John Holland writes
I have no confidence at all that this government, whose responsibility it is to superintend public library services, will ever take action against irresponsible local authorities who have already, or in the case of Gloucestershire intend to continue to ruin their library services. However, I’m giving the old hunt another chance. I thought I’d have a go, this time, on the basis of cuts to the book (stock) fund. I sent this to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport today (22/2/12).
Dear Mr Hunt,
I wish to draw your attention to the low level of spending on books and other media by Gloucestershire County Council. The 1964 Public Libraries & Museums Act specifies that councils must provide comprehensive and efficient library services. In Section 7 (2), it stipulates further that an important part of comprehensiveness is the adequacy of its book stock.
In Gloucestershire the spend on book and other stock was reduced by more than half in 2009-10, and has not recovered. Indeed the council has already stated in answer to a question at a Cabinet Meeting that it will remain less than half at least until 2014-15. Yet the council has never consulted on these cuts to the stock fund. Indeed has only ever provided the figures in response to questions. Its “new” library strategy published in January this year, and alarmingly like the November 2010 strategy declared unlawful in the high court in November 2011, has no reference to the stock fund, or any justification for its continued underfunding.
Let’s look at the facts. Gloucestershire County Council had since the 1990s been one of the lowest spenders per head of population on library services of any shire county. Its annual spend on books and other stock until 2009-10 was about 1 million per annum, placing it annually in the lowest quartile of shire county spenders per head of population. Spending reached its zenith in 2007-8 when it spent £1,221,223 on stock (GCC’s own figure). The 2008-9 spend was £902,012. (GCC’s own figure)
As cuts began to bite its spend in 2009-10 was reduced to £409,130; and in 2010-11, the latest available official spend figure, it was £351,935 (all GCC’s own figures) – less than a third of the 2007-8 spend.
As I mentioned above, according to an answer by Council Leader Mark Hawthorne to a question by Councillor Jeremy Hilton at the 20 January 2012 Cabinet Meeting, the spend will be “in the region of £1.4 million” over the next three financial years (ie to 2014-15). That’s not £1.4 million per year but approximately £466,700 per year. For this exchange, please see page 2 of Members’ Questions here- http://glostext.gloucestershire.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=6324
Per head of population this equates to £0.79 pence per year. Ask the DCMS officials to look at CIPFA stats and find a spend so low by any other shire county and they will fail. A spend of that kind cannot be considered to be the basis of a book stock which could be termed “comprehensive”.
It is worth bearing in mind that lack of spending on books is cumulative. In other words, GCC will have failed to buy from 2009-10, when huge cuts began, to 2014-15 GCC a total of about £3 million pounds worth of books and other media for the people of Gloucestershire. This is a huge shortfall. And all this without any consultation on the stock fund.
I attach some comparative figures from CIPFA*. As you can see, GCC had already made cuts of over £1.7 million pounds (nearly 19%) to its libraries budget before 2011-12. It now proposes a further cut of £1.8 million (a further 25%).
I am therefore asking that you, as Secretary of State, to undertake your responsibilities under the 1964 Act, as so clearly outlined by Judge McKenna in the November 2011Judicial Review. If you need to, please check these figures with Gloucestershire County Council, ask for an explanation and, when no reasonable explanation is forthcoming, please commence an official Inquiry into the management of public libraries in Gloucestershire.
*email FoGL if you’d like the figures.