Response to the points raised in the Schools Library Service petition The petitioners wrote: We think it is too important and too valuable to close and we are concerned about the lack of notice and consultation on this decision. We ask councillors not to ratify it in December but to please take time to explore alternative funding sources and to see if there is a way to keep providing it. ‘Too valuable to close’ The provision of School Libraries has always been the responsibility of individual schools. The Schools Library Service provides professional support, advice and training to school librarians in secondary schools and library co-ordinators in primary schools on a traded basis, and is expected to cover its costs. Hertfordshire’s Schools Library Service has enjoyed an excellent professional reputation, and has been valued by the schools buying into its services. In recent years, however, the number of schools subscribing to the Schools Library Service has significantly declined. Two thirds of Hertfordshire secondary schools and fifty-seven per cent of primary schools no longer use the service, and many of the schools that do still subscribe have reduced the amount that they spend on the service. If the value that schools place on the Schools Library Service does not translate into actually buying subscriptions, then the service is no longer financially viable. ‘Lack of notice and consultation’ A full consultation was undertaken with all Hertfordshire Schools in 2007, which indicated that cost was a significant driver in schools’ decision to use the service. This resulted in a substantial revision of the service delivery model to offer schools the opportunity to buy-in at a cheaper rate, but subscriptions have continued to decline. The Schools Library Service engages continually with schools to promote its services, .and to seek feedback. In March 2011, a letter was sent to all schools, encouraging them to subscribe. This included the following paragraph: “During 2010 several schools library services have closed nationwide. Once these resources have gone, they are difficult to replace. I hope that you will choose to make good use of the services that we offer so that Hertfordshire Schools Library Service remains in a position to support your school library development in future years. “ Schools Library Service staff also contact schools that have not renewed subscriptions to find out why. Most schools give no specific reason, but in the current year 46% cited budget constraints as their reason for not buying in. Some added additional comments (e.g. that the service is considered too expensive, or that the school makes insufficient use of the service to justify a subscription). In October 2011, the Schools Library Service consulted the Schools Forum on future funding arrangements. The paper presented to the Schools Forum made it clear that the service was running at a deficit, and that without additional funding, there was a significant risk of closure. The Schools Forum agreed to continue the existing level of funding from the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) for another year, but declined to increase its funding to cover any deficit. ‘Alternative funding sources’ The Schools Library Service is a non-statutory service, which is expected to operate on a full cost recovery basis. It has only two sources of income. Direct buy-in from schools accounts for approximately two thirds of Schools Library Service income. The service restructured in 2007 and again in 2010 to reduce costs and refine its service offer. The total cost of providing the service has decreased by 43% over the last 5 years, but it is still in deficit. Any further reduction is staffing costs would further jeopardise the ability of service to market itself and generate income. It has become increasingly difficult to develop a service offer at a contract price which individual schools are now prepared to pay. The Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) currently accounts for approximately one third of Schools Library Service income. However, national proposals to change school funding arrangements in 2013 mean that this grant will certainly be substantially reduced, and probably discontinued altogether, as the money is devolved to individual schools. This would leave the service entirely dependent on buy-in from schools. The County Council is currently seeking to save £200 million over a four year period through its Council for the Future programme. This has included making a £2 million reduction in the budget for the statutory public library service. In these financial circumstances it is not possible for the County Council to subsidise a non-statutory service to schools. For this reason, at its meeting on 19 December 2011, the Cabinet approved the proposal to close the Schools Library Service. Following the Cabinet decision, the Schools Library Service will continue to provide a full service to schools until the end of the contract year on 31 March 2012. This will include working with Librarians and Library Coordinators in schools who currently subscribe to SLS to advise them of potential alternative sources for support in the future.