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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


@ben4ipswich MP tweets a lot but fails to update website

Ipswich Spy is having a go at Ipswich MP, Ben Gummer, for not updating his web site with sufficient frequency. “Mr Gummer is, once again, failing to communicate,” it says of the lack of post on his blog since January.

Failing to communicate through his web site is certainly true but there are other ways of using social media. For instance, he told his 2,200 followers that on Tuesday he had a sandwich in the Brewery Tap. It was the best he had ever had and, he says, he was not drinking.

That news came via twitter of which Gummer is a frequent and regular user. Yesterday he gave us a more serious insight into his views.

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ben4ipswich/status/235788691757469696″]

So perhaps the performance indicators which the Spy complains are not being updated should include a running total of the number of tweets he has made.

The Spy does not mention the other Ipswich MP, Dan Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) who has posted three news updates on his website this month (not bad in the recess) , the latest on his reappointment “as Chair of the influential All-Party Parliamentary Group on Maternity. ”

So far as I know Poulter does not tweet. Please do not confuse Dr Dan with @dan_poulter who recently told his followers “Jet washing your foot hurts”


The Costa wars: Battles for individuality from Southwold to Totnes

Apocalyptic stories in the papers today. “Anger spilled onto the streets of Southwold after a national coffee chain was allowed to open in the town centre,” according to the East Anglian Daily Times.

“The locals of Totnes have gone to war,” says the Guardian.

Can the Costa riots be far away? In both towns there are loud campaigns against plans to open branches of Costa Coffee.

One of the pleasures of Southwold is that it is not filled with the same shopfronts as everywhere else. It is a long time since I have been to Totnes, Devon, but I recall another town centre worth exploring.

At the same time I do use Costa branches, although it is relegated if there is a branch of Caffé Nero around. Why choose one of these over-priced national chains before a locally-owned cafe when I am an unfamiliar town?

I guess I have had too many experiences of finding the the only other option is stale filter coffee. Or, if there is an espresso machine, asking for a cappuccino and getting something like a latte with froth. So I go for the familiar brand.

Sometimes there are local places that beat the national chains. In Woodbridge my choice is Browsers Bookshop ahead of the Cafe Nero, a few doors away, or the Costa a bit further on.

Given the the way the planning laws and free market work, probably the only thing that will keep the chains away is the prospect that they won’t make sufficient profit.

The rapid growth in the coffee shop market is underlined by Costa which contributed nearly a third of the Whitbread group’s £1,788 million sales in the 2011-12 financial year. They opened 332 new shops, more than half of them in the UK in the year.

This year  they plan to open 350 new stores. Clearly there is a growing demand which can be met profitably despite the group having to refinance £441 million of debt in the last financial year.

Italian visitors to England are shocked at the price of a cup of coffee in England. Surely the way to keep the coffee chains out of high streets of towns like Southwold and Totnes is to have places that offer a similar experience at a lower price.

The way to keep out the chains of shops and restaurants must be to offer customers something better for their money.






Seckford boss resigns from Suffolk libraries board

Seckford Foundation boss Graham Watson has resigned from the board of Suffolk Libraries. He was one of the directors nominated by community groups.

One of the foundation directors appointed by the County Council, Clive Fox from Aldeburgh, resigned as chairman of Suffolk’s Libraries Industrial and Provident Society in March but said he would remain on the board at least until June. He has also resigned from the board.

A spokesman for the IPS confirmed that Watson had resigned on June 16 because, “He felt that his other work commitments meant he could give the IPS the time and energy it needed at this critical time.” He added they would “like to thank Graham for everything he has done to bring the IPS forward.”

Watson is Director of the Secford Foundation and Bursar of Woodbridge School, a public school, which it runs.

The most recent annual report, for the year ended August 31, 2011, of the Seckford Foundation says:

The desire of Suffolk County Council to divest itself from certain activities has led to a number of potential activities being examined during the year including the provision of local library services and expansion of the provision of care homes. Whilst these activities met the charitable objectives of the Foundation these have not been taken further at the current time, largely as a result of changes in policy by Suffolk County Council, but the Governors continue to keep such potential activities under review, not least as part of the current strategic review.

