CILIP statement on SCL Assisted Digital contract with Sopra Steria
CILIP has been contacted by a number of parties to raise concerns about the announcement last week that under a new contract between the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL) and service provider Sopra Steria, 56 public libraries will provide ‘community service points’ for in-country UK Visa applications on behalf of the Home Office UK Visa and Immigration service (UKVI).
CILIP’s concerns on behalf of our members and the wider library and information profession focus on three areas:
• The appropriateness or otherwise of associating UK public libraries with visa and immigration processing and the risk this may present to the perceived neutrality and trust in public libraries
• The lack of prior engagement with CILIP before the announcement, given the potential reputational and ethical risks, and;
• The fact that concerns have been raised with CILIP by library staff who are uncomfortable with being asked to be involved in this service
CILIP has met with a senior representative of SCL to discuss these concerns and we are grateful to SCL for their active engagement in this discussion. We note that this project is part of a wider strategy that was developed and agreed with the Libraries Taskforce to ensure that public libraries are part of the Government Digital Services Framework, enabling them to be involved in relevant contracts. Libraries are already delivering an Assisted Digital Visa project, which was mentioned in the last SCL Annual Report. We also note that individual libraries are able to assess which projects they wish to participate in under an overall MOU framework with SCL.
Public libraries are amongst the most trusted and widely-used public services. CILIP believes that this trusted status depends on the ethics of professional librarians, who promote an ethos of public service, neutrality and respect for civil liberties including the right to privacy. We also believe that a strong public library service, underpinned by professional skills and ethics, can act as a trusted platform for added-value services, including services developed in partnership with Local Authorities or 3rd parties who share the core values of our profession. We further recognise the intense financial pressures operating on many Library Authorities, which creates an impetus to diversify funding sources in order to maintain service provision, including through partnership with commercial entities.
However, it is important to ensure that the extension of public library services to new activities is informed by a clear commitment to the ethics of our profession and do not unintentionally undermine public trust or deter current or potential users from accessing the library. In CILIP’s view, there is a risk that by associating UK public libraries with visa and immigration services, particularly at a time of heightened public concern, this may cause reputational issues for the sector as a whole.
To address these concerns, we have agreed the following actions with SCL:
• That SCL and CILIP will partner on the development of a guidance note on Commercial Partnerships, using the new CILIP Ethics Framework as a basis for ethics-based decision-making and negotiation;
• That we will establish an ongoing dialogue (in confidence where necessary) between CILIP and SCL concerning forthcoming contracts to ensure that actual and perceived ethical risks have been taken into account and that the implications are discussed openly and transparently with affected staff;
We would further encourage SCL to monitor the arrangement with Sopra Steria and any reputational issues arising from it, and in the event that it is seen to be impacting either on usage or perceptions of the library service, take action to mitigate these. We further ask them to liaise with library staff to allay their concerns about potential ethical conflicts.
CILIP members working in public libraries may raise any concerns about this or related matters with us by emailing Nick Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org
Headline image photograph Immigration and passport control Heathrow Airport from Jim Larrison's Flickr feed, Cropped and re-sized. (CC BY 2.0)