National Library has taken significant steps to improve its governance and management arrangements

Monday, December 5, 2016 - 12:00am

But challenges and opportunities remain if the Library is to continue to be sustainable

Despite recent improvements in governance and action taken to reduce costs, the National Library of Wales faces both challenges and opportunities as it seeks to put itself on a sustainable, long-term footing. This is according to a report released today by the Auditor General for Wales. 

The report notes that, between 2013 and 2015, the Library experienced a turbulent period in its history during which it had to make significant financial savings as a result of year-on-year reductions in its funding from its sponsor body, the Welsh Government. As well as the need to cut costs, a significant fire in 2013 and the poor handling of two disciplinary cases contributed to a loss of focus on the Library’s strategic priorities. The report notes that, despite succeeding in reducing its costs, the impact of staffing reductions on other aspects of the Strategic Plan was not considered in sufficient detail.

During this period the Library embarked on a restructuring programme based on voluntary severance that was intended to support the new Strategic Plan and create substantial savings in its base budget. In order to avoid the risk of financial failure an estimated sum of £1.25 million in savings was identified, equivalent to about 40 posts. 

In-line with these proposals the Library reduced staffing by 20 percent between April 2013 and April 2016, but the Library now needs to re-assess the range and scale of services it provides and the quality standards it seeks to achieve in response to the reductions it has experienced in both staff and funding. 
The second part of today’s report on the 109-year old Aberystwyth-based library, highlights a number of positive changes since an independent report commissioned by the Library’s Trustees in July 2015 . Today’s report finds that, under new leadership, the Library has responded positively to the 2015 report and has improved important aspects of its governance and management, while also creating a closer working relationship between the executive and the board.

The Library has recognised that change is essential in order to maintain its financial viability. In particular, the Library acknowledges that the use of reserves to balance the budget cannot be sustained and that it will need to take generate additional income or continue to deliver further savings, although the report also notes that the ability of the Library to take a longer-term view is constrained by aspects of the Welsh Governments current funding arrangements.

The report does, however, highlight that the development of a new Strategic Plan and the implementation of the principles of the new Wellbeing of Future Generations Act provide opportunities for the Library to better integrate its planning of its resources in the longer-term, including plans for its workforce and for the condition and suitability of the Library building. 

A number of recommendations have been made for both the Library and the Welsh Government to allow the Library to build on its progress with a focus on both present and future issues, including:

  • In developing a new Strategic Plan, the Board should adopt a three-year business plan that will be updated annually. 
  • Working alongside the Welsh Government to identify the sources of funding needed to develop and maintain the current assets; and
  • Undertaking an assessment of the current workforce arrangements in order to inform a strategic review of the Library’s functions and future delivery.

Auditor General, Huw Vaughan-Thomas said: “Today’s report highlights the scale of the challenges facing the National Library. While they have reduced costs significantly, the Library’s focus should now be on taking a longer term, more strategic view of the future direction of this important national resource. I am encouraged by their response to the challenges they face, and would urge the Library and the Welsh Government to continue the current momentum and to work together to take full advantage of the opportunities this renewed focus presents.”