Watson has been heavily engaged in Seckford’s plans to set up a chain of free schools. This scheme took a blow last month when a bid to open a Free School in Stoke-by-Nayland was rejected by the Deartment for Education.

Its other two free schools, at Saxmundham and Beccles, are to open in September but have been hit by a low uptake of places.

Figures given by the Foundation to the East Anglian Daily Times this week show 64 children have chosen to attend the Beccles school and 163 at Saxmundham. These figures are higher than those released under a Freedom of Information request to the County Council. These show pupil counts of 42 for Deccles and 85 for Saxmundham.

Mark Bee, leader of Suffolk County Council opposes the Beccles Free School and will be giving evidence to the scrutiny committee of Waveney District Council next week.

This post has been edited to remove factual inaccuracy. 

‘There’s a good time coming’ — hope for Suffolk libraries

In 1863 Debenham’s volunteer library, the Literary and Mechanics Institute, held a series of public readings. The final event of the season included a song, There’s a Good Time Coming Girls which starts:

There’s a good time coming girls,
A good time coming.
Old maidens may not see the day,
but still shall give a loud hurrah!
for the good time coming.

From 2012, this feminist song, which looked forward to the time when “women rule instead of men”, looks over optimistic.

In the middle of the 19th century, public, rate-funded libraries were in their infancy. For most places a locally volunteer library was the only option. Gradually they were replaced by council-run libraries, a better way of creating a service accessible to all.

Yesterday, Suffolk County Council handed control of its 44 libraries to an Industrial and Provident Society. The council will continue to provide the core funding for a free library service operating across the county with a common book stock.

And the IPS now running Suffolk libraries has women, Shona Bendix, chair of the board, and Alison Wheeler, general manager, at its head. So in this little world of libraries, that song recited in Debenham 149 years ago has come true.

They are starting on what Public Libraries News today describes as the “Suffolk Experiment”.

Under the heading Suffolk transfers to control by Industrial and Provident Society PLN writes:

In a move that is being welcomed by some and feared by others, Suffolk has transferred its entire library service to a mutual society.  As with a Trust, the main advantage of this is that there are tax savings, or more accurately money back from non-domestic rates. In addition, supporters and even the Council itself says that savings will be made by no longer being part of the Council bureaucracy.  All libraries will retain paid staff and generally appear unchanged in all major ways.  However, the amount of money expected to be saved by the transfer – a £2.6m cut – is a tough target.  The Suffolk experiment, for that is what it is, also runs the danger of being used as a model by other councils desperate to save money without closing libraries.  It may be too soon to do this with confidence but these are the toughest of times and many would prefer being a library user in Suffolk than in Doncaster about now.

I too have reservations about how this experiment will work. But the most important thing is that we still have a free county-wide library service and staff are not being replaced by volunteers (there are likely to be more of them to help improve the service). See Shona Bendix’s message to users.

It means that no libraries are being closed. That is hugely important because it is much easier to close a library than reopen or replace one that has been closed.

The arguments for a library service run by democratically elected representatives (i.e. councillors) are strong and my preference.

Yet the optimistic view of many, but not all, campaigners in Suffolk is that the IPS and individual library support groups can make a better job of running the service in straitened times than the county council.

The hard work is only just beginning. No one really knows how it will progress, but the way will be bumpy, for sure.

I agree with PLN there is a danger of others grasping the IPS model without really understanding what it involves or that it is, at the moment, an unproved approach.

The process by which Suffolk got to the point it is at now, is not the same as that in most other parts of the country. For a start, I can’t think of another area which has lost it council chief executive and leader in the middle of the decision making. That forced fresh thinking on all sides.

For places facing library closures, the IPS model is worth looking at if it will avoid closures.

