Business critical

I recently received an e-mail from the librarian responsible for training in a local public library authority saying that although she had booked four places on our Introduction to training skills course she would probably have to change this to 2 places. She explained:

"I'm really sorry but we have a spending embargo in place now and I can only authorise £250 - was £10,000. Anything over £250 now has to be authorised by our Deputy Director - and has to be deemed business critical."

Of course this is not unusual. The cuts are beginning to bite and whatever we think about the cuts we must all agree that if savings are to be made they should be in areas that are not essential. But how does this Deputy Director decide what is "business critical". Is training staff to acquire training skills critical to the core business of a library service today? When the DD makes this decision in a rational and logical manner (which is how all decisions in Local Government are made), what evidence will they use to inform that decision?

A starting point may well be the recent report from the Future Libraries programme - Change, options and how to get there. The clue is in the title. There will be change in libraries and they need to have the ingredients for generating change. One of these ingredients is the internal capacity to support change. As the report states "Human resource support is also vital …" (p21). Obviously, training skills are a central element of this.

Then the DD could look at the Arts Council strategic document Culture, Knowledge and Understanding: great museums and libraries for everyone - paying particular attention to goal 3 Museums and libraries are sustainable, resilient and innovative and goal 4 The leadership and workforce are diverse and highly skilled. They will note the emphasis on change and innovation, and the need of libraries to adapt to this. The DD will almost certainly highlight the sentence "We will encourage skills development, collaborative working and knowledge sharing, seeking to ensure that mainstream funding responds to the training needs of museums and libraries" and may well scribble "Training skills will help achieve this" in the margin.

Finally they may observe that Training Skills are included under Generic and transferable skills in CILIP’s Body of Professional Knowledge (BPK).

Of course, all these documents are external to this local authority and so may not indicate what is "business critical" to the organisation itself. For this the DD may turn to some internal documents. The library's own document on lifelong learning quotes David Blunket as saying

“Learning is the key to prosperity - for each of us as individuals, as well as for the nation as a whole. Investment in human capital will be the foundation of success in the knowledge-based global economy of the twenty-first century.”

It goes on to say:

"Both national and local Government objectives include creating a learning society where everyone is able to learn and improve their skills via lifelong learning. Learning is at the heart of the local community and fundamental to academic, social, economic and cultural development".

The DD will of course recognise that learning is facilitated by training and instruction.

Finally the DD will turn to the vision, mission and values of their own authority displayed prominently on the office wall which proclaims one of the council's goals to be:

"Striving for Continuous Improvement. This will mean the community would receive better care and their quality of life would improve. Employees will focus on efficiency and improvement and have a can-do attitude."

The DD will know that this is not just an aspirational statement! It means that any activity that contributes to continuous improvement - such as developing staff training skills - is business critical. So the application to send four members of staff on a training skills workshop will be approved.

On the other hand the DD might just think that saving £200 is a good idea.