Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: Thursday, 04 October 2007

Libraries Bill

4 October 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Lord Browne
Mr Paul Maskey
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr David McNarry

Witnesses:

Mr Noel Kelly ) Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure
Ms Julie Mapstone )
Mr Paul Sweeney )

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

I welcome Julie Mapstone, Noel Kelly and the permanent secretary of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Paul Sweeney. Would you please introduce yourselves? Is Paul here yet?

Ms Julie Mapstone (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

Mr Sweeney has been detained at another meeting, but he is in the Building and is expected to join the Committee soon.

I am head of the libraries restructuring branch of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Noel Kelly is legal advisor from the departmental solicitor’s office. He is an expert in employment law and has been involved in many of the staffing issues that are connected to the RPA changes.

The Chairperson:

There is no formal presentation, so we can move immediately to questions or comments.

Mr P Maskey:

I will ask a three-part question on trade union concerns. NIPSA is concerned that clause 3 of the Libraries Bill does not allow for the proposed library authority to co-operate with other bodies. First, will you explain the thinking behind clause 3 and give examples of the kinds of bodies that you envisage the library authority co-operating with? Secondly, does clause 3 allow the library authority to co-operate with bodies that have not been established under statutory provision? Finally, has the Linen Hall Library been established under statutory provision?

Ms Mapstone:

Partnerships are key issues for the library authority and are covered in clauses 2 and 3.

Clause 2(3) states:

“The Authority may make such arrangements with other bodies whether inside or outside Northern Ireland which it considers necessary in order to enable it to carry out its duty”.

Co-operation is reiterated in clause 3(2)(h).

The library authority will be required to work with other organisations in developing and delivering its services. A single library body is in a better position to develop such key partnership arrangements. The Bill will leave the library authority at liberty to effect partnership arrangements with whichever bodies it sees fit including, for example, the education and skills authority, the Linen Hall Library and any other sorts of organisation whose provisions it feels that it can use effectively to deliver services to the public.

Mr P Maskey:

The authority is allowed that freedom?

Ms Mapstone:

Yes.

Mr D Bradley:

Could you explain what lies behind clause 4, which concerns the power of the authorities to undertake commercial activities? Can you assure the Committee that the Department will not judge libraries on their commercial success, or otherwise?

Ms Mapstone:

That is not actually a new provision; under the current legislation, libraries have the authority to carry out commercial activity. That might include assisting on a commercial basis with research, production and sale of books of local interest, or providing coffee shops, which several libraries have begun to do. It is not new, but we wanted to make it absolutely clear, because many senior library staff were interested in developing some of those aspects.

The performance of the library authority will not be measured by reference to those commercial activities, because they are not expected to be a highly significant part of the Library Service’s work. Performance will be measured, in the usual way, by the extent to which the service meets, or surpasses, the policy guidelines set out in ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’, by its achievement of the public library standards and by its stewardship of public moneys.

Mr D Bradley:

Would it be helpful to include in the Bill clarification that libraries will not be judged on their commercial activities or success, given that that was one of the anxieties of the Chartered Institute of Libraries and Information Professionals?

The Chairperson:

Do you want to pursue that any further, Dominic, or are you happy enough for now?

Mr D Bradley:

I am happy with that.

Mr McCarthy:

Many, if not all, of the witnesses were extremely concerned that the current wording of clause 6 does not guarantee free core services. Some were of the view that the current legislation is clearer, as it specifies what exactly can be charged for. Others suggested that the core services described in ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’ be specified in the legislation as being free. Why has the Department not specified clearly in clause 6 that core services will be free of charge? Would the Department consider amending the legislation to make the commitment to free core services more explicit?

Clause 6(2) permits different charges for different people, localities and circumstances, and that could, potentially, be discriminatory. What is the intention of clause 6(2), and why is it included in the Bill?

Ms Mapstone:

The proposed legislation is not intended to change, in any way, the current charging regimes in the Library Service, but it is intended to simplify the existing statutory provision. That part of the current legislation has pages specifying in great detail what can and cannot be charged for.

In the Department’s policy-guideline document ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’ its commitment to the public library service, as a universal service that is free at the point of use for its main provisions, is made quite clear. There is no intention whatsoever to change that, but it needed to be simplified. Indeed, in the explanatory and financial memorandum that accompanies the Bill, the commitment to a free library service is stated. That could be made more specific, but it would be very lengthy and structured and the Department wanted to get away from that. If the Committee has a view on how it could be better worded, we would be interested in hearing that.

A point was raised on clause 6(2), referring to the fact that:

“The scheme of charges may make different provision for different cases, including different provision in relation to different persons, circumstances or localities.”

That reflects the current, different, practice in the Library Service where, for instance, members can use the Internet free, but non-members are charged.