Generally, I just hope. “There’s a good time coming…”

The first day under new management at Suffolk’s smallest library

Debenham library with banner and manager

Manager Maureen John at the door of Debenham library with the new Suffolk Libraries banner

Customers noticed little difference today as control of Suffolk Libraries passed from the County Council to a new independent Industrial and Provident Society, a not-for-profit organisation with unpaid directors.

At Debenham, the smallest library in the county, it was a busy afternoon. A banner at the door signalled the transfer with its slogan, “expanding horizons”.

In a message to library users, Shona Bendix, chair of the IPS, said:

We have been created especially to run the library service.  We have exempt charity status and we are an industrial and provident society, run for the benefit of our membership.

Our membership will be drawn from community groups who want to have a voice in the running of their local library.  Perhaps you would like to join a group, or help to start one?  Talk to the local library staff if you’d like to know more.

There will be no change to the things which are important to you so you will still be able to

  • borrow books for free
  • reserve Suffolk books for free
  • browse on the internet for free for 2 hours a day
  • use any Suffolk library
  • get help with information

We are honoured and proud to run Suffolk’s library services and we are committed to ensuring that the services are customer friendly, meet local needs and keep up the high standards.  This includes keeping our expert and friendly paid staff.

We will not be closing any libraries and there are no plans to replace paid staff with volunteers.

In the future, we want to work with people in communities to improve, and extend your library service.  We’d like to hear from you about your ideas.  Again, talk to local library staff, or email us athelp@suffolklibraries.co.uk

The IPS is funded by Suffolk County Council which has reduced its expenditure. Debenham has set up a working group which will be working with the IPS to develop the library. Since it opened, after a local campaign, in 2003 Debenham library has been very successful, serving a population three or four times that of the village.

Debenham library busy interior

Debenham library

It is now has outgrown the premises, once a bank, and hopes to move, probably to the Primary School. A fortnight ago the working group was awarded £5,366 from a fund set up by the County council to help local groups pioneering new ways working with the IPS. The money will help make the plan to move the library possible.

Yesterday afternoon the library was packed with users of all ages. Loans and library visitors have increased year-by-year while national figures show a decrease

Suffolk libraries to remain in PLR scheme

Suffolk libraries believe they will remain a part of the Public Lending Right (PLR) scheme when they are transferred to an independent Industrial and Provident Society on August 1.

The Society of Authors is concerned that volunteer run libraries would reduce the basis on which loans are calculated and lead to reduced incomes for writers.

This week they wrote to Culture Minister Ed Vaisey. quoting PLR registrar Jim Parker saying:

Under the PLR legislation, PLR only applies to public libraries administered by local library authorities as defined by the Public Libraries Act (1964). This, therefore, would exclude library branches no longer run by the local authority and taken over by voluntary groups.

The letter added that Parker said it would be a “grey area” in locations where local authorities were allowing volunteers to run branches while still remaining under their umbrella.

It looked as if Suffolk, currently one of the PLR sampling areas for calculation of loans of individual books, might fall into this “grey area”.

But I am told by the Suffolk libraries IPS that it believed that they will be eligible to continue to be a part of the PLR scheme.

There would be no advantage in not remaining a part of the scheme as the payments to authors are funded by the Culture Department.

In its letter to Vaisey, the SoA General Secretary, Nicola Solomon, said:

I accepted in my previous letter that taking volunteer run libraries out of the statutory scheme will not have an immediate effect on authors’ incomes as the Government allocates a fixed amount to PLR (around £6.3 million for 2012/13) and the calculation of the rate per loan is essentially a mathematical exercise, dependent on the number of loans and the money available. The rate per loan in 2012 has been fixed at 6.05p and this rate has been falling steadily in response to Government cuts. We are concerned that taking volunteer libraries out of the scheme will lead to an apparent drop in book loans which will encourage Government to propose cutting the already meagre fund still further. We seek an assurance that the overall fund will not be cut due to volunteer run libraries being removed from the scheme. Please let me have that assurance by return.

It is a complex issue and the SoA is asking that the government find a statutory solution that would avoid the possibility of volunteer libraries being sued for copyright infringement. They are also asking for a part of the Digital Economy Act which extends PLR to audio books and e-books to be implemented.

