Friday, April 9, 2010

Impact of Local Government Restructuring on Queensland's Public Libraries

Recently, when several Queensland Public Library Managers were asked about the impact of Local Government Restructuring on Queensland's Public Libraries. This was asked in the following context:

The eventual possibility of Local Government restructuring within NSW (currently there are 152 LGAs; a NSW population of 7.1m and 66 LGAs with populations of under 15,000. The smallest LGA in NSW has a population of just over 1,000 residents).
A 2009 restructured NSW Public Service. 13 Super Agencies were created the NSW Department of Local Government is now part of the Department of Premier & Cabinet with the potential for an increase in shared services within the NSW Public Service. Two reviews are currently due for release on this subject. At present, there are two major shared services' providers within the NSW Public Service.

The questions asked were:

What have been the major impacts of Local Government restructuring for the Public Libraries...Financial? Staffing? Services? Other?
Has there been across several new LGAs, or the State as a whole, any shared services creation, or centralization and/or outsourcing of Public Library functions such as Technical Services? If yes, in what specifically?

A Queensland response:

The impacts for public libraries have been across all of the areas you have identified.

In terms of financial there have been several issues:

* the actual costs of amalgamation – need to integrate systems, rebranding, staff accommodation, ensuring parity in wages, conditions, EBA negotiation
* preparation of long term financial strategies clearly showing the rate rises that will be necessary to support desired levels of service and capital projects
desire to not have high rate increases – impact on community, and amalgamation was sold to community (by State Government) on basis of efficiencies and cost savings from economies of scale
* previous debt levels of some councils
* state of the infrastructure in some areas, and costs of trying to bring it up to standard.

These issues have generally forced all councils to look for savings with budget cuts not uncommon across all areas. In our case we had to find a 4% cut in operating costs for the 2009/10 financial year.


Quite unsettling for staff with changes to structures and obviously changes at management level – 1 instead of several library managers, and in many cases changing reporting structures where libraries may be lower down the food chain. Many previous library managers have been given responsibility for other functions as well
often a cap on staffing – in our council a business case is required for every position which becomes vacant, or any additional positions – very few approved, so in fact we have lost positions. The State government transition arrangements guaranteed positions of staff for three years until March 2011 so there could be no forced redundancies, meaning that vacancies have been used as opportunities to reduce overall staffing numbers
Impacts of providing services across larger regions – in our case our council now covers an area of 18,600 sq kilometres (McEntyre note - this is almost twice the geopraphical size of the greater Sydney region and PLM's 43 member Councils), with scattered service points. With change from CLS for some sites this has had implications for collection exchange and how to best handle this, resource requirements etc
Just the sheer logistics of being able to get staff together for training, meetings, team building etc
Changing systems as LIMS were integrated – need for project planning, training etc, staff acceptance of changes in systems, implementation time
Budget cuts impacting on opportunities for staff training and development, with flow-on effect to organizations such as the QPLA
Just the sheer volume of work required to bring policies, procedures, budgets, systems together.


With all of the financial and staffing considerations there has been a tendency in some cases to reduce the level of service previously provided in some areas – the lowest common denominator rather than lifting levels in areas where service wasn’t as good.
Services stretched to cover a broader area, with little/no additional resourcing
Changes to subsidy levels received from the State government with most amalgamated councils receiving less funding due to weighting factors based on population, so less money to spend on stock at a time when the service footprint has increased
Transition from the CLS model to an independent model for a number of smaller libraries, and in some cases the integration of previous CLS libraries into larger independent services – a totally different model for both staff and community.
Concern at loss of local identity and service, being ‘swallowed up’.

In our case we are undertaking service level reviews and process mapping across council to determine the levels of service we can afford to provide. Obviously, this is challenging given community expectations, and particularly in some of the areas which have had limited service previously. There is now an expectation that there will be improvement.

The other issue of concern is the question of equity of service across large areas. There was a high degree of community opposition to amalgamation, and after 2 years a number of people still want to de-amalgamate. This leads to complaints from the smaller areas that they are being ignored, or not receiving their fair share of service etc, and a lot of time needs to be invested in trying to change perceptions.

Councils are moving forward, but there is still a way to go for most.

In terms of shared services creation, some Councils are exploring options in some areas, but in the case of libraries, many Qld public libraries were already outsourcing things such as cataloguing and processing. Companies such as Peter Pal have been providing fully shelf ready stock for a number of years and many libraries have moved to a full service model including selection.

While I believe that amalgamation had to happen, it is a long process and the efficiencies are not going to be achieved in the short term.

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