Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries welcomes the Culture, Media and Sport Committee Report which presents the findings of a national Parliamentary inquiry into library cuts.
The report opens with the statement,
“The provision of a library service is a statutory duty, but a number of councils have drawn up plans that fail to comply with the requirement to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service.”
Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries firmly believe that Gloucestershire County Council is one such authority and has been publically stating this since November 2010 when the council’s cuts package was announced. This cuts package would have seen 11 libraries handed to communities to run, all mobile libraries taken off the road and book funding and opening hours reduced significantly.
In November 2011, Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries won a High Court Judicial Review against Gloucestershire County Council. The council’s plans had to be scrapped as it was ruled to be guilty of “bad government” and a “substantive breach of the law” because it failed to analyse and meet the needs of local people when drawing up its library cuts plans. We believe that in its reworking of the cuts plans in spring 2012, which still sees 7 libraries handed to volunteers to run, all but two mobile libraries axed, and the book fund reduced to a minimum, it still falls far short of its duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” service.
Johanna Anderson, speaking on behalf of Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries, said
“The Committee’s report provides us with little comfort regarding the future of our libraries. It repeatedly raises concerns about the wholesale handover of libraries to communities without adequate support from the authority, which is exactly what we are seeing happen in Gloucestershire”
In stating that
“the financial costs may be high, even if buildings are made available at a nominal rent. It is not clear how sustainable some of these community libraries may be, nor what impact the change will have on some of the outreach work conducted by libraries, particularly in relation to children and reading,”
the report echoes concerns which Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries have raised repeatedly with Gloucestershire County Council. The report goes on to say that these libraries “may wither on the vine and therefore be viewed as closures by stealth.”
Johanna Anderson also said that
“Gloucestershire County Council has adopted a model that remains a risky experiment with our important library service. Examples of best practice are referred to in the report where savings had been made without impacting on front-line services, yet Gloucestershire County Council has shown no evidence that it considered these models.”
The Secretary of State has pledged to release a report on the effect of budget cuts and the trend for volunteer managed libraries by the end of 2014. This is too late for our libraries and will not measure the true impact on the library service once the initial enthusiasm from volunteers and resources has dwindled in the face of the enormity of the challenge of running what should be a professional service.
The report concludes
“It would be very helpful to councils to receive some guidance from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on best practice in the provision of support” for community run libraries.
Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries are extremely concerned that, according to the report, the Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, who reports to the Secretary of State responsible for superintending the provision of library services, is of the opinion that
“the wholesale transfer of library branches to volunteer groups is unlikely to meet the statutory criterion of providing a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service”.
Yet both the Minister and the Secretary of State have stood idly by whilst Gloucestershire County Council has done just that.
Note : The full CMS report can be accessed here