A fine for late return would not be levied from senior citizens or children, whereas it would be levied from adults. It is to make sure that that sort of different practice is covered.

Mr McCarthy:

All the representations that the Committee has received have been concerned about the lack of commitment to continue with free services. Will you consider changing the wording of the Bill to convince us all that library services will be free at the point of delivery?

Ms Mapstone:

We will consider that.

Mr Brolly:

My point is supplementary to Mr McCarthy’s question. People are concerned about the sums of money that will be saved and the start-up costs that will be required. That adds to the concern that the library authority will be forced into a situation where it will have to slip in some charges that the Committee would not want to see happening. That is why Kieran’s point is important: the Bill should state explicitly that core services should be free at the point of delivery.

Mr D Bradley:

Ms Mapstone, why would there be different charges in different localities?

Ms Mapstone:

I cannot recall the reason for that. There are differences in certain charges; for example, libraries can hire out rooms to community groups and they can levy different charges according to the type of group involved. For a charitable body, there would be a reduced charge. We will come back to the Committee on that.

Mr McCausland:

As regards co-operation with other bodies, Ms Mapstone mentioned the education authority and the Linen Hall Library. What other bodies might the library authority co-operate with, and what bodies outside Northern Ireland would be involved?

Ms Mapstone:

I do not anticipate that there would be many bodies outside Northern Ireland involved. On a professional level, there could be connections with library services in other parts of the UK or in the Republic. There could be scope for joint activities.

Mr McCausland:

Is the Linen Hall Library established by statute?

Ms Mapstone:

It is. I do not have material relating to that point with me, but the Linen Hall Library is grant-aided by the Department for certain aspects of its provision.

Mr D Bradley:

Mr McCausland mentioned the Linen Hall Library. What sort of relationship do you envisage the authority having with more independent libraries such as the Armagh Public Library and the Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich Memorial Library and Archive?

Ms Mapstone:

Are you talking about partnerships between the library authority and those libraries?

Mr D Bradley:

Yes. What partnerships or relationships could the library authority develop with those two libraries?

Ms Mapstone:

That would be up to the library authority. Much of the Bill provides enabling measures, which will allow the authority to develop good relationships and partnership arrangements with other libraries and public bodies for better provision of public library services. The Department is not saying that the authority should or should not do something: we intend to make the provision available, should it be relevant.

Mr McCausland:

Picking up on that point, does clause 3 allow the library authority to co-operate with bodies that are not established under statutory provision? That is why I asked about the Linen Hall Library. I am not sure, but I do not think that there is any legislation establishing that library — there may be some ancient provision from 1790 or so. However, there is no statutory provision for the Linen Hall Library. If that library is a body with which the authority might have a partnership relationship, and a funding role, then an issue arises about funding roles for other independent libraries such as the Armagh Public Library or others that might emerge.

Can you clarify that? Is that what would be anticipated?

Ms Mapstone:

Any partnership arrangement that is useful for developing the service to the public would be allowable under the proposals. Nothing is being ruled out.

Mr McCausland:

What about a funding role, not just a partnership? Does partnership imply a funding role?

Ms Mapstone:

We do not anticipate altering the current arrangement whereby the grant to the Linen Hall Library goes directly from the Department.

Mr McCausland:

It is funded directly from the Department?

Ms Mapstone:

Yes.

Mr McCausland:

I could understand that happening when there were separate education and library boards. Is there any reason why the funding will come directly from the Department, rather than through the library authority?

Ms Mapstone:

The library authority’s prime concern will be the public Library Service. The Department could choose to delegate other funding to it, if there was capacity in the legislation to do so. However, the Department has no intention of doing that.

Mr McCausland:

I understand that the library in the Ulster American Folk Park is supported by the Western Education and Library Board. That responsibility would pass to the library authority, I presume?

Ms Mapstone:

The funding of it would; yes.

Mr McCausland:

I presume that other independent libraries that exist, or might emerge, would follow the example of the Linen Hall Library, whereby they would seek funding from the Department?

Ms Mapstone:

If they were seeking funding from the Department, they would come to the Department.

Mr McCausland:

Public funding for other independent libraries would come from the Department, rather than the authority?

Ms Mapstone:

Yes.

Mr McCausland:

In the current legislation, the phrase “comprehensive and efficient”, which refers to the standard of service, is not included in the Bill. Some people suggested in their submissions that it would be useful to have some reference to the quality of the service in the legislation. The suggestion was made that the annex from ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’ could be incorporated in some way. Would the Department consider strengthening the wording of clause 2 by incorporating a set of standards? If not, why not?

