Official Report (Hansard)
Date: 27 September 2007
27 September 2007
Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr David McNarry
Mr Francie Brolly
Mr Paul Maskey
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Jim Shannon
Mrs Anne Connolly ) North Eastern Education and Library Board
Mr William McCartney )
Mr Gordon Topping )
Ms Patricia McKeown ) UNISON
Mr Jonathan Swallow )
Mr John Corey ) Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance
Ms Mary McVeigh )
Ms Alison Millar )
The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
I welcome the delegation from the North Eastern Education and Library Board — Mr Billy McCartney, Mrs Anne Connolly and Mr Gordon Topping.
Mr William McCartney (North Eastern Education and Library Board):
I thank you for your invitation.
Mr Gordon Topping (North Eastern Education and Library Board):
Thank you for inviting us. We are delighted to be able to present our views on the Libraries Bill. As an introduction, we will present four or five issues that will give an overview of our position.
The Library Service is primarily an education service, and its origins in the nineteenth century show that it was designed to be education for the masses and was an opportunity for second-chance education. The synergy between the Library Service and the education service is the key determinant. Therefore, during the consultation we expressed the view that the Library Service should be part of the education authority. We did not believe that there was a need to establish another quango. We believed that amalgamation could deliver enhanced economies of scale and that it would be more efficient and avoid some of the problems that we will face, such as the separation of the schools’ library service from the public library service.
That was our original view. However, direct rule Ministers decided that a regional library authority would be created, and once that decision had been made, we worked closely with the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to bring about the Libraries Bill. We have been fully consulted, and I pay tribute to the Department’s officials for the way that they have worked with us on that.
There are four other issues to which we would like to draw to your attention and which are important in relation to the Bill. First, there is the implementation date. Until a few days ago, we had serious concerns about that, but I understand that the Assembly has given the Committee more time to consult and to conduct additional research and investigation into, and scrutiny of, the Bill. I believe that the extension is until the end February 2008, and if that is the case then I assume it will be difficult to meet the implementation date of 1 April 2008. Therefore, although we have issues about the deadline of 1 April, that may not be a problem in the near future.
Secondly, there are staffing issues. Obviously, this is a time of uncertainty for many Library Service staff, and the board wishes to reduce that uncertainty as far as possible. We must enhance staff morale, create certainty where there is uncertainty and ensure that library staff know what they will be doing and where their jobs will be located.
Thirdly, there is the issue of savings versus costs. I am sure that the Committee will want to follow that up. The board believes that an initial investment must be made to produce savings and that the scale of that investment may be significant.
Finally, we would like to draw the Committee’s attention to the size and composition of the library authority’s board and are prepared to discuss the governance arrangement with the Committee. Those are our concerns, and we are willing to discuss them with the Committee.
I am absorbing your report. I wonder whether you share the Committee’s concerns about certain problems it has perceived. In your submission, you state that start-up costs must be properly identified and funded. The Department stated that it has set aside £670,000 for start-up costs. Do you agree with that figure? Do you think that that amount will not be enough, and that further money will be required for start-up costs in the second year?
Mrs Anne Connolly (North Eastern Education and Library Board):
We have concerns about start-up costs. The chief executive said that in order to divest, the Department must invest, but we are concerned that £670,000 is not enough. We understand that the money is to cover part-year salaries for the chief executive designate and other senior staff, a support team, the rent of temporary premises and other consultancy costs.
However, we believe that other major start-up costs have not been brought into the equation. For example, the establishment of the identity of the new authority will cost quite a bit of money; so, too, may the implementation of a new staffing structure. At present, it is not known whether recruitment and redundancy costs have been factored into the start-up costs. The establishment of permanent headquarters and a regional structure will have to be funded. Activities to unite staff and help them to identify with the new authority must also be considered. Six hundred and seventy thousand pounds is a paltry sum of money with which to do what must be done.
How much is required? That question does not need a response immediately. Part of the problem with discussions is that they do not always provide enough information; for example, as to whether 10% or 20% or more is needed. Therefore, if the question is asked, the Committee must be able to state the amount that will be required. I understand that I may be asking you to stick your necks out. However, if you are prepared to do so, the Committee would be grateful to receive the information.
With regard to the point that Gordon raised, extension of the Committee Stage of the Bill has been granted until 25 February 2008. I do not believe that anyone around the table anticipates that it will take until then to complete the business; however, there is flexibility. The Committee is confident that the Bill will be dealt with before that date.
From our point of view, there may be an issue as regards the implementation date and ensuring that the authority is set up properly. There are also other cost factors.
Mr P Ramsey:
Following on from Mr McNarry’s comments about the savings that the Department has declared will be made, and taking on board your concerns about the overestimation of those savings, what is the North Eastern Education and Library Board’s budget for staffing and revenue costs?
Also, the Department of Education funds the education and library boards’ early years development programmes. How will your delivery of programme be affected when the changeover occurs?
Finally, what about the money relating to the literacy and numeracy programmes? Will the new board be able to provide the same product and remain a centre of excellence for education?
We have concerns about the proposed savings for several reasons, not least because they are based on assumptions, and we cannot be sure that all the assumed scenarios will happen.
I am the chief librarians’ representative on the Northern Ireland steering group, and we work closely with our colleagues in education to access funding for early-years learning. The North Eastern Education and Library Board has also accessed funding through the Northern Ireland Pre-school Playgroup Association to employ an extra member of staff for the early-years scheme. However, there are concerns. For example, funding for Bookstart will rest with the Department of Education, and we are concerned that we will not be able to continue to deliver the quality of service that we have now.
I missed the beginning of your question.
Mr P Ramsey:
It was about the overestimated costs.
