Case study

Bexley and Bromley working together

The London Boroughs of Bexley and Bromley have a shared library service for all back office, management, professional and support services including local studies and archives services.

Bromley library
Bromley library. Photo credit: LB Bromley

Contribution to corporate priorities

The shared service protected front line services, offered significant savings and contributes to corporate priorities related to improved efficiencies and value for money.

Description of the work and the relationship

In July 2011, the Bexley Cabinet Member for Leisure and Bromley’s Executive Committee approved the merger of the back office and management function between the London Borough of Bexley (LB Bexley) and London Borough of Bromley (LB Bromley) library service. In Bexley, this decision was taken as part of the corporate efficiency programme, Strategy 2014, as merging the back office and management functions with Bromley has saved in the region of £400,000 a year in Bexley. LB Bromley took the decision in line with its Corporate Operating Principles to commission services in partnership with others, to obtain value for money whilst protecting frontline services and has saved approximately £370,000.

Following this decision, a cross-borough project team undertook substantial work to develop the shared library service model, with a focus on operational, financial, human resource and legal matters. The commencement date of the shared service was brought forward from 1 April 2012 to 1 January 2012. The arrangement is in place until 31 December 2017.

There is a collaboration agreement between the two authorities which details the provision of the shared library service and includes details of the governance arrangements. There is a stakeholder board which receives an annual report from the head of service each June. This report includes an appraisal of performance for the previous financial year and a draft annual service plan and budgetary information for the coming year.

The shared service includes some staff who are employed by LB Bexley, and some employed by LB Bromley. The staff employed by LB Bromley are seconded to LB Bexley for the duration of the contract, but remain on LB Bromley’s terms and conditions. The shared service team is located in a Bexley building close to the border between the two boroughs.

The key priorities for the two boroughs in the first year were:

  • creating a team of staff who take ownership of the new ways of working and who embrace and fully support the shared service vision and objectives
  • the completion of new policies and procedures for the shared service which are streamlined, efficient and remove all duplication
  • procurement of a new Library Management System for both boroughs
  • opening the new Crayford Library in LB Bexley
  • improving the Central Library in LB Bromley
  • attracting external funding into both boroughs

These were completed to agreed timescales.

Outcomes achieved

Since implementation in January 2012, the shared service has worked successfully to support both frontline services. There is an annual service plan agreed each year which covers the library services in both boroughs. Back office processes have been streamlined and made more efficient, with the removal of areas of duplication. The shared service has learnt from areas of best practice from both boroughs.

The impact of the frontline branches in both boroughs has been minimal, with customers not reporting any noticeable differences.

Accomplishments / lessons learnt

There were two key challenges for the new shared service in the first few months - IT infrastructure and finance.

Problems with the IT infrastructure and making each others systems available across both boroughs made delivering the service very difficult in some areas. For example, all shared service staff have LB Bexley laptops, which initially did not work in LB Bromley libraries. This made it difficult for some staff to work interchangeably across both boroughs.

The two different corporate financial systems has made it more difficult to pick up finance issues and systems across both boroughs. Coupled with the IT problems, issues with access for staff to both financial systems took some time to resolve.

Future plans

In autumn 2015, both authorities approved the undertaking of an exercise to look for an outsourced provider for both library services, including the shared service. It is currently anticipated that the outcome of the tender exercise will be determined by December 2016, with an implementation (if approved) during 2017.

Contact for further information: libraries.els@bexley.gov.uk

Published 22 December 2015