Ms Mapstone:

As members know, standards appear in the ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’ policy guidelines document, and that is the first time that standards have been set for the public Library Service in Northern Ireland. Progress towards achieving those standards will be monitored as part of the monitoring arrangements between the Department and the library authority. The expectation is that the authority will reach, or even surpass, those standards in the next few years. At that stage, the Department intends to review the standards to see whether they are still relevant or whether they might be changed or upgraded in order to continue the improvement and development of the service.

If the standards were to be included in the legislation, the Department would have to go back through the whole legislative process in order to amend them. We do not think that that is appropriate or necessary. Standards can be part of the relationship between the Department and the authority.

Mr McCausland:

Is there any reason for not including the phrase “comprehensive and efficient” in the legislation? That would not have to be amended.

Ms Mapstone:

The Department considered that phrase long and hard. That is a common phrase that is used about public library services across the UK — however, it is not terribly meaningful. What is meant by “comprehensive” must be spelled out. That is what the Department tried to do in redrafting the legislation. Having to legislate for efficiency is a little strange, because one would expect that to be monitored anyway.

We strengthened the duties of the authority in respect of the provision of a comprehensive service in clause 2(2)(a), which states that the specific task of the public Library Service is to provide:

“materials sufficient in number, range and quality to meet the general requirements of adults and children”.

That is an attempt to define what we mean by “comprehensive and efficient”.

We will look at that issue again. I recognise that witnesses have raised that concern in their evidence to the Committee.

Lord Browne:

Most of the witnesses have expressed the opinion that establishing the library authority and the education and skills authority at the same time would be to the advantage of staff — it would maintain their morale and give them certainty. They have also said that 1 April 2008 is not a realistic date for the setting-up of the library authority. Has the Department had any discussions with the Department of Education about the timing of the establishment of the library authority and the education and skills authority? If so, what were the outcomes of those discussions?

Mr Paul Sweeney (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

Obviously, the Department of Education’s decision on 19 July to announce that the establishment of the education and skills authority would not now take place on 1 April 2008, but at a time between then and April 2009, has had a material impact on all of these matters. Likewise, the Committee’s decision to seek a four-month extension to allow for further consultation — and rightly so; it was the Committee’s prerogative to do so — has had an impact.

As a result of all that, we have, as you might imagine, engaged with the Department of Education to work out in what way the timescales will have to be aligned. The Minister has obviously also reflected on that, and he has raised the issue with his Executive colleagues. My understanding is that he will come before the Committee on 18 October, and he wishes to engage specifically on that issue in the light of the decision about the education and skills authority and that fact that the legislation now needs more time at Committee Stage. The Minister wishes to specifically engage on the need to realign, and establish certainty about, the timescales for those two processes. Meanwhile, we and our colleagues in the Department of Education are working very closely on the practical tasks that need to be addressed.

Lord Browne:

Do you foresee a realistic date for setting up the library authority? Is it possible that it will be set up not by 1 April, but at a later date?

Mr Sweeney:

From the Minister’s point of view, April 2008 was the DCAL position. Some might say that it was an aspirational date, but until the Minister makes an official decision — and, in the first instance, advises the Committee of that decision — officials have to continue to work towards that date. As I say, I know that the Minister has given the matter very serious consideration, and he will engage with you specifically on the issue of timescales on 18 October.

Mr McNarry:

Forgive me for being late, and please stop me if this has been raised already. The Committee has heard evidence from witnesses who have taken legal advice on the Bill that suggests that there are obvious elements in the Bill that are open to legal dispute. They have informed us that the reply to the advice has been that that may be the case, but any dispute should be sorted out at a tribunal. The rest of the Committee and I found that quite disturbing. What issues have been pointed out to you that indicate that a dispute is already taking place? Are you aware of a response to the effect of, “We recognise that disputes will arise, but rather than resolve then at this stage, we will let them go and allow them to be dealt with in tribunals and the courts.”?

Mr Sweeney:

That may relate specifically to schedule 2 and the transfer schemes.

Mr McNarry:

It does, yes.

Mr Sweeney:

With the Committee’s approval, I will defer to my colleague from the Departmental Solicitor’s Office.

Mr Noel Kelly (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

Certainly, as far as I am aware, no response has ever issued to anyone from NIPSA or UNISON or anyone else along the lines of, “We recognise that there is a dispute, but we will leave it to the tribunals to sort it out.” That simply would not be the way in which we would approach it. Various issues were raised in the NIPSA document, of which you are aware.

We take a different legal view on those issues. To answer your specific question, nobody that I am aware of has responded in a way that suggests that we would leave the tribunals to sort out a mess that we had created.

Mr McNarry:

I am grateful for that response. However, I will pursue the matter.

The drafting of the Bill is also a concern. You are telling the Committee that the two legal opinions are different — yours differs from someone else’s. That seems to link directly to an existing dispute. I need to know that you are confident that your opinion is right, that the other opinion is wrong, and that you will put yours in the legislation and allow it to be tested in the courts.