So the threat (Daily Telegraph: Sarah Waters among authors threatening action over ‘Big Society’ lending libraries) is that volunteer libraries which ae not part of the wider system that continues to record all loans and is capable to providing figures for PLR, could be faced with paying copyright fees.

That would face local volunteer libraries with added costs which, I suspect, the Government will want to avoid.

Libraries already pay copyright fees for music through Performing Rights Society licences.
I asked why my local library had to have a PRS licence. It was explained that sessions where children sign along to music needed the licence.

Would the Suffolk model for libraries in a time austerity work for others?

Public Libraries News marks the signing of the contract which will pass Suffolk libraries to an Industrial and Provident Society, writing it is “unsurprising that radical solutions are being sought”.

At a party to mark the agreement to transfer running of the libraries on August 1, we were reminded that it was “not the end, only the end of the beginning”. There is a lot to be done and everyone involved recognises there will be very difficult periods ahead.

The IPS approach has only been taken in Suffolk. It was brave of the County Council to enter into the unknown in this way. It is a tribute to the extremely hard work put in by unpaid directors and the compromises made by the council that it has got to this stage.

Especially that it has got to this stage with a high degree of optimism that even with their reduced budget libraries can continue to develop and improve.

I suspect that several things have not gone quite the way the council expected. The IPS has bargained hard and has gained wide support among library campaigners. All 44 libraries in the county remain open lending books from a centrally managed stock.

For small libraries, like Debenham where about half the loans are ordered from other libraries, fear of fragmentation was a big threat.

As James Hargrave points out the resignation last year of council leader Jeremy Pembroke, and chief executive Andrea Hill, was a pivotal moment. They were behind the New Strategic Direction which was intended to leave the council as an enabler that did not directly run services.

Mark Bee, the affable new leader, promised a different approach. It can be argues that while the tone has changed the libraries are still being outsourced. But the approach has been less rigid than it was in Suffolk and still is in other parts of the country.

Next year local libraries groups, or parish/town councils in some places, will become the owners of the IPS, selecting directors from among themselves. The idea is that eventually all 44 libraries will be members of the IPS.

This puts a lot of power and influence in the hands of people who are committed to libraries and ready to fight for them. There will be more volunteers and fund raising, but the front line paid staff will remain much the same as it is at the moment.

There is huge work to be done after the IPS takes over running libraries, still funded by the county council but on a much reduced budget. Having got so far the IPS model is promising, far better than boarded-up libraries, outsourcing to a commercial library company, or a community interest company run by a “social entrepreneur”.

It may be that others will want to look at the Suffolk Solution. I would be if I lived in Wakefield where the Yorkshire Post reported last week:

Almost half of Wakefield district’s 26 libraries look set to be axed unless community groups step in to take them over.

Council chiefs are seeking to save £800,000 a year by off-loading 12 libraries to voluntary organisations in the biggest shake-up of the service for 30 years.

That sounds very familiar to people in Suffolk who were faced with a similar situation 18 months ago.

(The author is chairman of Debenham Library Working Group, which will soon be adopting a constitution which will enable it to work with the IPS in running the village library.)

Suffolk libraries: county council and IPS have finalised

Confirmation that Suffolk Libraries will transfer to the Industrial and Provident Society on August 1 comes in a press release from the County Council today (July 20).

I have mixed feelings. I still believe that the council and its democratically elected councillors should have continued to provide libraries directly, rather than fund someone else to do its job at a lower price than it would manage itself.

But I also feel optimistic that libraries will be better able to meet their social objectives with the dead hand of bureaucracy and vision-free councillors removed.

Early last year we were faced with what seemed very much like an ultimatum for community groups to support half the county’s libraries or loose them. Huge opposition resulted in a promise that all libraries would remain open and the setting up of “Suffolk’s Libraries” IPS to run them in conjunction community groups.

The community groups will from next year form the membership of the IPS, appointing the directors. Negotiations over funding are bound to be robust.

