General Election 2015 and Public Libraries: statements from Conservatives, Greens, Labour and Lib Dems on libraries

The following is taken, with permission, from Election 2015: Libraries: What the Parties say they will do published in Post-Lib.  The parts in quotes have been selected by myself. More details are available at the bottom of this page.

The Conservative Party – Ed Vaizey MP

Conservatives are clear that libraries provide a vital service to people of all ages, giving them the opportunity to gain knowledge and new skills and opening up new possibilities in work, education and culture. We have a very strong library service, with over 3,100 public libraries across England. In 2013/14 alone councils invested £757 million in their library services and according to the most recently published information there were 234 million library visits in 2013/14, showing that this service remains very popular amongst the public.

Since 2011 the Arts Council has been responsible for working with libraries to develop the services they provide. Supported by government funding, the Council has allocated £6 million to help libraries innovate and increase the range of services and activities they offer to visitors. For example, some libraries have chosen to stage exhibitions of painting by local artists, helping to increase the number of visitors and provide fantastic publicity for the artists involved.

“Many libraries have also been able to attract large numbers of volunteers who are helping to run and provide services to users. It is precisely this sort of collaboration and innovation that libraries need to be considering as they look to attract more visitors and remain relevant”

Libraries have also been expanding their e-lending services which are becoming increasingly popular, with a 125 per cent increase in e-lending in 2014 alone. Many libraries have also been able to attract large numbers of volunteers who are helping to run and provide services to users. It is precisely this sort of collaboration and innovation that libraries need to be considering as they look to attract more visitors and remain relevant. That is why we are working to take forward the recommendations made by William Sieghart in his new Independent Library Report which sets out a road map for helping libraries to adapt to the changing needs and demands of their users.

Of course libraries have faced challenging times in recent years. We have had to take some difficult decisions when it comes to public spending but we have continued to be fair to councils, ensuring that those areas with the greatest call on their services continue to receive the highest levels of funding. In addition, we have published new guidance and advice to help councils make sensible savings whilst protecting frontline services. There are many councils who have risen to the challenge and have merged their back office, cut out fraud and waste and reduced red tape which has meant that they have reduced costs and protected and even improved the quality of the services they deliver, including libraries.

“The scale of library closures has been widely exaggerated. In 2014 only two static libraries closed whilst since 2010 we estimate the total number of static library closures to be just 93″

The scale of library closures has been widely exaggerated. In 2014 only two static libraries closed whilst since 2010 we estimate the total number of static library closures to be just 93. Conservatives believe that if libraries embrace new technology, work to increase the number of activities and facilities they offer and genuinely make themselves open and welcoming to the whole community then they have a bright future ahead of them.

Ed Vaizey is Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with responsibility for digital industries.

The Green Party – Cllr. Geoffrey Bowden

Greens in Brighton & Hove see libraries as supporting some of the city’s key priority objectives, such as fostering health and well-being; encouraging reading and literacy; supporting children and adult learning; supporting elderly and vulnerable people; and providing important, safe and trusted community spaces in local neighbourhoods.

“there is a direct correlation between diminishing footfall and restrictions to opening hours – another oft used cost cutting measure. It is a self-fulfilling negative downward spiral”

However, a casual scan of the Internet will reveal that, although a statutory service, libraries up and down the country are falling victim to the coalition’s austerity measures. Local authorities of all political hues have been closing them at an alarming rate. So often the justification given is that the number using them has fallen to such a degree that they are no longer economically viable. However, what is often left unsaid is that there is a direct correlation between diminishing footfall and restrictions to opening hours – another oft used cost cutting measure. It is a self-fulfilling negative downward spiral, whose end game is inevitable and will be used by the bean counters to justify closures.

Other authorities have travelled down different paths – all designed to get libraries off the public sector balance sheets. Mutuals, Community Interest Companies (CIC), even handing over the whole shooting match to volunteers are options that have been tried. None are perfect and inevitably still require some form of support from the public purse. While it would be foolish not to consider the options, these are not the models chosen by the country’s only Green led administration in Brighton & Hove. Against a backdrop of deep government cuts, the temptation to axe libraries can appear to be tempting low hanging fruit when it comes to balancing the books (if you pardon the pun!).