From a layman’s point of view, I am asking you to have another crack at the legislation and come back and let the Committee know that you are doubly sure that you are right and that they are wrong. That would reassure those of us who have to legislate on the matter and — somehow — agree the Bill, which is what we want to do. I am not suggesting that this would happen, but the Committee will take a dim view of being misled by anyone, particularly where legal opinion is concerned, when we are reliant upon advice. Given that, would it not be better to take on board what I have said? Would you take an opportunity to resolve the matters that I have mentioned to avoid a scenario in which the dispute may be hanging in abeyance, with the only course of action left being to go to a tribunal?

I say that because, when the matter comes before the Assembly — and even when the Committee scrutinises the minutiae of the Bill — I, and I am sure that other members will agree, will need to be satisfied that the legal advice that we are getting is correct. At the moment we have contrary legal advice. I will not flip a coin to decide which one I believe. However, I am sure that you appreciate where I am coming from. Given that a legal dispute is ongoing, I do not want schedule 2 to be included in the Bill in the knowledge that at the first opportunity the Bill will be tested in court. I do not think that the Minister would want that either.

Mr N Kelly:

I understand your point. There are two differing legal opinions, and I am fully prepared to reconsider the issue. However, it will come as no surprise to the Committee to hear that in the run-up to today’s Committee meeting we went over the legislation again thoroughly. My opinion is still that it is correctly drafted. That will be of no immediate comfort to the Committee because another senior counsel has a contrary opinion. The opinion of Frank O’Donoghue QC has not been disclosed to me, but both in writing and in person, John Corey indicated what he said and what he was taking out of that opinion.

Certainly, I will reconsider each of the issues that have been raised. It would be helpful if we could see the full opinion that NIPSA obtained. The Committee may also find it helpful, but perhaps it has seen it already.

Mr McNarry:

I appreciate Noel’s leading me, which makes a change — I was coming on to that matter. Given that a dispute has been signalled, it is important that those who created that resolve the matter by getting together.

I hope that the Committee would support such a request to those who have highlighted the prospect of a dispute.

It should be put on record that the Committee may need to seek a third legal opinion — an outside opinion. That is no disrespect to Mr Kelly, and I am reluctant to do so, because the money that it would cost could be spent on a school or on a hospital patient. I am taking a cross-cutting perspective, in that I would like to believe what you say, but I have heard a different opinion. If you and Mr O’Donoghue cannot get together, the Committee may need to take some action, but the matter must be resolved. .

Mr Brolly:

In the ongoing argument between the two legal opinions, paragraph 15 on page 4 of NIPSA’s submission may be significant:

“Trade Union Side has sought further legal advice on these matters.” “We remain strongly concerned that the current provisions in the Bill may not provide the necessary protection of staffs’ rights and we believe all the disputed clauses in Schedule 2 should be subject to further detailed scrutiny at Committee stage.”

It is significant that, in the second sentence, NIPSA uses the words “may not provide”, whereas its officials’ expressed a much stronger opinion when they first appeared before the Committee.

Mr N Kelly:

The difficulty arises when a lawyer is asked to scrutinise a Bill, or any piece of work, and to try to punch holes in it. I stress that I have not seen Mr O’Donoghue’s opinion, but it may have been along the lines of recognising the possibility of a dispute. I suspect that his opinion is not couched in as definite terms as was initially suggested to the Department. However, it would have been extremely helpful to have seen his opinion.

The issues are complex, and my instructions throughout, when considering this Bill and throughout the work that I have done for other Departments on RPA, have been to ensure that the interests of staff are fully and properly protected in line with Cabinet Office guidance and TUPE protection. That is what I sought to achieve. However, if there is doubt, I want to see the full opinion and I would give it careful consideration. I know Mr O’Donoghue: he is an extremely able lawyer, and I would be interested to hear what he has to say.

Mr McNarry:

In order to provide clarity to the Committee, is it the case that the contrary legal opinion has not been discussed with you?

Mr N Kelly:

It has been discussed but not disclosed. I have seen paraphrased extracts.

Mr McNarry:

Is there no way that you can agree with the suggestion that the response was that in that eventuality, the case would simply have to go to a tribunal?

Mr N Kelly:

I am absolutely certain that that suggestion was not made by me, in my hearing, or, as far as I am aware, by anyone else. As at least one person in this room knows, I chair the tribunal, and I would not drum up extra work.

Mr McNarry:

I accept that.

The Chairperson:

I will move on to Dominic, who, I hope, will include the issues raised in paragraphs 2 and 3 of schedule 1 to the Bill in his question, such as how many board members the authority should have and the rules governing the tenure of office.