The present IPS board members are appointed but all those nominated by community groups were agreed by the former chairman and the council.

The board got off to a difficult start with the chairman chosen by the county council deciding to resign from the role. Then the board announced that it was gong to trade as “Suffolk Libraries” dripping the ridiculous apostrophe they had been given.

Negotiations over the contract have clearly been tough. Under the optimistic illustrative timetable presented to the county council last October, the transfer should have taken place on April 7.

Now it is going to happen nearly four months later than planned. Unfortunately, this has extended the period of uncertainty for staff.

One of the urgent tasks for the IPS will be to restore staff morale. They will have to consult over a new staff structure. I believe they will not be following the county council’s idea that new staff should be employed on lower pay rates than existing staff: that is a good starting point.

They will I think communicate well. Certainly they have been talking and listening to the pilot library community groups who were chosen to pioneer new ways of working and local governance.

The number of pilot libraries has reduced to eight following the collapse of the cluster of six Ipswich libraries. (Declaration: I am chairman of the Debenham pilot library working group.)

Among the changes the IPS has made was to recognise that the rules for local library groups which enter into an agreement it was discouraging some community groups. The simpler rules will apply until the first elected board of the IPS is chosen next year.

Everything I have seen demonstrates that the IPS has dedicated and very hardworking people. Now I am waiting to see details of the contract.

In the end I believe that Suffolk can come out of this with a better library service, closely tuned to the needs of communities. It is a vision which is not only about lending books but providing inclusive community hubs.

In Debenham we are planning to move the library to larger premises, increase support for school pupils, develop services for the elderly and disabled, have a larger book stock and much more.

We will undoubtedly need more volunteers and fund-raising to achieve out objectives. But most important is that in Suffolk, unlike many parts of the country, we are not losing any libraries.

Shona Bendix, chair of the IPS, says, in the press release:

Suffolk’s Libraries IPS has a very strong and very clear aim – to do what’s best for the future of the service…

[This transfer] has been a long time coming but I firmly believe that the IPS has found a way to take Suffolk’s library service forward to bigger and better things.

Ben Gummer remembers to follow party line

Ipswich MP, Ben Gummer, this morning showed the frustration we all feel too often when travelling to London and tweeted:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ben4ipswich/status/225868621468016640″]

Then he seems to have remembered that he is a Government supporting MP and three minutes later added:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/ben4ipswich/status/225869318464888832″]

You might feel he should “think before tweeting” but I take it as a welcome sign that his concerns are ones we all share. It seems there had been a problem with overhead lines at Diss

Not sure whether his neighbouring MP Therese Coffee (Suffolk Coastal) was thinking about his travel problems or his need for a clarification when she tweeted:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/theresecoffey/status/225874589828390913″]

She had reason to be frustrated too. A little earlier she tweeted she had been on Jamaica Road for an hour and asking if anyone knew why the Rotherhithe Tunnel appeared to be blocked.

How Barclays insurance deals with a scratched car


Delivering a hire car in rural Suffolk

Even Conservatives are admitting that private is not always better than public when it comes to running things. As William Waldergrave, who was one of Thatcher’s ministers told the Times, people who believe “private companies are always more efficient than the public service have never worked in real private enterprise”.

Yesterday I saw an example for myself. This huge truck (seen from my bedroom window) was parked for more than two hours and I went out to find the reason.

Reason is perhaps not the right word. What was happening was completely unreasonable, and that is not because it was parked on a double yellow line.

This is the story I heard: A driver misjudged parking a car and made a small scratch on the car of a local businessman. As the car was fairly new he decided he should treat it as an insurance claim.

The insurance company said it would deliver a hire car, collect the damaged vehicle, return it when repaired and then collect the hire car.

The truck was there simply to deliver the hire car, a badly scratched Astra. The businessman was fretting that the driver who clipped his car would face a huge bill, not what he intended.

The insurance business that set all this in train was Barclays, who like to sell expensive add-ons to their banking services.