Saturday, 9 March 2013

Epistemological? What are you talking about?

Ed Vaizey has been given a speech proclaiming the arts sector is in "rude health" this is while Newcastle are slashing their arts budget by 50% and Westminster council by 100% and responded to the decimation of library service by listing lots of cherry picked examples of stuff going on and proclaiming: "Libraries “In Crisis”? Again, I don’t think so."

Yes there are new libraries opening, they seem to be large city centre libraries, replacing their 60’s predecessors backed financially by the widely discredited PFI method of funding and the other stuff he mentions is blue sky bullshit about business incubators, hatchery spaces and other nonsense descriptions of the things that good libraries have been doing for years anyway. All the waffle, nonsense and Boris lite bluster doesn’t disguise the fact that actually library numbers are being savagely cut.

In the last few years 347 libraries have closed, 7.5% of the library service. This is before the cuts have even really kicked in. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number for 2013 is higher than the 201 that closed in 2012. And on top of that the arts council say that by April this year, 425 libraries, or 12% will be community supported, in other words, local authorities no longer see them as part of their statutory network and volunteers are keeping them open.

So since the coalition came to power, 19.5% of libraries will have been closed or cut either wholly or partially so they have to rely on volunteers to replace the low paid library managers and assistants. A fifth of libraries, cut. Crisis, I do think so.

By the end of this year, the 19.5% is obviously going to be a much higher figure, if Ed worked in the real world and the business he was responsible lost this many branches he would be out of a job. At what point will he think any of the 151 library authorities will be in breach of the “comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof” 25%, 30%, 50%? This is from the man who when one authority was closing libraries in 2009 declared: “If Andy Burnham is not prepared to intervene when library provision is slashed in a local authority such as the Wirral, it is clear that he is ignoring his responsibilities as secretary of state, which in the process renders any sense of libraries being a statutory requirement for local authorities meaningless.”

The hypocrisy is so high I’m surprised it hasn’t breached the distance across the curved universe and hit Ed in the back of his own head. The minister is of course selectively ignoring part of the act, he has also ignored the part about needing an advisory body but helpfully has added in extra parts saying councils can factor in the resources available to then as a factor on deciding what their statutory library provision should be. As long as they tick the boxes in the right way, they can close as many libraries as they want. The councils rather than band together to pool the management resources are in nearly all cases cutting the low paid library managers and assistants rather than tackle the duplication that exists across the authorities borders and the shocking high service support costs of running library services. The sensible plan, as cuts are inevitable would have regional library management hubs to cut down on the duplication of having 151 library authorities, the Tories, despite supposedly the party of efficient public services are not doing this though.

Ed’s boss Dave, went to the electorate with the central plank of his manifesto being the “big society”. The public said no, so we are getting it anyway, without a mandate. Others including quangos and taxpayer funded organisations are also supporting the big society, also without a mandate from voters, the Arts Council, The LGA, SCL are all pushing the approach that cuts low paid staff, maintains the bloated service support and get the volunteers to provide the service to themselves approach. The approach that is destroying the library service on the altar of Dave’s vision of the big society.

In 2025 the library service is likely consist of lots of badly managed, glass monstrosities, with PFI liabilities soaking up whatever’s left in the library budget. In the areas outside the city centres, in the rough suburbs of Swindon, Sunderland, Liverpool and beyond, in the remote rural villages, in the shires and the Home Counties thousands of communities will have had their beating hearts ripped out, never to recover, never to be replaced.


  1. In the spirit of question everything.....

    Re. your comment about community supported libraries. Aren't many of them (the
    majority?) part of the statutory public library service. Library authorities (=Councils) decide whether a particular community library is part of their statutory library service or not.

  2. Hi Libraryuser1,

    The act is clear, its the responsibility of the library authorities to provide a library service, not communnity groups. I don't have the detail on all the community libraries and whether the local authority considers them part of their statutory provision or not. In Oxfordshire after a flawed and biased consultation, the council decided 21 of their 43 libraries are no statutory and have to rely on community support. The problem is the decision to use volunteers was taken by the local MP and the leader of the council, the local democratic process was subverted and the local tories didn't kick up a fuss because the local MP is the prime minister. Its odd that the council one year needed 43 libraries to be comprehensive and efficient for all that desire to make use of and they next year they only need 22. The act isn't being enforced and guidance is being given to councils that is outside of the act. A act of parliament is required to change a act and a council has to consult properly with the elected ruling group actually having a say rather than the PM stick his oar in to push his failed big society agenda.

    1. Are you saying - where part or all of the local public library serice is delivered by another organisation on behalf of a Council, the Council is not complying with the PLMA 1964? If this is the case then an awful lot of Councils are acting illegally.

  3. Yes that is my view. The act is clear, the minister has to:

    "it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England and Wales, and to secure the proper discharge by local authorities of the functions in relation to libraries conferred on them as library authorities by or under this Act."

    And it is the duty of the authority:

    "It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof"

    It says nothing in the act about communities being library authorities or that authorities can look at the current financial climate to decide what complies with the act.

    I'm not a deficit denier and do believe there has to be cuts. The sensible way forward would be to have a smaller number of library authorities, there doesn't have to be one in every council duplicating the back office support costs which is happening 151 times. There could easily be 10 library authorities working across council boundaries all working using agreed software standards and practices. This would save the front line libraries, rather than cutting the low paid library managers and assistants which saves very little money and causes huge damage to the service. This would strong require leadership which is lacking sadly.

  4. I'm sure the chief legal officers of the numerous councils who have partnered with third sector organisations to deliver public library services will appreciate your legal insight.

  5. I would rather the laws were followed rather than ignored for political expediency. And the third sector organisations who are providing library services are "volunteers" who are told to run their library or lose it. Taxpayers should not be forced to provide statutory services to themselves on the altar of the small state, big society ideology that is being pushed onto us under the guise of localism. As always when councils and other public sector organisations break the law, no-one is held to account, I don't expect it will be any different in this case. I don't have legal insight I can read, I have a library to thank for that, other people growing up today may not be so fortunate as there may only be a PFI funded glass monstrosity that is too far away for them to visit.