The costing has been based on assumptions, and one example that worries us is the assumption that a number of people will choose retirement. They might not, because there is no compulsion to do so, and therefore that assumption cannot be backed up.
I am also concerned about the figures that have been cited for redundancy costs. Even if that money is put up — and we do not yet know whether there will be any money — the payback time will be at least two years, as we know from experience, so the savings have been overestimated. Additionally, the figures for planning for next year show a £1 million shortfall overall among the five boards, and given that we must add on the cost of corporate services, savings look less and less likely.
Mr P Ramsey:
What is your budget for library provision?
Our budget for the current year is £5·3 million, and we spend 62% of that on staff. That is quite generous, because we have increased our library opening hours. We have 29 ordinary static libraries and we have increased the opening hours for all of the big libraries.
We are also the lead board for the electronic libraries project, and our budget for that is about £4·3 million.
You seem fairly confident that the Bill will bring about the changes necessary to deliver a modern, efficient library service; but do any specific clauses give you concern? Is there anything that you think should be included?
I mentioned in my initial statement that we have concerns about several issues: one is about the governance arrangements. Originally, in the draft Bill, 10 people were supposed to be involved in the new board, and that number has now been increased to 15. It could be argued that that number is still rather small, particularly if an adequate committee structure is to be set up.
Another issue worrying us about the governance arrangements is the composition of the board. The anticipated arrangements will follow the Nolan principles and will go through the normal Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments process. However, the Bill is not establishing any type of representation requirement; for example, the new board might not be representative geographically or take into account local interests. We would like that provision to be included, so that stakeholders can become involved in the new governance arrangements.
We are also concerned about the need to move rapidly on the staff-transfer scheme, in particular. I mentioned the problems that staff face, such as uncertainty, low morale and concerns about their future. The sooner we can get the staff-transfer scheme under way, the better. We have always regarded all our staff as being board staff, whether they work in the Library Service or the Education Service. However, the difficulty is that some staff will go to the education authority while another group will go to the library authority, and perhaps at different times.
Over the past 15 years, we have been developing a system that manages staff in a corporate way across funding boundaries. Therefore, one of the difficulties will be in separating the staff because if the transfer systems develop at different speeds library staff could find themselves being transferred before education staff, or vice-versa, and we would be left to pick up the pieces. We could end up with staff for whom we have no funding, or we could have education staff who will have nothing to do.
Would there be an adverse effect on staff if the library authority were not formed by 2008?
Not necessarily. However, more certainty must be built into the system to ensure that the date for the library authority’s formation becomes a deadline. That must be a realistic date. I did not believe that 1 April 2008 was ever an achievable target. All staff must be treated equally and at the same time. That would allow us to manage the transfer more effectively.
Mr P Maskey:
I am not sure whether my question has already been asked. In your submission, you have stated your concerns about the Libraries Bill. You said that you were concerned that the library authority will be established before the education and skills authority. What are the problems with that? What risks are there to your board if the new library authority is not established by 1 April 2008?
When the library authority and the education and skills authority are established, we will have to split the services — the schools’ library service is funded by the Department of Education, and the public library service is funded by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. In addition, some people are currently being paid from two separate budgets. However, they are board staff and are being paid partly by the Library Service and partly by the education service. For example, Mrs Connolly is the director of library and corporate services, and part of her salary comes from DCAL and part of it comes from the education service. When the new library authority is set up, we will have to divide the staff so that they are paid by one Department. If, for example, a member of staff decides that they do not want to transfer to the library authority, or if it is not appropriate for them to do so, we could be left with a person whose salary is transferred to the library authority. That could be a major issue.
Mr P Ramsey:
You could also have two redundancies.
Yes; that is another matter. There are issues around staff being treated with equality and how the service would be delivered by the new library authority if staff do not have enough time to set up the systems, processes and structures when it comes into operation. As an organisation, we will be facing problems such as paying staff, processing accounts, monitoring finance, and purchasing materials.
I do not think that there are any risks if the transfers to the library authority and the education and skills authority are managed simultaneously and through the same process.
Thank you for your presentation. Concern has been expressed, not only by yourselves but by others, about how support-services costs for the new authority have been calculated. The fear seems to be that those costs will be greater than anticipated. Do you have any figures indicating the cost? Also, do you have a view on the best location for support services?
We are examining the Deloitte report, and we hope to have discussions with DCAL and colleagues about the concerns that the report has raised. On initial reading, we believe that the costs have been underestimated. We have no figures, but we are prepared to work on that. Also, if we are thinking about efficiency, support services should be at a shared location.
In our view, sharing support services with the education side would be an option. Another option would be to share support services with other agencies in DCAL.
The fundamental concern in your submission, and in others, is that the new library authority may become clinical, with officials living in an ivory towerand losing contact with developments on the ground. How can we ensure that the library authority keeps close contact with the education side and local councils and maintains the kind of “warmth” of the Library Service, as opposed to becoming an organisation that may become clinical?
As a user of the library service, as well as being chairman of the library committee, I connect with my local library. I know the staff; they know me, and that essence must be maintained. There has to be a local connection. I hope that whatever happens as regards the councils they will take a keen interest in the libraries in their area.
I visited a library in the United States in which local volunteers had formed a “Friends of the Library” group. Establishing such groups here, with the help of the local councils, would maintain the local connection. I foresee that the new library authority will be large and efficient, but it will need to maintain a local dimension. There should be a subregional dimension, since, in order to cover the whole of Northern Ireland, the library authority has to be quite large. Councils will have a role to play in that. The original concept of coterminosity should be revisited to assist in that process.
Thank you for your presentation.
I formally welcome Patricia McKeown and Jonathan Swallow from UNISON.
