a loss of around 900 jobs in Fife Council.  This is just this year's picture - and on top of the budget cuts and job losses that Fife Council has made over the last 9 years.  Across Scotland the job losses in councils amount to circa  over 35,000 people.  That’s 35,000 less people delivering services that people in Scotland used to benefit from.  Of course efficiencies have to be made – and have been made - but after 9 years of this approach you simply run out of track. Nearly 60% of our budget is taken up by education and social care.  The flexibility to use the remaining 40% for everything else becomes very challenging and unfortunately sustaining core services may mean that other areas can no longer be maintained with the current level of support.  That is why I hope that the alternative proposals put forward by communities can be taken forward. However, against the backdrop of cuts there is also a positive agenda being pursued.  Despite the cuts we have faced I think we have done some very good things for people in Fife. We have and are building 5 new schools. We have invested in literacy and numeracy and as mentioned earlier that is why Fife is bucking the national trend in attainment in this area – which was why we also chose to restore the 50+ class room assistants taken out by the previous administration - this was strongly welcomed by the teaching profession. We are looking after our older people by building 3 new care villages and have taken money out of balances for the last 2 years to top up the gap in funding provision for social care due to an older population living longer, but not living well who have complex care needs that require a great deal of support.  Across Scotland the picture is the same – I believe the shortfall runs to around a £60M. We have invested in our young people through apprenticeships and better alignment of education and employment and have seen more of Fife’s young people leave school with somewhere positive to go – but there is so much still to do here.  We have also invested in people furthest from the job market to get them into work with training and support. We are also on track to build 2700 new affordable homes – more than any local authority in Scotland.  That’s 2700 families who now have somewhere to call home.  We still have over 11,000 needing to be housed in Fife.  Shelter estimates Scotland needs 60,000 new homes to be built each year for the next 10 years. We have invested in a preventative agenda in early years and nurture and are seeing this start to pay dividends.  We have reformed the way we look after our looked after children / children at risk, by choosing to put back in the 40 social workers that were removed by the previous administration. This supports early intervention and prevents crisis for children and their families.  You can read more about this in an article that was published at the weekend. SUNDAY MAIL - BUT WHY SHOULD I HAVE NO CHANCE? It’s all about choices. With decreasing budgets these have been our choices.  Investing in the young, caring for the old, educating and skilling our young people, getting more of Fife’s people into work and making sure 2700 families will have a safe, warm, dry home. We did not come in to public service to cut public services and jobs.  However, something has to give.  How we sustain and provide Library services is just one of a number of areas that we are unfortunately having to consider doing differently as part of our requirement to produce a legal and balanced budget and preserve front line services for the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. I would also put the challenge back to people and communities – If people say they value and want public services then people need to make their views known – we need to have a debate about what people value, and also what price they are prepared to pay for having the public services that they want and need. May, this year, of course will present one such opportunity.  However, in the meantime,  I would also urge you to write to the Scottish Government in relation to the budget settlement being offered to Councils.  They also had a choice, and unfortunately this is the one that they have chosen for local government.  I have also included the links below to the two letters that Fife Council received from John Swinney in relation to Fife Council’s budget to provide you with further background. Letter from Deputy First Minister to COSLA 27th Jan 2016 Letter from Deputy First Minister to Cllr David Ross 8th Feb 2016  

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