Save Our Services – EIP Libraries & Neighborhood Advice & Information Service

The presentation for the future operating model for the merged Early Intervention Programme Libraries and Neighborhood Advice and Information reads as what is on offer is a new, improved and extended service.

What is actually happening is a drastic reduction in staff resources 22%, the closure of up to 25 Community Libraries, and the closure of the two well used Customer Service Centres (with the reduction of nearly 45% of the staff currently delivering the NAIS service).

The main criticism therefore of the document is that by omitting the scale of service reduction the document is misleading. This is important when sharing with staff but also if it is used to provide the basis of consultation with the public and politicians.

UNISON in Libraries will address the impact of the proposals for that service. This article looks at the impact on NAIS.

NIAS Cuts – Costing More Than They Will Save

Recent reports on the activity of NAIS show that between April and December 2023 NAIS staff generated an estimated income of £15,252,417 for citizens. Of this £4,951,354 has been confirmed.

Based on data from the Power BI dashboard for the same period £3,450,000 went on to Council Tax accounts. Through discretionary Housing Payments £673,00 was paid into BCC Housing rent accounts. A further £1,090,000 contributed to rent collection and payment plans. Cutting the number of Grade 4’s by 45% to save £1,024,000 might cost the Council as much or more in potential lost revenue for Council Tax and BCC rent accounts. It will cost citizens even more. Our work on Lettings and Homeless prevention also supports BCC rent Income and Council Tax collection and can avoid expensive temporary accommodation costs.

This, at a time when the Council states it wants to improve Rent and Council Tax collection and reduce Temporary Accommodation costs.

The NAIS service is about more than just income maximisation. NAIS staff interviewed 16,848 citizens in the period April to December 2023 on a wide range of different issues. Demand for the service is much greater, with citizens reporting difficulty in obtaining appointments. The 45% staff cut will see a similar reduction in the number of citizens that can be assisted.

Dodgy Data and Digital Delusion

From our discussions with management, it is obvious that some of the data they are drawing on to frame their proposals is wrong or misleading. Three quick examples:

  • They mentioned us assisting with Universal Credit applications, we don’
  • They raised a citizen visiting an office more than 25 times suggesting we are not getting it “right first time”. This case is a bit atypical and the citizen concerned had a substantial number of different complex enquiries and language issues.
  • Finally, it was claimed that citizens had to catch up to three buses to get to the Erdington office – In fact, Erdington is uniquely accessible due to large number of bus routes including from the City Centre and Sutton, plus routes like the 11, 66 and 28, and the cross-city rail line. In many parts of the City, you may need to catch as many or more buses to get to a constituency based office.

A large emphasis is placed on digital access. This does not reflect the reality that NAIS caters for large number of digitally excluded people and the information poor. We are currently assisting large numbers with Housing Registration forms due to their complexity.

In recent weeks we have seen an influx of interviews around the Council Tax Single Person Discount Review that can only be done online. In both cases we see quite vulnerable citizens, whose first language is not English or are elderly without smart technology or family and other support mechanisms.

Digital services do not replace the need for face-to-face interviews particularly for the most vulnerable.

– David Hughes
Treasurer, Birmingham UNISON