New Economic Reality

This conference, rather ironically held in the plush surroundings of the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Edinburgh’s financial quarter, provided a range of high level speakers to address the age of austerity and where and how to fill the deficit gap. The main focus was the Independent Budget Review published by a group led by Crawford Beveridge CBE. Commissioned by the Scottish Government, the report was published in July 2010. There weren’t many laughs in the content – a reduction in the block grant, declining outcomes in education and health despite a higher per capita spend and unaffordable levels of public sector pensions. Robert Black, Auditor General, has been widely quoted in the press, said at the conference we should have prepared for this sooner and to be prepared for a long hard financial winter. A range of other distinguished speakers followed talking sacrifice of sacred cows and putting forward their cases for continued investment. Douglas Sinclair of Consumer Focus Scotland pointed out that all of this was service-centric and failed to take into account the needs of the citizen. Martin Woodrow of the British Medical Association defended ring-fencing health strongly, but failed to secure the support of any of the 200+ delegates.

The most striking speaker was Professor Frances Ruane of Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute who spoke bluntly about Irish solutions and the impact on the economy and individuals and put forward a plea for a monitoring body to measure rolling fairness. The idea is to avoid the same group in society being hit repeatedly by cuts. A panel of representatives for the five political parties gave their views on what they might protect or sacrifice first. Brian Adam MSP spoke for the Scottish Government saying they want to ringfence health budget and protect concessionary travel, free personal care and no rise in the Council tax. The sell-off of Scottish Water is also planned with significant financial benefits, although this will take time. Other solutions suggested are scrapping the Borders Railway and other large public projects. The bad news is that public sector workers account for 60% of the Government expenditure and so years of pay freezes, reductions in staffing by natural wastage, non-compulsory and compulsory redundancies face Scotland. The political parties are all developing their manifestos at the moment and Frances Ruane advised that they all agree on a savings figure and say clearly how they intend to achieve that. As Robert Black says ‘do nothing is not an option’.

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Valuing our professional differences

LLUK held their annual seminar at the Scottish parliament on 15th September. The discussion was chaired by Martyn Wade, LLUK Council Member and Chair of LLUK’s Scotland Committee and focused on workforce development. The specific challenge was ‘how do we create a single lifelong learning workforce for Scotland’s future?’

LLUK has six constituencies: HE, FE, Community Learning and Development, Work Base Learning, Libraries Archives and Information Services (LAIS), and Career Guidance. The immediate response is, of course, whether this is a ‘good thing’ and then shouldn’t we be celebrating our unique contribution since we all meet the needs of our customers with proven success? Each of the sectors had a chance to put forward ways of joining up approaches to CPD, common standards and qualifications, sharing of resources and ways of overcoming barriers.

The discussions were of particular interest in a week when LLUK proposed changing the title of the LAIS National Occupation Standards (NOS) to Knowledge management services, Information and knowledge management services, or Information and knowledge services. In a stated attempt to avoid jargon, the title of one section is suggested at ‘Managing the interface with the customer’. During the development of the last set of NOS, LLUK promoted a generic approach but we have to consider what defines our profession, wide as it already is. We have to balance new skills with traditional, professional ones.

In an interesting discussion, the group agreed that shared competencies and values can sit comfortably at the core and accommodating the uniqueness of sector partners is vital. The event was followed by a Garden Lobby sponsored by Des McNulty MSP.

School Library Petition – Scottish Dimension

School librarians might be interested in enquiries on CILIPS involvement in the current campaign in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. CILIP in Scotland Council discussed this item and also with SLIC.

As many of you know the situation in Scotland is somewhat different.  All secondary schools have a requirement to provide a school library and the COSLA School Library standards which are still active make clear recommendations for the employment of a professionally qualified librarian. Self evaluation tools for schools and supporting documents for  HMIE all reflect the positive input from the appointment of professional librarians. This is certainly not the case in other parts of the UK. Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Lifelong Learning recognised the role of the school librarian at Scottish Learning Festival in September, in particular their role in information literacy. The forthcoming National Youth Information Framework being developed by Young Scot and SLIC will further strengthen this role. The recently published Building the Curriculum for Excellence 4, also recognises the valuable contribution school librarians make in the development of literacy skills.

Over 90% of schools commit to this requirement and the two authorities which don’t are committed to working towards this as posts become vacant. There is however still a threat that posts will become term time. We are trying to deal with these on an issue by issue basis, not always with success it has to be said. Unhappily the public sector across the UK is facing huge challenges and even those services with statutory requirements are facing potential reductions in services, which could have a devastating effect.

In 1999 we had an unsuccessful Scottish Parliament hearing of the case for statutory posts. The current landscape and feedback indicates that this would not be any more successful now than it was then.

Therefore CILIPS and SLIC are happy to encourage support for English colleagues and will keep a watching brief on progress and evaluate the impact of self evaluation and ACE on school services, with a view to considering future political lobbying in the future.

The new self evaluation framework is being launched on 1st December and a letter will go to all Head Teachers, HMIE and Quality Officers in Education Departments highlighting the requirements and positives of professional posts.

Author’s Campaign for the Book

The children’s author Alan Gibbons is launching a ‘Campaign for the Book’ which has the aim of establishing “a network of authors, professional bodies, trade unions and local pressure groups to resist attacks on reading for pleasure”. In a recent article Alan writes about how reading for pleasure is being eroded as both public and school libraries are facing the challenge of cuts in library budgets, resulting in: library closures south of the border; a fall in number of professionals in library posts; and professionals being re-graded and their pay cut. The campaign is being supported by a growing number of authors, illustrators, librarians and teachers. Many of the authors are offering to speak at public meetings and rallies where library services are under threat.

If you would like to support the ‘Campaign for the Book’ email Alan using the contact link at www.alangibbons.com.

Alan also has a blog. In his most recent posting he states the very worrying statistic that 24 UK councils spend less than 1% of their total library budget on children’s books.