Ms Patricia McKeown (UNISON):
The Committee has UNISON’s written submission in which, of necessity, we have adopted a twin-track approach. Members will know from the first part of our submission that we do not believe it right to proceed with a separate library authority for a number of reasons. We want to return to the original concept of the review of public administration (RPA), which was about achieving better, more effective delivery of public services.
We were very concerned when we saw a proposal in the RPA that would lead to the establishment of a separate quango for libraries, because we could not see sense in that. The proposal seemed to be more about that part of the public service fitting in with the administration of the state rather than looking for the most sensible location for library services.
From an early stage, members of UNISON who work in and service the education and library board sector have been of the clear view that libraries should be part of the education system, and that, whatever type of education structure Northern Ireland ends up with, that is where they should stay.
The fairly widespread public view is that we need to address the existing proliferation of quangos instead of creating new ones. That has been pretty much an all-party argument for a very long time, and for UNISON it is still extremely valid.
We looked at how library services are constructed in Great Britain — where we are the main union in the library sector — and in the Republic of Ireland. Neither jurisdiction has anything vaguely resembling a single authority for libraries. Library services in both of those jurisdictions are constructed in such a way that they are within democratic control, and elected representatives and the community are involved in delivery.
The other issue for Northern Ireland is that the small scale and geographic spread of our libraries do not easily lead to the creation of a single authority to control them. There are a number of reasons for that. The proposed authority would face very significant challenges in building critical mass. There would be particular problems in how corporate overheads, and any other support costs, would be absorbed. The financial and explanatory memorandum did not address that subject in any detail, which UNISON found disappointing. Undoubtedly, that will bear down on the service and employment.
The strength of public feeling in local communities has been seen recently, with the proposed closure of branch libraries. UNISON cannot see how the establishment of a stand-alone body, which would then be required to deal with a range of overheads and other support services, would not end up with a future programme of library closures in order to fund the existence of that body. That concept is completely opposite to that of the RPA, which is about how resources can be channelled down to the front-line services and into communities. An effective structure for doing so already exists in the education and library boards. People are already employed to carry out overhead and support tasks for a very large critical mass of education workers, and they deliver that service in a very cost-effective way for our libraries.
UNISON also has very clear views about the critical links among libraries, wider education and lifelong learning. Those links will be damaged if libraries are taken out of the education sector and left to stand alone. Education reform is outside the brief of the Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure. I realise that the Committee is concerned about the funding of libraries, but we have consistently argued that there needs to be greater crossover among Departments in matters relating to public-service delivery. That is how we should proceed to achieve the most effective services. We saw the recent ministerial announcement about the delay of the education reform structure, and that will have an immediate bearing on the work of the Committee.
The Committee should advise the Assembly that it should not proceed with the draft legislation that proposes a stand-alone library service. That is not in the best interests of the public — particularly in local and rural communities — and it will not achieve a cohesive, all-embracing delivery of education in schools, the workplace and the wider lifelong learning agenda. That is not the best way forward, and it would be better for the Library Service to remain within the education sector. We do not believe that the draft legislation is capable of being amended to that effect, and its recommendations should be set aside.
If that is not the view that is arrived at by the Committee or the Assembly — and I hope that that is not the case — we will make other proposals about the legislation as it stands. In particular, we will make proposals regarding the protection of the workers we represent. We have said some technical things about that in relation to the current draft.
Mr Jonathan Swallow (UNISON):
If the legislation proceeds, there are two issues about which we are concerned. Health reform — the creation of the five trusts — proceeded without an agreed transfer scheme and framework. By the time it happened, we were on the forty-eighth draft. That was a fundamental deficiency, and it was not on the trade union side — we were trying to get it right. That creates a risk of litigation and concern for all involved in the health sector. An agreed transfer scheme would be of enormous benefit to all parties in the process, not just the trade union side. There can be statutory provision for that through the use of the word “agreed” and its definition in the explanatory memorandum.
I am also concerned — and it is the wider policy of the trade union movement on all such reform — that Northern Ireland is clogged up with so many industrial tribunals, with enormous waiting lists. That is not a good way of solving problems. UNISON is proposing a third-party process — unique to the RPA — whereby any individual or group could take an issue in respect of transfer, or failure to abide by transfer schemes or frameworks, and have a speedy resolution. The legislation — if it proceeds — would be enormously strengthened by the inclusion of such provisions.
Mr P Ramsey:
It is important to look at the library provision in the legislation, and we are questioning a number of the submissions that have been made. You have expressed concerns on literacy and lifelong learning, and the important role of early-years development. How do you feel about those areas coming under a single authority that would be funded exclusively by the Department of Education, rather than DCAL or the education boards? Your submission also expresses your concern that there is no grievance procedure in the existing library provision; I am also concerned about that.
How would you like to see the Bill amended to ensure that different mechanisms will be in place to give resolution and comfort to employees with grievances?
Are you concerned that setting up the library authority before the education and skills authority will have adverse effects for your members? How will that affect morale? Should the two bodies be set up in synchronisation?
I will answer Lord Browne’s question. We do not want the Assembly to set up a separate library authority, but setting it up on a different timescale to the reorganisation of the education sector would be a disaster. We are already experiencing problems in the Health Service, where there has been some reorganisation in a significant part of the service while the other part has been, quite rightly, stalled — and we were advocates of that stalling. The difficulty is that there are big morale issues for a large number of staff who are uncertain about the future.
Low morale and uncertainty have a knock-on impact on service delivery, and we hope that that will be put right. However, there is a big lesson to be learned when it comes to the education and library sector. Somebody else has already got a mess on their hands, and we do not want to see the same thing replicated in the education and library sector. We have made that very clear. The current employers feel exactly the same way, and it would be as big a nightmare for them as it would be for the unions.
