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Evidence Of Shocking Cluelessness At LCC

February 1st 2014

It takes a long time for the ICO to process a Freedom Of Information complaint. Back in August 2013 I made an FOI request to LCC about library support services. In September they sent me the wrong information, then a few weeks later they sent me extremely inadequate summary figures. So I complained.

Now in 2014, after the library budget has already been cut, with the help of the ICO I've had some sort of response that resolves this issue.

The revised response

The email I received included the following information, with my bolding:

"I have considered your request and the information previously provided to you and would advise that the information that was provided to you in response to your request for an internal review does constitute the information held by Lincolnshire County Council that falls within the description specified in your request."

"I would like to take this opportunity to apologise that this was not clear and have provided the information for you again below, with explanatory text which I hope puts the information into context for you."

"A proportion of the total expenditure by each individual support service is attributed to the individual departments using those services and the amounts shown below detail the expenditure that has been attributed specifically to supporting Libraries. Unfortunately, the Council does not hold the information in the form of a detailed breakdown as you have requested. Although we are unable to provide a detailed breakdown, we have provided a brief description of the services provided."

"Please note that the table below is for the last financial year 2012/13"
Support Service:Total Expenditure attributed to Libraries:
Chief Executive – public relations and communications£10,183.94
Property – Corporate Property Services including, centrally managed accommodation.£889,780.48
Finance – accountancy services, financial strategy, payments, income services and pensions £212,571.82
HR – HR strategy, learning and development, payroll and personnel£198,854.76
Programme Centre – resourcing the Council’s Transformation Programme£27,727.69
Legal – provision of legal advice£10,732.98
Customer Service Centre – cost of queries regarding libraries that are directed through the Council’s call centre£77,785.55
Contract and Procurement – contract and procurement management for library services £37,624.59
Business Support - administrative support£702,129.04
IT – service delivery, programme delivery and IT strategy, network support, telephony, desktop and helpdesk support£2,792,319.13
This information came from the council's legal department. Although there's a little extra information explaining what each of the types of spending entail, I don't think it's very illuminating. In fact, I think the lack of detail is damning. LCC's executive didn't have a clear idea of how the support budget was being spent last year. This, more than anything, makes their decision to cut the funding for 30 libraries and turn them into volunteer-run "Community Hubs" look terribly ill-advised.

Yes, central government have decided that local councils can get by with vastly reduced budgets, to the extent that hundreds of libraries are being lost around the country. However, LCC demonstrably haven't turned over every stone in order to ensure frontline library cuts were left as a last resort.

A recent report by Mercato Solutions (who make software that compares IT prices) has found councils paying over the odds for IT equipment. It's anyone's guess whether Lincolnshire is typical of this trend, of course. LCC routinely uses Microsoft products (and in fact this FOI response was sent to me as a .doc file). However, switching to Open Office is something central government is considering in order to cut costs. Without figures for how much the county council has spent on Microsoft Office licenses it will be impossible for them to say how much money they could save by such a move.

It's time for the county council executive to commit to recording more data about how they are spending our money. It's one of the least things they should be doing, because if they don't get the basics of good governance sorted out they can't hope to run an efficient service that's fit for purpose.


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