Mr D Bradley:

That is exactly the point that I was going to raise. The Bill states that the board should have between seven and 14 members. Many witnesses who have appeared before the Committee have questioned the ability of such a small board to handle the workload involved, particularly as the nature of the work means that the board often has to set up subcommittees. A board that has between seven and 14 members would find that extremely difficult.

Did the Department look at the size of other boards in Northern Ireland and compare its proposal with those, or try to benchmark the board by comparing it to similar boards in other parts of the UK and the Republic?

Witnesses have expressed anxiety about the make-up of the board: they believe that it could be more representative and could include public and union representatives, and library interest groups. Have you considered inserting a clause into the Bill to deal with the make-up of the board? What are the pros and cons of introducing legislation to do that in comparison with leaving it to a public appointments process?

Ms Mapstone:

The Department examined other boards in Northern Ireland for benchmarking purposes. We did not look outside Northern Ireland. We looked at the size of board membership, with particular reference to some of DCAL’s sponsor bodies such as the Arts Council and the Sports Council. There is a general move towards having smaller boards that work more effectively and efficiently, so we were trying to reflect that. The text of the Bill also reflects advice from the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (OCPA), which recommends having smaller boards. However, the Minister is on record as saying that he wishes to reconsider all questions relating to the board: he has made that point to the Committee and wants to hear its advice.

OCPA recommends open appointments on the basis of merit and the need to reflect the width of experience required. The Department does not believe that the new library authority will need to have the range of committees that is currently required by the education and library boards. As the new board will be dealing only with the Library Service, fewer committees will be necessary. An audit committee and a finance committee will be needed: after that, the situation is quite open; therefore, we do not think that the need for committees will necessarily drive up the number of board members. As I have said, the Minister wishes to reconsider much of the detail.

Mr D Bradley:

You said that the general feeling is in favour of having smaller boards, but is there any evidence that they are more efficient? You also said that appointments would be based on merit; but how will you ensure that you get board members who have the experience and level of interest needed?

Ms Mapstone:

I am not aware of any specific research demonstrating that smaller boards are more effective than larger ones. The Department has followed the views and guidance of OCPA.

The information and documentation for the advertisement for the recruitment of board members will be crucial in ensuring that appointments are based on merit. The advertisement will need to specify the types of experience being sought. Criteria will be set for the recruitment of members and will ensure that all areas of required expertise are covered.

Mr D Bradley:

I can see what lies behind the process, and that you will be able to attract suitable candidates through the advertisement. Would it be useful for a balance to be built into the process so that some of the interests that I mentioned earlier could be represented on the board?

Ms Mapstone:

Getting a balance will be crucial. The Department does not want the board to comprise people with just one type of experience or who come from just one area. It wants the board to reflect broadly the population that will be served by a universal public library service. Care must be taken in drawing up the recruitment documentation so that the range of applicants will be wide.

Mr McCausland:

To pick up on your use of the word “reflect”; the constitution of the current education and library boards does not oblige them to reflect the areas they serve, and in some cases, there has been great disparity in the appointments that have been made. The only two bodies that are bound, by legislation, to reflect Northern Ireland society in their appointments are the Equality Commission and the Human Rights Commission. If that is an example of good principle, and if the Department has endorsed the need for the new board to reflect the area it serves, is there value in considering whether to include provision in this legislation?

Ms Mapstone:

We will give that matter further consideration.

Mr Brolly:

I have a question about the composition of the new board, particularly as regards geography. At present, local councillors are members of each of the five education and library boards that represent their areas. Does the Department envisage that the new library board will include members from the new councils, however many there are? The Committee has asked previously how the Department intends the new library board to associate, and have a close relationship, with local authorities so that it does not become centralised. Of course, being a country fella, by that I mean Belfast-based.

Ms Mapstone:

The authority will be a regional body with a single board, and it will be challenge for that board to reflect local issues. In the interests of balance, how that will be done must be considered. It will be difficult to set up a board that reflects the interests of local areas within a single, regional body. The chief executive designate, Irene Knox, is concerned to ensure that local relevance is achieved in the delivery of the library service and is considering how to go about that.

Mr McCausland:

If I were to sit on the library authority, and it were suggested that the library in Dromara should be closed and a new one opened in Drumnahunshin, I would not have a clue what to do, because I do not know those places. However, I would be able to make a decision on whether to transfer services from Skegoneill Avenue to the Shore Road. Local input is important. Later, the Committee will be discussing the subregional structure of the library authority. I am yet to be convinced that there will be good decision-making on local issues within a single library authority when, in practice, those on the board will know little about certain areas. If I were asked whether a library should be situated in Londonderry, Strabane or somewhere else in the west of the Province, I would not have an answer. How will that be dealt with?

Ms Mapstone:

Something as significant as a library closure would require a great deal of interaction with local people. As members are aware, the Department requires the education and library boards to engage in lengthy consultations on any proposal to close a library.