I shall pick up the point on literacy. I had the privilege of working with the Belfast Education and Library Board and the unions on a review of literacy provision. The clear outcome of that review was that we should get all hands on deck, get focused, and integrate services, because the review found that 25% of pupils in Belfast were functionally illiterate when they left school. Devastating statistics require urgent responses. However, we found that, although we could form partnerships with other bodies, the more issues we had under direct control and under direct inclusion in the literacy strategy, the more effective that strategy could be. Losing that organic link with the Library Service would be profoundly damaging. Let us remember that literacy is a central part of the health equality strategy: people who are literate are also healthier. This is a fundamental policy issue that crosses several Departments and we must be careful that we do not weaken the cohesion to focus through the education service.
We work with employers on lifelong learning literacy training for people who have been let down by the schools system. We should not be doing that; we should be running other forms of training jointly with employers, and the schools system should be producing pupils with literacy skills.
As for grievances, trade unions will negotiate effective internal grievance systems, whatever structures emerge. That issue arises if the system were to fail during the transfer process. We are seeking a fail-safe third-party mechanism across the review of public administration as the best way of giving people confidence and belief that they will be treated fairly during the difficult circumstances of merging.
That is also very detailed work. The Committee has documentation of the work being done under the auspices of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in the central RPA negotiations. That work is at a fairly advanced stage and involves the type of amendment that would be necessary to give effect to it in the legislation — which we hope will not proceed anyway.
We probably all agree that the new library authority is unlikely to be established before 1 April 2008. If that were the case, would there be any risks or disadvantages for your members?
I cannot see any risks at all in the status quo.
Mr Swallow mentioned cohesion. Everyone is worried that the new library authority may become separated from the grass roots. Ms McKeown said that the legislation is not capable of amendment anyway, but if the worst comes to the worst — in Ms McKeown’s terms — and there is a new library authority, how could cohesion be retained, and how could legislation ensure that we keep in touch with the grass roots in education, local authorities and so on?
One way would be for the new library authority to have democratic representation of communities and elected representatives on its board, and other interest groups, such as other public-sector providers.
We must be much more imaginative when considering new structures. We are fearful of unaccountable quangos — there is no imperative on them to do business collectively and cohesively.
Do you also welcome the inclusion of members of trades unions and their representatives?
Yes. However, we believe that we ought to be included as of right, rather than go through a vetting system that requires us to measure up to somebody else’s standards.
Could you address Jim’s question, Patricia?
We do not think that there are risks with the status quo. Obviously, people are nervous because everyone wants to know of what the new structures will consist. The sensible decision is to wait, rather than put anyone in the position that approximately 60,000 health workers found themselves in. We are still dealing with the fallout from that.
On the question of risks, education boards provide corporate support services such as payroll, asset management and cleaning to libraries. The mood music in some circles is that both the library authority and the education and skills authority want to go their own way on those matters — almost like a clean-break divorce, heaven help us.
That leaves people at risk, because we do not have whole-time equivalents. Therefore, for example, the library authority would have no one to manage cleaners. As a result, the inevitable contracting out would follow. Regarding the payroll, asset management and other corporate sections, there is no way of transferring any individual — under The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 legislation — as no one is identified with the work. However, there is a substantial loss of workload, and, as a result, there will be redundancies.
There are knock-on effects. It is disturbing to see the emergence in both organisations — even in preliminary discussions on new structures — of a culture in which people want to make a clean break and go their own way.
I share your overview on quangos. Unfortunately, we are not here to discuss quangos; we are here to discuss a Bill. With any new authority, start-up costs need to be properly identified and funded. The Department has stated that it has set aside £670,000 for start-up costs. Do you have any reason to believe that £670,000 is sufficient, or will further money be required to meet start-up costs?
We strongly believe that further money will be required for start-up costs — if not immediately, soon. However, if the functions that still have to be carried out, such as the delivery of services and the employment of staff, are properly dealt with, further money will be very quickly required in the short term.
We cannot understand why a crazy proposal to replicate what is already in place should be on the cards at all. The Department would be better served by putting that money into the reform of education per se.
What will the costings be? Are you in negotiations about costings to cover the issues that you have identified?
We do not know what size the proposed empire will be — that is how we regard it.
Empires grow. It would be useful to gauge your opinion about how costs might escalate. If costs are to be challenged, the obvious question is: how much will those costs be?
We will be very happy to give our opinion in consultation with the education and library boards. They will tell us the extent to which their staff provide core and support services on the delivery side — I think that that is a quantifiable figure.
Will you provide the Committee with that information when it has been completed?
Yes, I would be pleased to do that.
I would be grateful to receive it.
In a divorce, an inventory of assets is usually produced. In this case, the inventory of assets consists of buildings, people and their work. I would start by counting heads and asking what proportion of each person’s time is occupied by library work. I would then estimate the effect of the divorce, should two separate identities be opted for or support continue to be provided. The Department has not carried out enquiries in any detail, and we have had no evidence from our members of such a census approach being taken. If a sound baseline for start-up costs is to be established, those enquiries are essential and must happen.
It is strange that you have not done that.
That is not our responsibility. The proposal came from the Government and from Departments, which have all the resources and knowledge to make those enquiries.
On the basis that you question the figures —
We question the figures on the basis of experience. We have lived through so many public-sector reorganisations — not least in health — and have seen the consequences.
Will you have a crack at it for us?
The existing employers should do some work on that matter. They know, in detail, the extent to which the existing workforce provides services that keep an efficient, first-class library service operating.
I thank Patricia McKeown and Jonathan Swallow from UNISON for attending and presenting evidence. The Committee is grateful.
