Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 22 November 2007

Libraries Bill

22 November 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr Francie Brolly
Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Ken Robinson

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

I refer members to the correspondence from the Minister and to the guidance received from the Bill Office regarding clause 6 of the Libraries Bill. The Bill Office has suggested that it may not be wise or possible to be prescriptive in the legislation about what is classified as a free service. The Bill Office has pointed to the fact that the Committee has a written ministerial assurance, which will form part of the public record, that there is no intention to introduce charging for core services. The Bill Office has suggested that the Committee write to the Minister seeking his assurance that the Department would consult with the Committee before introducing any changes to its charging policy. Are members in agreement with that course of action?

Members indicated assent.

I refer members to the response from the Minister, dated 16 November 2007, to a range of issues that were raised by the Committee. The Committee had asked the Minister to consider adding a general phrase to clause 2 of the Libraries Bill to make reference to the fact that the library authority should have a duty to collect material relevant to the region. The Minister has replied that the libraries’ stock policy, including that on reference collections, is covered by clause 2(2)(a). He has said that he expects the library authority to develop a collection policy to enable access to local historical research material. However, the Minister is of the view that making it a legislative requirement that the authority must collect all material pertaining to the region is too great a burden for the public library service. It may unbalance the book-purchase budget as well as open the authority to litigation should anything be missed. Are members content with the Minister’s response?

Mr K Robinson:

Yes, we have flagged up our concerns on both of those issues.

The Chairperson:

Yes, and we can return to them individually if we so wish.

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

Clause 6(2) refers to charges. The Committee asked the Minister if he was sure that under the law the library authority would be permitted to make different charges to people of different ages. The Minister has advised that different charges for older people or children are justifiable on the grounds of the policy objective of encouraging children to read, and because senior citizens may be less able to pay. The Minister also advised that the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 covers the fields of employment and vocational training in relation to colleges, but does not impact on the Libraries Bill.

Are members content with the Minister’s response?

Mr McCarthy:

That response refers to different persons. We were worried that there could be different charges for different localities.

The Chairperson:

OK. Do we want to anything about that?

Mr McCarthy:

Clarify it.

The Chairperson:

OK, we will seek further clarification regarding different charges for different localities.

That brings me to NIPSA’s proposed amendments to schedule 2. The Committee had asked that the Department’s solicitors meet with NIPSA’s solicitors to discuss the issues. The Minister has advised that on 9 October 2007, the permanent secretary wrote to NIPSA requesting a meeting between the two legal advisers. NIPSA has agreed to a meeting at senior counsel level. However, DCAL is advised by the Departmental Solicitor’s Office, not senior counsel. DCAL is pursuing the possibility of a meeting with NIPSA and its legal service. DCAL officials have advised that the Department is trying to set up a meeting with NIPSA and will keep the Committee updated. Do members agree that the Committee should write to the Minister asking him to advise it of the date for such a meeting, and to inform it when the outcome is known?

Members indicated assent.

The Committee asked the Minister if the Department has any plans to carry out equality impact assessments (EQIAs) on any aspects of the implementation of the Libraries Bill. The Minister has advised that an EQIA will be carried out in respect of the location of the new headquarters and that advice will be sought from the Equality Commission on whether other EQIAs are required. Are members content to note the Minister’s response?

Members indicated assent.

The Committee asked the Minister who will be responsible for drawing up the rules of operation of the library authority. We were concerned about schedule 1(3), regarding the tenure of the chair. The Minister has advised that the rules of operation will be set out in detail in the management statement and financial memorandum, which is drawn up by the Department and agreed with the library authority.

The Minister also points to schedule 1(11), which states that the authority will be required to draw up standing orders. The Department will draw up the terms and conditions for the appointment of the board, which will include a maximum tenure of two terms of office for the chair. That is a key assurance. NIPSA had raised a concern that the chair should serve only two terms. The Committee now has it in writing from the Minister that that will be the case. Therefore, the Committee should be content that we have effected an outcome.

The Committee asked the Minister a number of further questions regarding elements of the start-up costs and redundancies. The Minister has advised that no additional funding is currently available for a redundancy scheme and that the case for making a bid for redundancies will be considered in light of the operational design being drawn up by the chief executive designate.

In relation to the cost of branding the new library authority, the Minister has advised that a design firm will be engaged to consider a new logo. That cost has been covered in the new estimates of start-up costs, which were previously sent to the Committee, and which are now sitting at £2·175 million. The cost of new signage has not yet been calculated.

Mr K Robinson:

How can money be set aside for the rebranding of libraries, vans and so on, yet not be set aside for redundancy or potential redundancy of staff? That seems to be a glaring omission.

The Chairperson:

Do you want the Committee to write to the Minister asking for a response to that question?

Mr K Robinson:

The redundancy situation will occur; it is not going to be avoided. Some people will want to move. We should write to the Minister to ask why even a nominal sum not been set aside.

The Chairperson:

We will ask that question, Ken.

The next paragraph of the Minister’s response deals with the new headquarters for the authority. He states:

“ In terms of permanent headquarters, no work has yet been done on the eventual location of the Library Authority”.

However, he goes on to confirm:

“The cost of fitting out of the temporary premises in Lisburn is included in the new estimate for start-up costs”.

Related to that is the nature of the sub-regional structure, on which the Minister says:

“Until the work on the organisational design is complete, the nature of any sub-regional structure will not be known, but it is envisaged that corporate services not located with the headquarters will be in current library service buildings.”

On how the libraries budget will be split, the Minister states:

“Until the organisational design work is complete, the proposed budget split between frontline services and administrative functions is not identifiable”.

When that work is complete, the Department:

“will assess the balance between frontline and administrative functions.”

The Minister advises that a regional funding formula “will not be needed”. However, he:

“will also seek to see in the Authority’s funding practice recognition of the priorities for TSN and rural areas… …and other social groups specified for targeted action in ‘Delivering Tomorrow’s Libraries’”.

On external funding he advises:

“existing library staff already have experience of sourcing external funding, and will employ this expertise on transfer to the Library Authority.”

Are Members content to note those responses from the Minister?

Members indicated assent.

Mr Brolly:

Can we ask the Minister whether there is any intention to solicit outside funding? I assume that outside funding refers to libraries that have been sponsored in the past under a certain name, such as Carnegie Library. Sponsorship could be a source of substantial funding.

The Chairperson:

We will include that question in the same correspondence.

The next paragraph in the Minister’s response considers the new authority’s role in early years and literacy development. The Minister states:

“I will expect to see evidence of continued activity in libraries in terms of early years and literacy programmes, and my officials are developing measures to better capture this activity… …will expect the Library Authority to demonstrate continued partnership between libraries and education provision, both at regional level… …and at local level”.

Are Members content to note that?

Members indicated assent.

The Chairperson:

We are nearing the end of the consideration of the Libraries Bill for today. We still await a response from the Minister on five issues: the inclusion of the phrase “comprehensive and efficient” in clause 2; the number of members on the board in schedule 1(2)(1); the make-up of the board in schedule 1(2)(2); the operational structure of the authority, and progress on the meeting with NIPSA. I advise members that the Department has indicated that a response is expected on those issues by 23 November 2007.

The agenda for next week’s meeting is clause-by-clause scrutiny of the Bill. Members should prepare for that meeting by reading the Bill in detail and noting any clauses on which they require further clarification or about which they have concerns. Officials from DCAL will be in attendance to advise on, and explain, clauses as necessary.

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