Mr McCausland:

However, the board of the single library authority, which would not have local knowledge, would make the ultimate decision.

Ms Mapstone:

Yes; the final decision would be taken by the board, but it would have to ensure that it gained local knowledge.

The Chairperson:

I agree with Mr McCausland that Strabane would be a suitable location for a new library.

Mr Brolly:

You have used the phrase, “interaction with the local authorities”. How would that be written into the legislation? Who, from a local authority, would you interact with? If your face were set against having representatives from each local council on the new board, what type of structure could be set up that would allow you to have close contact and deal with situations such as those that Nelson McCausland mentioned.

Ms Mapstone:

Much will depend on what emerges from the review of public administration. In particular, community-planning responsibilities will fall to the new councils, and we have had conversations with the Department of the Environment specifically on whether the responsibility of the library authority to interact, under those community-planning guidelines, should be put into legislation. We believe that it should not. The library authority would then be named in the relevant local government legislation as a body that would be part of those community-planning responsibilities. Until that arrangement is set up, the library authority must develop relationships at a local level, through its senior library staff.

The Chairperson:

I would like Members to turn to general issues for the next 15 minutes. Paul Maskey, Kieran McCarthy and Wallace Browne will each ask a question, and I would ask Julie and her team to give a composite answer.

Mr P Maskey:

Why is there is no provision in the Bill for secondments between the library authority and the education and skills authority or between the schools’ library service and the library authority? Why are secondments being limited to the Northern Ireland Civil Service? Will you consider broadening the opportunities for secondments?

Mr McCarthy:

My question is about money and estimated savings. The majority of witnesses have been concerned about the predicted savings for the library authority in 2009-10 and 2010-11, and, in particular, the assumption that there will be savings through reducing the number of management-level staff. The boards have said that they do not have a large number of senior staff and that cutbacks in backroom staff have already been made. Witnesses have also pointed out that savings from redundancies are not normally realised until at least two years after they occur, and that corporate services will mean ongoing additional costs for the new authority.

In detail, and with supporting figures, how does the Department envisage making those savings? You may wish to provide a written answer to that important question.

Lord Browne:

I return to my original theme — the link between the library authority and education services. Many people are concerned that, when the services are separated, the strong links and experience that has been built up will be put at risk. How does the Department intend to maintain those links? In addition, how will the new library authority deliver on the literacy and lifelong learning programme?

Ms Mapstone:

There is already scope for secondments in the legislation. Paragraph 5(1)(b) of schedule 1 states that the library authority, including its chief executive, shall have:

“such other employees as the Authority may determine.”

There is no insistence that those employees would come through direct recruitment — there could be secondments. Paragraph 8(1) of schedule 1, under the heading “Arrangements for assistance”, states:

“The Authority may make arrangements with such persons … as it considers appropriate for assistance to be provided to it.”

No attempt is being made to deny other types of secondments, particularly on the education side, with the schools’ library services. Secondment arrangements will apply to the library authority. Civil Service secondments are specified because they may not otherwise have been allowable, and there may be a need for a civil servant with specialist skills to implement financial systems or accounting procedures to work in the library authority. That is the only reason why that measure been included in the schedule.

Mr Sweeney:

The financial effects of the Bill are, to some extent, set out in paragraph 13 of the explanatory and financial memorandum, which estimates savings of £600,000 in 2009-10, rising to £1·2 million in 2010-11, under the review of public administration. Some of those savings are contingent on when the new library authority goes live. The figures were predicated on the body’s going live on 1 April 2008, so the actual starting date will have some effect.

Corporate services are dealt with in paragraph 14 of the explanatory and financial memorandum. That is important, and the Department has made Deloitte’s work available to the Committee. At present, it costs almost £1 million to deliver corporate services to the five education and library boards. That money comes from the five education and library boards, but, as the new library authority will be a stand-alone body, that indirect cost must be identified and factored in. Deloitte’s work was useful because it quantified that cost. I needed to know the current hidden cost. Deloitte said that it was £956,000, which I will round up to £1 million for the sake of this discussion. Therefore, I know that I will have to find around £1 million. Taking guidance from the chief executive designate, we will have to find the most cost-effective way in which to deliver the corporate services that are currently being delivered through the five boards. If the Chairperson approves, perhaps the Department could provide the Committee with a succinct couple of pages outlining the ramifications of the Deloitte study.

The Chairperson:

The Committee would welcome that.

Ms Mapstone:

The Department of Education and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure keep in regular contact on issues relating to the creation of the two new bodies and the development of a common approach to staff-transfer issues between the education and skills authority and the library authority. Contact is maintained using implementation teams from both bodies. That will ensure that staff who are currently employed in the education and library boards have the same cover when they transfer to the two new bodies.