I formally welcome the deputation from the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA), which comprises John Corey, Mary McVeigh and Alison Millar. John, please introduce your team.
Mr John Corey ( Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance):
I am joined by Alison Millar, who is the NIPSA official responsible for approximately 800 members from the Library Service. We represent more than 70% of library staff. Mary McVeigh is the chairperson of our library subgroup and a real live librarian. That is the team; I am the general secretary of NIPSA.
Please present your evidence. Incidentally, thank you for your detailed submission, which we have all read twice. [Laughter.]
I am pleased to hear that. I understand that the convention is that I should present for five minutes and allow time for questions. However, if the Committee agrees, and given the technical nature of the points that we have raised, I do not intend to speak for five minutes. There are two parts to the evidence that we have submitted and to the issues that concern us.
There are general issues regarding a library authority in the first part of the Bill and in schedule 1. The Executive made it clear that the schedule 2 provisions will become the model for all RPA transfers. The provisions of schedule 2 go significantly beyond the proposed library authority.
Alison Millar will deal with the first part of our evidence about the provisions of the Libraries Bill, which Mary will comment on. I will deal with schedule 2. The Committee has helpfully identified the main issues and some questions from our submission, which we are happy to deal with.
Ms Alison Millar ( Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance):
NIPSA suggests that the ancillary powers of the library authority be widened. Not all libraries are established by statute — the Linen Hall Library is an example — so NIPSA wants to ensure that the new library authority can work and co-operate with other relevant bodies without impediment. The ancillary powers are too narrow; we should ensure that the authority is inclusive rather than exclusive.
The legislation on charges for certain library services is narrow and could give rise to discriminatory procedures. The legislation could be interpreted in several ways: could one person be charged more than another? Will individuals and corporate bodies be charged differently? Will a foreign national be charged differently? The legislation is ambiguous. Those are NIPSA’s main concerns.
The size of the library authority’s governing board is one of the issues that arise from paragraph 2 of schedule 1, which deals with membership. Eight members is too few, and NIPSA suggests extending that number to between 12 and 18 because a board of between eight and 12 would not provide the necessary breadth of knowledge, experience, and fair representation of interests.
There should be fair representation for all sections of society — elected representatives, trade union nominees and representatives from the business community — in the allocation of seats. That is not reflected in the established bodies, which do not have trade union nominees or elected representative as of right. Each of those sections should receive a third of the seats.
The question was asked whether trade unions have seats on the education boards — we do not, which is due to the current regime. Historically, the education and library boards always had elected representatives and trade union nominees present as of right. That was fair and reflected the aspirations of those that we represented on the education and library boards.
NIPSA is trying to ensure a turnover in tenure of office in line with current recommendations so that a chairperson does not serve more than two terms of three years. That is to ensure that there is some turnover, but also allows for consistency. No one will be able to serve more than six years as a chairperson.
We also raised the issue of secondment. We are not opposed to how that is treated in the Bill, but we want to broaden the provision to have a two-way process, allowing for Civil Service secondments between the education and skills authority and the library authority, and between the library authority and the education and skills authority. Provision in the Bill is too prescriptive, and it needs to be broadened so that secondment arrangements that are appropriate for everyone are in place.
We raised the issue of the schools’ library service with Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure officials over the past few months. At present, the library service itself is small and receives a small funding allocation, yet the schools’ library service has to be funded from within that. It is proposed that the schools’ library service be placed under the aegis of the education and skills authority, and the public library service placed under the aegis of the Northern Ireland library authority. Staff should be able, for career-development purposes, to transfer between the two organisations, and in the case of redundancy, for example, staff could be protected by redeployment from the schools’ library service into the public library service, and vice versa.
I raised that matter at an informal meeting with the chief executive designate, who was appointed only recently. Expressions of sympathy were made by her and by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. I again raised the matter informally with Mr Gavin Boyd, the chief executive designate of the education and skills authority. Although those concerns were noted, they were in a long line of issues that the chief executive will have to deal with, and we are concerned that they will fall off the agenda. That is why we particularly want to protect staff. I should explain that staff are not appointed to the schools’ library service; they just end up there. People could be transferred from the schools’ library service a week before the Bill is enacted and then find themselves in the Northern Ireland library authority. Those are most of the issues that we wanted to cover in respect of schedule 1 to the Bill.
Mary, do you wish to add to that?
Ms Mary McVeigh ( Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance):
Then we will proceed to questions.
Yes, and we will deal with schedule 2, if that is acceptable.
I am unsure about the schedules, but I will ask some questions because we are short of time.
I welcome the witnesses. You are all busy people and I wish you well with your course of action. I will ask about savings, and then about costs. In your submission, you state an obvious concern about the way in which the savings predicted for 2009-10 and 2010-11 have been calculated. You do not accept that these figures are accurate. Do you think that the Department has overestimated the savings that can be made?
My next question is about start-up costs, which need to be properly identified. Some £670,000 is set aside for start-up costs. Have you any reason to believe that that will be enough? Will further money be required because the start-up costs have been underestimated?
We had raised the issue of cost, and mentioned it to the Department and the Minister when we met him in July. Subsequently, I received a letter dated 2 August. However, the information in that letter left me none the wiser.
The first part of your question was about the estimated savings over those two years. Although any new organisation would not need five chief librarians, we were concerned by the proposal to have fewer staff at senior- and middle-management level. However, more importantly, a degree of natural wastage is expected among staff from 2008 to 2011 by way of retirement, but, as I have already said, some of that cannot be absorbed without replacement.
