Archive | November, 2012

“Council plans for libraries risk failure to comply with legal obligations”

6 Nov

Today the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee published its report [download ‘3rd Report – Library Closures – Volume I’] entitled Library closures. Rosehill Readers founder Abigail Barker, representing Voices for the Library,  gave evidence to the committee in a memorable session earlier this year. The statement below from VftL responds to the report.

“Voices for the Library (VftL) welcome the publication of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry into Library Closures held last February. The group believe that many of the committee’s recommendations place responsibilities firmly on the shoulders of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS] to act to prevent unnecessary and harmful cuts to library services. The committee state that it is “not cost-effective for policy to be made by judicial review and it undermines democratic accountability”.

VftL agree with a number of the recommendations made by the committee, including the suggestion that the Secretary of State provide appropriate guidance to local authorities regarding how to abide by the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 which places a statutory duty on local authorities to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” level of service. VftL believe that many of the cuts already made could and should have been avoided had the Secretary of State acted competently and provided the appropriate level of guidance and oversight to local authorities as they were forced to implement quick and drastic cuts to their services.

VftL have grave concerns that this report will receive the proper attention it requires from DCMS, and that the organisations with responsibilities for public library provision and oversight lack the resources required to do so effectively.

It is vital for the UK public library service for the government to not only acknowledge the importance of libraries to society, but to act upon the links they have identified between libraries and education, literacy, employment, community cohesion and social wellbeing. Library services cannot achieve anything without adequate funding, suitable and accessible buildings and paid, trained and qualified staff. Research must be conducted into the actual value added or damage done to library services through the use of volunteers before they can be accepted as a legitimate means of providing library support. Research must also be conducted into the broader impact of libraries on communities, which Arts Council England [ACE] had planned to conduct but are now unlikely to be able to in the light of their own drastic budget cuts and restructuring. The committee suggested that the ACE libraries team should provide information about potential problems to the DCMS because they are ideally located around the country; this will no longer be the case.  The CMS Select Committee has “no doubt that the Arts Council will fulfil its duties in respect of libraries efficiently and with enthusiasm” – unfortunately VftL have plenty of doubts.”

The press release from the Committee:-

“COUNCIL PLANS FOR LIBRARIES RISK FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH LEGAL OBLIGATIONS

[The report ]…says that some local authorities, under considerable pressure to quickly find cost savings, have drawn up plans without taking proper account of local needs for library services and the variety of options available to provide them, and are therefore in danger of failing in their statutory duty to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service. Other councils, however, have found innovative and cost-effective ways of continuing to supply—and in some cases improve—their library service.”

So how does this affect us in Suffolk? The very positive spin placed upon the risky experiment which is being carried out by the SCC Tory majority on our county’s public library service (delivered by an Industrial & Provident Society with only two-thirds of the budget) is particularly ‘optimistic’. On the plus side, Suffolk’s libraries are all still open and none of the opening hours have been cut. On the minus side, this superstructure is increasingly shaky as all the previous cuts put increasing pressure on the remaining staff members in branches who are trying to maintain the service to the public.

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