We have been asked about the continuation of relationships — there is a strong historical connection between the public library service and the education service. For example, library assistants deliver initiatives such as Bookstart, which is a literacy programme, to preschool children. Library staff are involved in primary-school visits that demonstrate the library’s value to young children through storytelling sessions and other initiatives. We will ensure that that service continues, and it can include any sort of partnership arrangement. Service level agreements could be developed between the education and skills authority and the library authority. A great deal of debate is ongoing between the two sides, and that will continue.

The Chairperson:

Several witnesses have expressed concerns about the assumption that a reduction in managerial staff will result in savings. Will you comment on that? Some people have said that the education and library boards do not have a large number of staff at senior level and that the number of back room staff has already been reduced. Is that the case?

Ms Mapstone:

Yes. Some education and library boards have been quite successful in reducing their staff numbers. Streamlining is involved when combining five library services into one, and we expect that that will have an impact on the Library Service headquarters and its administrative staff. The specific costings associated with that streamlining are based on the assumption that there will be efficiencies in combining five library services into one.

The Chairperson:

We shall move to general issues.

Mr D Bradley:

We have already covered a few of the general issues. There have been concerns raised about the location of the library authority’s headquarters. Has a decision been made about its location and, if not, when will it be made? What will the Department take into consideration when making its decision? Also, where will the library authority’s temporary premises be located? Finally, what steps have been taken to ensure that reference materials and archives will be protected by the new library authority? The Chairperson knows that the Irish and Local Studies Library in Armagh is at the forefront of my mind when I ask that question.

The Chairperson:

And why would it not be?

Ms Mapstone:

The chief executive designate and her immediate support team are based in Belfast, pro tem. However, in November 2007 they will move to temporary premises in the centre of Lisburn. Nothing has been determined about a permanent location for the library authority’s headquarters. We are waiting for final advice to emerge on the relocation of public-sector jobs and the extent to which that will direct us. We also need to consider the library authority’s location in the light of decisions that will be made about the location of the new bodies that will be formed as a result of the review of public administration. As there may be a timing issue, we may need to make our decision first. At present, I cannot tell you anything about the longer-term location of the new authority. Nevertheless, it will be the subject of consultation and an equality impact assessment.

Mr Sweeney:

The actual model through which the new library authority will be delivered has yet to be determined. The critical issue will be in ensuring that we achieve business continuity. I do not envisage a situation whereby the new body will have huge headquarters — it will be a small, lean group. Perhaps, later on, we will talk about exploiting the subregional structure. The notion of a headquarters — with hundreds of people being consolidated into one geographical space — is not one that has entered into my business plan or processes at this stage.

It will be the new board’s responsibility to bring proposals to the Minister. The Minister will operate within statutory and Public Service Commission guidelines on the location of public-sector jobs. I do not want to leave the Committee with the impression that several hundred people might be located in one place. Rather, a small group will probably be housed. We will have to identify — using all available guidelines — the most cost-effective location.

The Chairperson:

I recall the Minister making the same point.

Mr McCarthy:

Dominic has pre-empted my question. I invite you to find a suitable site on the Ards Peninsula, which is absolutely beautiful. We could fit you in there, just fine.

Mr McCausland:

Or a caravan site in Ballywalter.

Mr McCarthy:

Some witnesses have suggested that a separate advisory council should be set up to provide specialist advice to the library authority. Has the Department considered that option? What would the Department see as being the pros and cons of having such an advisory body?

Ms Mapstone:

The Department has considered the matter. A separate statutory advisory body would involve considerable expense, and would be an extra statutory body in a situation where similar bodies are being streamlined.

Such an advisory body also carries certain disadvantages. As a standing body, there would be recurrent costs for a function that may not be needed frequently. It would also be static, in that it would not necessarily be a repository of good practice in library services.

We accept that the library authority will need access and recourse to advice, but there are existing relationships, networks and bodies to provide that advice. The authority will have access to the work of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, which undertakes research in library studies and makes that research public. As a separate, dedicated body, the library authority will be in good position to develop strong networks with public library services across the water and in the South, and with professional associations such as the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals and the Association of Chief Librarians.

Once good networks are established, all sorts of benefits spin off from them, such as systems of peer-review, and joint activity to examine certain aspects. On an ad hoc basis, anything that has worked elsewhere, or anything that might be causing a problem might be discussed within those networks. That is a much more dynamic picture; and that arrangement is more likely to offer the library authority advice that is current and reflects current good practice.

Mr Brolly:

I will follow up on Paul’s point. Various people who submitted representations to the Committee were worried that the library authority would be placed in an ivory tower somewhere, and that it would be distant. That is why the Committee is concentrating on the local impact of a central library authority. May I suggest a location for it? Mid Ulster would be grand; and there is nothing wrong with East Derry either.