There have been significant cuts in the libraries budget over the past three or four years, and many posts in the Library Service have been lost. We expected that a new library authority would need a capital injection at the start to ensure that it got off to a good start — everyone around the table would want the new library authority to be successful. However, my concerns are that the letter was saying to us that, as staff leave, they would not be replaced. I wonder how that will be received.
We are also concerned about the figure of £670,000, which has been divided — including staff salaries of £380,000 — into £385,000 and £200,000 for consultancy work. We have asked for a further breakdown of the figures so that we can see how they were arrived at and can make a judgement as to whether they are enough. That request was sent to the Department on 13 August. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for a response. We are very concerned that almost one third of the money set aside will be used to pay consultants. That is a huge amount of money for a relatively small organisation.
I sense that NIPSA is set to challenge the Department on its start-up cost figures. Would that be on the basis that it has had costs prepared that indicate that £670,000 is not enough?
We have not received that information. We have asked the Department to explain how it arrived at the figure of £670,000. Without knowing that, as a starting point, it is difficult for us to challenge the figure. We only have three short paragraphs, which do not provide us with the information that would allow us to move forward.
If that information is forthcoming, and NIPSA has an opinion on it, would you apprise us of that? That would be very useful. I am not too sure where NIPSA stands on the setting up of the new authority. Are you in favour, mildly in favour, against, or mildly against?
My colleagues can comment on that point. However, I would like to quickly deal with the finances. The Department has said that £380,000 of the £670,000 is for staff salaries; £85,000 is for premises and computer set-up; £6,000 is set aside for support for board members, and £200,000 is for consultancy, which we are concerned about.
We have come through a process of considering all the options for a new library authority, but the current view of Library Service staff, the majority of whom are NIPSA members, is that they favour a single library authority as the best option for the delivery of a library service in the future. However, there is a significant concern about the interface between the schools’ library service and the new library authority.
On the question of the timing of the establishment of a new library authority, and whether we have a problem with a delay until 1 April 2008, the simple answer is no. It makes sense from an employment-relations point of view to introduce the education and skills authority and the library authority at the same time.
Thank you for that answer.
It is interesting that you are in favour of the establishment of a single library authority, but that you also have concerns about how that authority may lose contact with the educational establishment. What recommendations would you make to ensure that the new library authority keeps in touch with the grass roots in the way that the current library system does?
We have not come prepared to answer that specific question, but I will ask my colleague Mary McVeigh from the Library Service to comment on that. It is fair to say that our members in the Library Service feel that it has been the Cinderella service of the education and library boards. They feel that when difficult times come, the Library Service always suffers most. They believe that the creation of a clear single library authority in Northern Ireland would remove that difficulty and enable the service to stand on its own. Mary may wish to say more about that.
Our members are very much in favour of rural libraries and libraries in the community. I would say that they are 100% behind maintaining the links that already exist in communities. They do not envisage that the establishment of a single library authority would change that.
I disagree slightly. There is always a possibility that when a service becomes strongly centralised —
We would want to make sure that —
That is exactly the question that I asked. John said that you might not have been prepared for the question, so it would be useful if you could send the Committee a written submission on that matter.
I am in charge of the Irish and Local Studies Library in Armagh, which is part of the Southern Education and Library Board. We hope that a library such as ours would not be caught up in a central body in Belfast, and that we could maintain those types of local facilities.
I understand that.
I congratulate you on your full and good submission. You said that, in general, you had no objection to the provision for secondments between the new authority and the education and library boards. You also say that the Bill does not mention the schools’ library service and that staff should retain the right to move between the public library service and the schools’ library service. As the Bill stands, paragraph 6 of schedule 1 mentions only secondments from the Civil Service. Have the staff of the boards expressed any view on that, and have you had any indication from the Department whether such secondments and moves would be allowed?
As I have already said, sympathy has been expressed, but sympathy expressed at informal meetings does not necessarily translate into action in reality. At this point, our concern is that because staff in the schools’ libraries service make up quite a small group within the Library Service, they will be forgotten about until it is too late. We want to ensure that the schools’ library service is taken into account. I do not know how that matter sits within a legislative framework.
The education and skills authority will be responsible for the schools’ library service, and I am not sure how it will interact with the new library authority. I will bow to those who know more about writing legislation than I do, but does a specific provision need to be written into the legislation to allow for the transfer of staff for career development purposes, and, perhaps, for a redundancy situation? When I have raised the issue, sympathy has been expressed, certainly by DCAL officials and Irene Knox, but we have seen nothing formally in writing. Obviously, there must be liaison with the Education Committee and the chief executive of the proposed education and skills authority.
How would you describe staff morale at the moment? Are they anxious?
They are very anxious. The one question that is asked at every single meeting I have with staff is about the schools’ library service — it is even asked by those who do not currently work in the schools’ library service. That gives an indication of the level of anxiety.
I commend NIPSA on its presentation and on the information that it has provided. I also commend it on its campaign for classroom assistants, and we hope that that will be success. NIPSA certainly has our support.
Alison, you answered many of the questions before they were even put to you. You mentioned the membership of the authority. Keep me right, but I believe that NIPSA’s proposal was that one third of board members should comprise business representatives, another third should be community representatives, and the final third should be elected representatives. Is that correct?
No. One third should comprise business and community representatives, another third should be elected representatives, and the final third should be trade union nominees.
I may have missed your comments about the number of members on the new library authority board. How many would you recommend should be on the board? You are not agreeable to there being only seven and, to be fair, I think that some of us are not happy with that either. I am interested in your opinion on that.
There should be between 12 and 18 members on the board.
You also mentioned tenure of office. Again, my opinion may differ slightly from yours, but I am keen to learn your opinion on the matter. You said that a chairperson should serve for a maximum period of one term. I am not saying that a person should be a chairperson for life, or even that he or she should be like the Chairman of this Committee. [Laughter.] However, if the library authority’s board had a good chairperson, whoever that might be, would it not be better, for the sake of consistency, to be flexible on the maximum term for which that person could serve?
