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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Scotland's Oil

The crash in the oil price shows how vulnerable an independent Scotland would have been if the Yessers had won the Indyref.  The sheer volatility of oil means that an independent Scotland heavily reliant on oil would find itself cutting spending dramatically in circumstances such as these.  Circumstances over which it would have not control.  That is before you worry about the longer term decline in marginal North Sea oilfields, and the effect of the "Dutch Effect" on exports when prices are high.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Asset of Community Value Status for the Former Preston Library

I was interested to see the report that a group is seeking Asset of Community Value (ACV) status for the former Preston Library.  This is the same group that previously announced they want to take the building over if it becomes vacant next year.  I blogged previously that there are extensive problems with the idea of this group taking over a taxpayer asset for a peppercorn rent, as they hope.  What surprises me is that making the building an asset of community value would make these problems worse not better.

Assets of Community Value status has two main effects.  The most important is that someone trying to sell or lease the building can be made to wait six months to allow community groups to see if they can find the funding to pay for it.  At the end of that period, the owner can either accept the bid, or sell to someone else.  The second is that the ACV status can be considered as a "material consideration" by planners considering a planning application.

Market Value?
The first of these conditions makes it basically impossible for the Council to simply transfer the building at a peppercorn rent as the Preston group hopes.  In fact, the Council as owner would be forced to put it up for any community group to make a bid.  In other words, ACV status effectively compels the Council to put it on the market.  If, say, a church were to express an interest the Council would be required to give it six months to raise the funding.  This was exactly the reason that the owner in the case of the former Kensal Rise Library could not simply lease the building to them prior to Planning permission.  It was precisely the ACV status that created the complication.

After six months it becomes more interesting.  A private owner could simply sell to who they liked at the price they liked, including a lower price if they wanted to.  The Council has a fiduciary duty to get best value for the taxpayer, as I explained here.  If it had a higher bid from another group, it might consider itself legally obliged to take it, disappointing the group that secured ACV status whilst seeking to take the building over for a peppercorn rent.

ACV and Planning
The Planning consequences of ACV status are slighter.  I suspect in both the Kensal Rise and The Queensbury cases, the campaigners involved sought it just as a way of making it harder for the owner to sell and/or develop the site.  That doesn't appear to be the aim in the Preston case.

ACV status would be a "material consideration" for planning, but that just means the Planners think about it.  They may not give it much weight.  Brent's existing policies resist loss of community space, and it was this existing policy that was given most weight in planning officer advice to the Committee in both the Kensal Rise and Queensbury cases.  In neither case, did the Council resist developing most of the site for housing.  The limits of using the planning system to block development were also exposed in the Barham Park case

I therefore find it hard to see the logic of why the campaigners to take over this building want it to have ACV status.


A comment has been added that this post does not give the whole picture. Could I ask the anonymous commentator to state what he thinks "could mislead"?

Monday, 20 October 2014

Physical and Other Kinds of Book Loans

A comment on this post asks about why I interested in loans outside physical libraries.  The primary reason is that a lot of the misunderstanding of Brent's Libraries Transformation Project came from the idea that cutting the number of libraries must mean a reduction in usage.  In fact, the opposite turned out to be the case. 

I think key to understanding why this is, is understanding that (1) at least in an urban authority like Brent, travelling to different libraries is actually quite easy (2) library activities such as book loans have become divorced (at least to some extent from actually physically visiting the libraries.

This is obvious when you consider a lot of online actitivities.  If you have a Brent library card you can now look books up in a catalogue, read periodicals, communicate with other library uers and boorrow ebooks without actually setting foot in a library.

However, my post centred on book loans, so lets look at those specifically.

Ebooks, a small but fast growing sector (94% in the last half year) can be totally divorced from a physical visit to a library, as the commentator recognises.

Home Library services were an area we chose to prioritise during the Transformation.  That was a choice based on protecting vulnerable people.  There is no statutory duty to do that. Bristol has been reported as considering closing that service altogether.  Brent went the opposite way, and has massively increased usage.  This is not only not linked to having physical libraries, but pushing resources towards maintaining buildings inevitably means cuts elsewhere, and cuts to the home library service would be one politically easier way to achieve them. 

Outreach Services: I have seen some very snooty comments about outreach services as no more than a "book swop".  In fact, they can be a very valued part of the service.  I think of Brent examples such as at Preston primary school, St Raphael's Childrens Centre or the outreach activities at Kilburn Library during its refurbishment.  Again, Brent chose to emphasise this service and saw usage shoot up as a consequence.  This was a choice that would probably not have happened had Brent chosen to pour its resources into buildings.

Online Renewals:  Online renewals I would accept have a relation to physical loans, although I think it is a fairly loose one.  Nonetheless, making online renewals as easy as possible is important to making book lending easier for the users, which I think should be a central aim for all services.

Phone Renewals: Again these are loosely related to physical loans from buildings, although I suspect they often cannibalise online renewals to some extent.

My overall point is that concentrating on buildings rather than services is the wrong set of priorities.  It is, however, the line that most authorities are taking as they look for budget cuts.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Willesden Green Library Centre and Brent Civic Centre

Yesterday's post about Willesden Green Library Centre reminds me that I meant to do something on its relation to Brent Civic Centre.  An aspect that hasn't come into the debate is that the two are related for emergency planning purposes. 

Were there to be some kind of freak accident making the usual parts of the Civic Centre unusable, there would need to be a Council office from which the Council could still operate its emergency roles.  This would have to be physically separate from the Civic Centre, in case the accident was something like a plane crashing on the Centre.  Willesden Library Centre (in the Council offices bit) can fulfil this role.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Willesden Green Library Centre Detailed Design

I see an opportunity to contribute to the detailed design of Willesden Library Centre has been advertised for 27 October.  I hope it won't be hijacked by people who are just trying to wreck the whole scheme, as it has in the past.  There is little rational point in continuing to try to drag down a project that is now so near to completion.  Willesden Library should help the regeneration of Willesden High Road, and the success of the Libraries Transformation Project, and it is time to accept that. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Looking Beyond Physical Library Buildings

Just to re-emphasise the point I have made before, a large proportion (27.3%) of book loans in Brent are not actually from a physical building at all.  Here are the non-building loans for the half year of 2014.

And here is the table with the actual figures:

Loans As %
Home Library 13.7%
Outreach 34.4%
Online Renewal 37.6%
Phone Renewal 9.1%
Ebook 5.2%
Total 100.0%