However, when applying a social value measure to libraries, their contribution to local communities is overwhelming and powerfully makes the argument for keeping them open, which is exactly what we’ve done in Brighton & Hove. Our main library, The Jubilee, is the top-performing library in the region and the second most popular library in the country, with one million visits each year.

Our approach has been to make libraries central community focal points and, wherever possible, to co-locate services in them. One of the two new libraries we have opened during our administration has a medical centre as part of the complex, while the other doubles up as a local secondary school’s library. We also encourage libraries to be used as the settings for performance and other arts activities, engaging users and encouraging people through the doors.

The austerity did force the Greens to take a long hard look at the city’s remaining mobile library. It had reached the end of its economic life. Not without some protest, we replaced it with a more targeted and growingly popular home delivery service. Librarians, equipped with tablets, bought with the proceeds from the sale of the old vehicle, now make home visits to the housebound and, instead of a limited choice of 2,000 titles, users now have a choice of more than half a million.

“Greens are now looking at extending opening hours using technology, where a library card will provide library users access when librarians are not physically present.”

Greens are now looking at extending opening hours using technology, where a library card will provide library users access when librarians are not physically present. Support is to be offered via video link to our main library. Green policy is to position libraries as vital community hubs and keep them open.

Geoffrey Bowden is chair of the Economic Development & Culture Committee Brighton & Hove City Council.

The Labour Party – Chris Bryant MP

Libraries are a vital part of the life of our country. They are places children can learn to read, and start to explore the vast depths of human knowledge and imagination. They are places older people can start to get online and access the internet. They are places people go to find jobs, to access government services, to hang out after school, to attend community groups, or just to spend time with a good book. They’re often at the very heart of their communities.

Public libraries are primarily managed by local councils, but the Secretary of State has a statutory duty under the 1964 Public Libraries Act to “superintend and promote the improvement of the public library service”. This places a duty – in law – to provide national leadership to the library service. This Government has failed to fulfil that duty. Under David Cameron, we have had a succession of Secretaries of State – Jeremy Hunt, Maria Miller and Sajid Javid – who were uninterested in libraries and saw the job as a stepping stone. They left the work to the junior minister Ed Vaizey. He has been in his job for five years – what has happened to libraries under his watch?

“House of Commons research that we released on National Libraries Day – formerly Save Our Libraries Day – paints a stark picture of the scale of the Government’s failure. There are now at least 330 fewer libraries open for 10 hours or more a week – an 8 per cent drop.”

House of Commons research that we released on National Libraries Day – formerly Save Our Libraries Day – paints a stark picture of the scale of the Government’s failure. There are now at least 330 fewer libraries open for 10 hours or more a week – an 8 per cent drop. There are now 40 million fewer visits to libraries – a 12 per cent drop from 322 million visits in 2009/10 to 282 million in 2013/14. That’s the Tory legacy: boarded-up libraries and fewer people opening the front door, let alone opening books.

A Labour Government will provide national leadership where this Government has failed. The Sieghart Independent Library Report gives us the opportunity to chart a long-term path for our libraries. Tory Culture ministers have failed to give leadership. A Labour Culture Minister will chair the “task and finish group” that Sieghart recommends.

Local councils have had a tough time under this Government. They have had to take difficult decisions on funding, including on libraries, with almost no central help or advice. Shamefully, deprived communities have been hit the hardest. These communities rely on public libraries the most, as they may not have books or computers at home. However the percentage of people visiting in these areas has fallen since 2010 from 46.2 per cent of people to 36.8 per cent. That is a 21 per cent drop.

“Libraries are vitally important institutions. They have suffered under this Government from a lack of national leadership. Labour will work across Government and with local councils and libraries to provide that leadership.”

People who work in the library service know that Tory Culture ministers barely talk to the Department for Local Government (DCLG), let alone local councils. Under a Labour Government, a Labour Culture Minister will work with DCLG to encourage greater collaboration and cooperation between the 151 library authorities in England, and give councils longer term funding settlements so that councils can better plan ahead, deliver savings and meet local needs.

Libraries are vitally important institutions. They have suffered under this Government from a lack of national leadership. Labour will work across Government and with local councils and libraries to provide that leadership.

Chris Bryant is Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Liberal Democrats – John Leech MP

One of the first campaigns I was involved with during the early 1990’s, before I was elected as a local a Councillor in Manchester was to try to stop the Labour Council from cutting the opening hours of our local library. I and the Liberal Democrats recognise that public libraries are important to local communities. That is why, in the face of a tough economic climate for local Councils, we have fought for the past 5 years to keep them open.