Mr McCarthy:

That is too far away.

Mr Brolly:

Toomebridge.

The Chairperson:

No questions have been asked. [Laughter.]

Mr McCausland:

What does Ms Mapstone think might be the role of local government in any subregional structure? Should the Bill not refer to the subregional structure of the library authority?

Ms Mapstone:

The Department sees the subregional structure as an operational matter and one that should not necessarily be reflected in the legislation. The issue is about how the library authority will operate at the local level, and that is still under consideration by the chief executive designate. She regards it as an important matter. The Department accepts that delivering local relevance is of key significance, but the issue is about how the library authority will operate in a practical way at ground level.

Mr McCausland:

Will the incoming chief executive have that matter worked up in the next couple of months?

Ms Mapstone:

I know that she is proposing to do that, as far as possible.

Mr McCausland:

That was one of the issues that the Committee took into account when it asked for an extension of the Committee Stage. There was uncertainty, and that element was thrown in at a late stage. There had been no mention of it before then.

How many staff would be in a central executive administrative team? I know that they will be lean and fit.

Mr Sweeney:

I can answer that question only at a very high level. My discussions with the chief executive designate have been predicated on having a very small executive team that might comprise the chief executive, a directorate team — a handful of people or less — and some support or administrative staff. Please do not hold me to that model.

The principle is to exploit all of the talent that exists throughout the library network in Northern Ireland, and to ensure that the headquarters’ core function will be to support and empower that network, rather than becoming some sort of ivory tower. As yet, we have not submitted a business model to the Minister, but the impulse in the Department has been to predicate it on the idea of having a small, multidisciplinary executive team.

Mr McCausland:

There is no national library in Northern Ireland. Therefore, unless one travels to Scotland, Dublin or London, one cannot get access to the wealth of material that is important for the development of some of the cultural life in Northern Ireland. Should the legislation not make it the responsibility of the library authority to ensure that there is a collection of all the relevant material about Northern Ireland, and what I would term the Ulster diaspora? I am not saying that there should be a national library collecting everything under the sun.

Individual libraries in Northern Ireland will have books about local villages or the history of some organisations, and so on. However, one cannot get access to material about people from Ulster who have travelled around the world and who have made their mark in various areas of life. I have found several examples of where one has to go to the British Library to find information about people from Northern Ireland. It is bizarre that the material is not available in places such as Omagh, Belfast Central Library, or the Linen Hall Library.

No one can get access to the material because no one knows that it exists, unless, like me, they are weirdoes or sad people who go on holiday in order to search for that sort of material. Can a provision be included in the legislation to pick up on the idea of having a collection of material that is relevant to Ulster and the Ulster diaspora? If I travel to Dublin, I can get easy access to material about any place in Ireland. There is a gap to be filled.

The Chairperson:

I presume that that point can be absorbed, because it does not really have a legislative base.

Mr McCausland:

It could be included as a responsibility of the library authority.

Ms Mapstone:

We will consider it.

Mr McCausland:

OK, that is fine.

The Chairperson:

My question concerns the tenure of the chairperson of the new library authority. NIPSA expressed the view that the legislation should specify that the chairperson of the new board should be permitted to serve a maximum of only two terms. Have you any views on that?

Ms Mapstone:

We agree. However, it does not necessarily belong in the legislation but rather in the terms of appointment and the operating rules of the board.

Mr Brolly:

I am worried about operational issues not being included in the Bill. Obviously, coming from a rural area, I am worried about the library service not providing a comprehensive service across a wide geographical area. I do not accept that the matter should be left to the operation of the library authority when it is established. It should be written into the legislation that there should be contact and interaction with local authorities, and how that could be managed and achieved.

Ms Mapstone:

We will consider that point. As I said, the Minister wants to consider board membership issues. The difficulty with putting operational matters into legislation is that the legislation would become huge and would start to limit the new authority’s freedom and flexibility, and it would make it more difficult for the authority to deliver the best possible service. Therefore, it is a question of selecting the key operational issues that are required.

Mr Brolly:

This reflects again on one of the earlier questions about having comprehensive and efficient provisions. To me, the word “comprehensive” refers not only to material but also to a wide geographical spread. It is important that that should be included somewhere in the Bill. I am not insisting on there being representation on the board, but geographical spread should be written into the legislation in a viable way.

The Chairperson:

I thank the team from the Department; Julie Mapstone and Noel Kelly; and, of course, Paul Sweeney the permanent secretary for attending the Committee. We look forward to reading and rereading the Hansard report.

The Committee intends to write to the Department about issues that were not completely covered this morning, such as start-up costs, around which there are several issues to be clarified.

Thank you all for coming.

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