We said in our submission that the reappointment of a chairperson should be for a maximum of one term. Therefore, the total period in office would amount to two terms. Normally, a chairperson would be appointed for three years. Consequently, the maximum time for which a chairperson could serve would be six years. After that time, it is only fair that the post be advertised and that the same chairperson not be reappointed. Such a turnover would allow for fresh thinking to be brought to the post. That is why NIPSA suggests a maximum period of six years — that is, the original term and the additional term.
Are you saying that a chairman who has been in post for six years could put his or her name forward for reappointment?
NIPSA broadly accepts, and this is now the norm for public appointments, that people should not serve any more than two terms. Furthermore, those terms should last for three or four years. We have accepted that broad point.
NIPSA believes that it is right that the library authority, the education and skills authority or the health authority should include elected public representatives. That is consistent with the review of public administration’s principle on democratic accountability — now accepted by the Executive — which states:
“elected representative, both locally and regionally, can play their full role. That role includes decision making about services”.
However, NIPSA also says that representatives of employees, and of employers, in the sense of social-partnership representation, should be included.
Are trade unions represented on the education boards?
They used to be represented on the education boards. However, the current public-appointments system tends to exclude representational groups. That is not in the best interests of the authority, or public services. Some public bodies are no longer wholly representative of society, because different sectors of society are not represented.
John, may I ask you to move on to the second part of your submission?
May I ask another question, quickly? Mr Corey, you have expressed concerns about your staff. Do you feel that enough of your members will apply for redundancy packages and, therefore, make the savings work?
No. We want the jobs to be retained. We will not encourage people to leave the organisation.
John, could I ask you to move on to the second part?
I would like to mention schedule 2 to the Bill, which provides for transfer schemes. NIPSA has provided some comments on the schemes in our written submission. We have submitted those comments to the Committee in a separate appendix.
The points that we have raised in our submission are all based on advice from senior legal counsel Mr Frank O’Donoghue QC. The facts are that those points have not been resolved to our satisfaction. The Committee asked whether those points had been resolved in negotiations with the Department. The answer is no, and that is because the parliamentary draftsman’s response to all the points that were raised was that he did not think that any of our suggested amendments were necessary. We remain in disagreement, so we have come before the Committee to put those points at the Bill’s Committee Stage.
I apologise that the matter is so technical; I may struggle to get everything across. The first point relates to paragraph 1 of schedule 2. Paragraph 1 provides for a scheme, the three elements of which are set out at 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c). Our legal advice is that paragraph 1 is deficient, because it does not also create any rights or liabilities for the employee or between the employee and either the transferor or the new authority.
The legal advice is that there should be wording in paragraph 1 to create rights and liabilities between employees and the transferor or the authority.
The response from the parliamentary draftsman is that that is not necessary because of paragraph 4(2), which states that The Transfer of Undertakings (Protections of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) apply:
“The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (S.I. 2006/246) apply to the transfer whether or not the transfer would, apart from this paragraph, be a relevant transfer for the purposes of those regulations.”
The parliamentary draftsman’s argument is that additional wording is not needed because of that provision. Our legal advisor’s concern has been that, even though there is a provision in paragraph 4(2) — which he refers to an antonymous paragraph; in other words, its meaning is opposite to the rest of the scheme — an industrial tribunal could still face a challenge from an employer that a particular transfer is not a relevant transfer for the purposes of TUPE.
The underlying reason behind this is that TUPE legislation does not apply to public-sector reorganisations — they are excluded. Therefore paragraph 4(2) has been included in the Bill — as an antonymous provision — as an attempt to make TUPE legislation apply to public-sector reorganisations.
Nonetheless, our legal advisor is concerned that that could be challenged in an industrial tribunal. His point is that the whole of schedule 2 should make it clear that the transfer scheme includes employee rights and liabilities by adding appropriate wording to paragraph 1 of schedule 2. That is the point that carries through from the other points made in paragraphs 6 to 8 of appendix 1 to our submission. The same point is made in those paragraphs and, hopefully, they have explained the underlying factors. That is part of the complexity of TUPE legislation and transfer legislation.
To move on to other points that were raised in our submission: we raised a concern about paragraphs 4(3)(c) and 4(3)(d) of schedule 2. We believe that paragraph 4(3)(c) should include a reference to incorporating independent arbitration. Currently, the paragraph refers to procedures designed to resolve grievances, but we believe that that should be extended to include the phrase “incorporating independent arbitration”. We were also concerned that paragraph 4(3)(d) should include a clear reference that the determination of the compensation should be subject to the procedures under grievance and independent arbitration.
Again, the parliamentary draftsman’s response was that those amendments are not considered necessary, and he went on to argue that if anyone was dissatisfied with the compensation that they received, they could go to an industrial tribunal. With the greatest respect, we believe that that misses the whole point of why the legislation for a transfer scheme exists. The point is that we are trying to secure a statutory duty on all employers under the review of public administration to provide for transfer arrangements for employees that are additional to TUPE.
That is the entire purpose of this. It is not a satisfactory response to say that the changes do not have to be made because if anyone were dissatisfied about compensation, he or she could go to an industrial tribunal, presumably under TUPE legislation. The key point is that one can only go to an industrial tribunal under TUPE legislation if one has constructively dismissed oneself or been otherwise dismissed. The procedures that NIPSA wants to set up under a transfer scheme are to enable employees to pursue complaints in order to be paid compensation and grievances, but remain in their employment. That is the fundamental difference. There has been no resolution on that. In our submission, we proposed specific amendments that could be made to paragraphs 4(3)(c) and 4(3)(d). We stand by those suggested amendments. We believe that they are reasonable because they are based on other models of legislation that use the same type of phrases.
