A big boost for the Big Society. Thousands more have become library volunteers in the last financial year. Third Sector reports:
“The number of people volunteering in libraries increased by more than 44 per cent last year, new figures show.
“Data from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy shows that the number of people volunteering in libraries increased
from 23,397 in the year to the end of March 2012 to 33,808 the following year.
“In contrast, the number of full-time equivalent staff employed at libraries fell by 6.8 per cent during the same period.”
Rob Whiteman, chief executive of Cipfa, said:
“Local authorities across the UK have worked hard over the past few years to identify savings and reduce their spending but now also seem to be looking at new ways of keeping their libraries open to the public.
“Although the number of libraries and staff has fallen again, this fall has slowed. However, the surge in volunteer numbers would suggest that libraries are searching for new and innovative ways to engage and serve their communities.”
In some places volunteers have actually allowed libraries to increase opening hours and provide a service at more convenient times for the public.
This isn’t the only way of keeping libraries open. Hounslow, Ealing, Croydon and Harrow have taken the privatisation route – with great reductions in cost and improvements in service. My own council Hammersmith and Fulham includes the library service in the tri-borough arrangement with Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea – which has also proved a success story.
Danny Kruger reminds us that the Big Society is not just about volunteering. It is also about social entrepreneurs breaking the state monopoly in the supply of services. I’m sure Mr Kruger is right that far more could done – not least regarding rehabilitating prisoners.The savings for the taxpayers could be huge and the Social Impact Bonds are the right idea. But they need to be boosted. Those running prisons have little interest or incentive in taking part. 1,200 of my fellow Hammersmith and Fulham residents are inmates at Wormwood Scrubs prison – but only a few dozen of them receive any education. They are banged up for 18 hours a day and can’t get to the education block. Prisons are run for the convenience of the Prison Officers Association.
So that is frustrating for Mr Kruger. Nonetheless the news from our libraries surely indicates that the growth in the Big Society is a reality.