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2.8 Million IT Budget Dwarfs Library Cuts

September 26th 2013

Save Lincolnshire Libraries marchers at 
Castle Hill

Protesters marching against the library cuts in Lincoln

In August I made a Freedom of Information request to Lincolnshire County Council, for the full details of their spending on library support services. After sending me the wrong figures, they finally got round to providing me with the correct ones, in all their number-crunching greatness. At last, a chance to work out where all the money is going, and whether it offers a clue as to how to fix the wholesale cultural vandalism the county council is proposing.

Library support spending

The table below is for the 2012/13 financial year:
Chief Executive10,183.94
Property889,780.48
Finance212,571.82
HR198,854.76
Programme Centre27,727.69
Legal10,732.98
Customer Service Centre77,785.55
Contract and Procurement37,624.59
Business Support702,129.04
IT2,792,319.13

Underwhelming, isn't it?

Confusion, confusion, confusion

These figures aren't just for libraries. Although I asked for a breakdown of library support services, I've been told that a bunch of other council services are lumped in with them, muddying the picture considerably. Or should I say, muddying what little picture there is. There's no consistent accounting between different local authorities, and no separation of costs for the different areas of LCC's activities.

As such, LCC are just going to have to suck it up when I point to the 2,792,319.13 in IT costs in apoplectic rage. At that price, they had better be building Skynet. We have a global market for IT, where a lot of jobs are being outsourced to India for pennies. Savings can also be made by employing people who can find their way around a computer to a certain degree. And these are skills that people could pick up by, I dunno, going to the their libraries and doing a course, or simply asking their librarians for some help.

So, in my original Freedom of Information request I asked for a detailed breakdown of costs. I think we can all agree that this tiny table is less than helpful. I'm not sure what "contract and procurement" entails. Is it the cost of drawing up contracts, or the purchase of undefined stuff, from paperclips to office furniture? And why does the programme centre not come under property? Are the procurement people responsible for all of the overpriced IT spending, or can we blame that on the 198,854.76 HR department?

Trevor Craig made a similar request to Oxfordshire County Council, which is worth looking at for comparison. Oxfordshire has faced its own challenges for library funding, and sadly it's not the only authority making similar cuts.

What do we know?

Paradoxically, this pathetic table does help sort something out. It tells us one of two things: either LCC have no clue what the detailed breakdown of costs amounts to, or they know and they're not revealing that information.

For some context, the text of my original request included the following:

"I would like to see details of LCC expenditure on library support services for the last tax year. To the extent that you have this available I would like to see a detailed breakdown of costs, rather than a mere summary."

I think that's a clear enough request.

So, we know the county council is committed to making 2 million of cuts from the library budget. We know the IT budget forms part of that, and councillors really should have a much better grip on exactly how big a part and where it goes. If we really must rob Peter to pay Paul (and I'm not convinced by all the "austerity" rhetoric that this is the case, but that's a rant for another day) then we can start by looking at that vast IT budget.



 


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