Kim Bromley-Derry, Chief Executive of Newham Borough Council, has been named as the new chair of the Libraries Taskforce, following the resignation last month of Dr Paul Blantern, Northamptonshire County Council Chief Executive.
The Taskforce Chair must be a local authority chief executive under the rules set out when it was created.
A Taskforce spokesperson said: "Kim was an ideal candidate for the role having been an influential member of the Taskforce and strongly representing local authority interests at meetings. He also has a wealth of experience from his time at Newham council with its 'Libraries First' approach to delivering services for the local community. For example, each library has an adult social care link worker, who is able to find out what individuals want or need, and introduce them to the activities and services available.
"They've also had rising visitor figures since 2014, and are now seeing an 8 per cent increase in book issues. This is the result of a lot of work being put into the importance of linking the reading offer with library activities, stock promotion and staff training. This year, Newham had a 26 per cent increase in children finishing the Summer Reading Challenge and they are currently hosting the first Newham Word Festival."
Dr Blantern was chosen as the first chair of the Taskforce in 2014 while making innovative changes to Northamptonshire’s LibraryPlus scheme. This put public libraries at the centre of community health and wellbeing. In an interview with CILIP in 2015, he said he was planning to move the libraries into a Wellbeing Community Interest Company (CIC) which would be owned by the council (51 per cent) and also part-owned by the NHS (Northamptonshire Health Foundation Trust) and the University of Northampton.
A council spokesman said that this company has since been formed adding it “doesn’t just include libraries but all services that improve the physical, mental and social wellbeing of the population of Northamptonshire.”
Dr Blantern's resignation was announced shortly after he and Northamptonshire leader, Councillor Heather Smith (Con) published a report outlining the financial plight of the county. Councillor Smith also wrote to secretary of state Sajid Javid, demanding reform of the Government’s funding formula – pointing out that her council received £159 less per person than East Sussex County Council, equating to £115m per year. The same report said that the council had already made cuts equating to £376m but this would have to reach £500m by 2020.
Local media reports said that the council was considering plans to hand over 21 of its libraries to volunteers and it has also been reported that the council may introduce mandatory unpaid leave for staff earning more than £18,500.
Paul announced his departure in an email to staff saying: “I know that we continue to find ourselves in a highly challenging financial situation but I also know that we have achieved so much innovation and transformation which has truly put Northamptonshire at the forefront of local government practice in so many areas.”