I would now like to refer to paragraph 4(6) of schedule 2. I apologise if members were mislead by paragraph 11 of appendix 1 of or submission, which refers to “paragraph 6”. It should have read “paragraph 4(6)”. That sub-paragraph deals with grievances and who will hear them. NIPSA is concerned that the sub-paragraph, as drafted, does not make it sufficiently clear that grievances will be heard by an independent person or body. It will be left to the authority or the employer to nominate any person or body that it wishes to hear a particular grievance. That person or body does not necessarily have to be appointed by the Labour Relations Agency in line with independent arbitration arrangements.
Therefore, we believe that paragraph 4(6) should be revised in line with the wording that we have suggested:
“Procedures under paragraph (3)(c) and (3)(d) above shall include a mechanism for grievances to be referred to independent arbitration under the aegis of the Labour Relations Agency.”
I must say that I have never before seen the formulation of words that appears in the Bill in legislation that relates to employees, grievances and independent arbitration. I am not sure of the background from which it came.
In passing, I want to point out that the Public Service Commission has requested that the order of paragraphs 4(3)(c) and 4(3)(d) be reversed in order to make it clearer that the consideration of compensation is a matter that falls under grievance procedures. At present, the mention of grievance procedures comes before compensation. The commission has suggested that paragraph 4(3)(c) should deal with compensation and that paragraph 4(3)(d) should deal with grievance procedures. However, we stand by our suggested amendments.
Finally, paragraph 4(5)(b) deals with pension protection. We are concerned that it does not adequately protect pension benefits. The draft legislation states that:
“‘pension protection’ is secured for a transferring employee (‘T’) if after the change in T’s employer T has, as an employee of the Authority, rights to acquire pension benefits”.
In law, it could be argued that there is a difference between rights to acquire pension benefits and actual pension benefits. NIPSA made that point to the parliamentary draftsman but it was rejected as being unnecessary. Our understanding is that it was rejected because the Department was unwilling to make the change on the basis that, in law, a person has the right not to opt into an employer’s pension scheme. In law, a person can decide that he or she does not want any pension benefits. The Department is saying that it cannot write in a provision that implies that a person must take the pension benefits that will be available in the new authority. That is not right, nor is the idea that the principle — that a person can decide not to have pension benefits — is in any way nullified by the amendment that NIPSA is suggesting.
NIPSA’s written submission suggested amending the paragraph to follow the wording that was used in one of the most recent examples of such legislation, the North/South Co-operation (Implementation Bodies) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999, which dealt specifically with transfer of staff and pension entitlements. NIPSA can see no reason why the same legislative point could not be repeated in the Libraries Bill.
However, as an alternative, NIPSA suggests an even simpler amendment to paragraph 4(5)(b) which currently states:
“as an employee of the Authority, rights to acquire pension benefits and those rights are the same as”.
We suggest removing the words:
“and those rights are the same as”.
The paragraph should be amended to read:
“rights to acquire pension benefits which are the same as”.
That would meet NIPSA’s point. I want that suggested amendment to be put on the record. The first suggestion was to follow the North/South implementation bodies’ legislation model. However, I have made the further suggestion that NIPSA’s point of concern would be met by the above amendment.
Those are the key points of the legislation that are of concern to NIPSA, and we have not resolved them with the Department. As I said at the outset, they are critically important, because they are not relevant to the library authority alone. The Executive have made it clear that this will be the model for all review of public administration transfers, so we must get it right.
Given the time pressure that the Committee is under, I will allow two contributions. However, we will study everything that NIPSA has said today and its written submission. Thank you.
We were with you all the way until you mentioned schedule 2. I am glad that the Committee Stage has been extended until February to allow us to consider it all — that was positive thinking on the Committee’s part. Normally, technical arguments put us to sleep, but you have woken us up, John. It is heavy material, and you have almost taken the Committee through a training exercise. The Committee will scrutinise the Bill line by line, and we are glad of your input.
As the Chairperson said, the Committee will need to examine in depth what you said and the amendments that you are asking for. Will you be blunt and tell the Committee where you are going with this, and what you want the Committee to do? Are you looking for sponsors, or for someone to assist you in what you are doing? I am not clear about that. You have made your points; do you then have to convince someone in the Assembly to argue those cases? Have you started that?
Yes. We have started the process in that this Committee will be considering the Bill at its Committee Stage. As you have said, that involves a line-by-line scrutiny of the clauses, and NIPSA is seeking to influence the Committee in that examination.
I understand that.
If NIPSA must make further representations in order to get the legislation amended, it will try to do so. It would have been better had the parliamentary draftsman agreed with NIPSA’s written representations, which were based on senior counsel advice. However, that was not achieved. The Committee has a copy of the response that NIPSA received from the Department, which more or less says —
Have you met officials from the Department about it?
We have not met the parliamentary draftsman directly. However, NIPSA is open to having a discussion with the draftsman, or his staff, to see whether we can resolve our differences on those points.
That would have been helpful.
We could meet the parliamentary draftsman to talk about that.
The parliamentary draftsman will have to talk to the Committee. There is no point in the Committee acting as a mediator.
I am intrigued by the notion that someone might not want their pension transferred.
I am not an expert on pension law, but any employee can now tell their employer that they do not wish to participate in their pension scheme. It would be foolish to do that, but that is one of the legacies of Thatcher’s laws on public-sector pensions.
I thank John Corey, Alison Millar and Mary McVeigh for their attendance and for giving us plenty to think about.