The old fashioned library is a thing of the past. The Liberal Democrats understand that the best libraries have evolved into a community hub and have reinvented themselves over the years. If you walk into your local library you should find a microcosm of the local community, with services for all ages and cultures, from infant reading group to adult learning centre, job search to history club, from working with local schools to hosting public meetings.

“I and the Liberal Democrats recognise that public libraries are important to local communities. That is why, in the face of a tough economic climate for local Councils, we have fought for the past 5 years to keep them open.”

In government, we commissioned William Seighart to investigate what should be the core principles of a public library into the future and whether the current model of delivery is the most comprehensive and efficient. Stakeholders were invited to submit their views to the review which reported to the government at the end of last year.

This Government has had to make tough decision to balance the books, and local government has had to take its share of budget cuts. Liberal Democrats believe that decisions on keeping local libraries open quite rightly lie at a local level. Where the Liberal Democrats run local councils we have protected libraries. From 2011-13 no council we controlled closed a single public library, whilst dozens were closed by Labour and Conservative councils. And even in other parties’ councils we fight to keep libraries open. Liberal Democrats in government have created the Community Right to Bid, which gives local groups first refusal if a community asset is put up for sale or plans made to  close it.

“Liberal Democrats believe that decisions on keeping local libraries open quite rightly lie at a local level. Where the Liberal Democrats run local councils we have protected libraries.”

We have organised campaigns to save local libraries from Southport to Haringey, Merton to Brent. Indeed, our Parliamentary candidate in Brent has even promised to donate half his salary to open community libraries if he wins in May. This is in stark contrast to Brent Council who spent £250,000 in a single year keeping the libraries closed! In Coalition we have fought to keep the cuts fair, whilst doing what is needed to strengthen the economy. We have handed over power to community groups to take control of their libraries, and run them for and by the local people.

We intend to do the same after the next election, tempering the other parties in national and local government and helping public groups protect the things which are important to them – instead of telling them what matters from the top down.

John Leech MP is the Lib Dem Spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport.

UKIP

was contacted in the same way as other contributing Parties. At the third attempt we received the following email.

On 19/01/2015 14:45, Mail wrote: Your message: To: Mail

Subject: Fwd: UKIP Policy on Public Libraries

Sent: 18 January 2015 18:19:57

(UTC) Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon,

London was read on 19 January 2015 14:45:19 (UTC) Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London. Final-recipient: RFC822; mail@ukip. org

we contacted them again but received no further response.

Acknowledgement

My big thanks to Bob Usherwood, Editor of Post-Lib, for permission to use the above article.  It appeared in the April 2015 edition of the magazine, which is the publication of the Retired Members Guild of CILIP. Please contact r.usherwood@sheffield.ac.uk for further information.

Manifesto commitments

There are no mentions of public libraries in either the UKIP (includes one mention of libraries are being under local councils) or Labour Party Manifestos.  The Conservatives give two or three sentences:

“We will continue to support local libraries. We will help public libraries to support local communities by providing free wi-fi. And we will assist them in embracing the digital age by working with them to ensure remote access to e-books, without charge and with appropriate compensation for authors that enhances the Public Lending Right scheme.” Conservative Party Manifesto

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto had the following mentions:

“Complete broadband rollout to every home, and create an innovation fund to help keep local GPs, post offices and local libraries open …

Develop the Community Budgets model for use in rural areas to combine services, encouraging the breaking down of barriers between different services. This will help rural services like GP surgeries, pharmacies, post offices and libraries open by enabling them to cooperate, share costs and co-locate in shared facilties …

Support local libraries and ensure any libraries under threat of closure are offered first for transfer to the local community” Liberal Democrat Manifesto

The Green manifesto does not have any policy as such other than vital extra Arts money for local councils:

“We need to improve the way the UK is governed, passing power back to the people, back to where they live and work. Local councils have been starved of the funds they need to do their job. That is why requests for social care go unheeded, libraries are shut and public parks neglected …” under Localisation

“Increase government arts funding by £500 million a year to restore the cuts made since 2010 and reinstate proper levels of funding for local authorities, helping to keep local museums, theatres, libraries and art galleries open.” under Media,Sports and the Arts

“We were treated to post-election surprises such as increased VAT and huge cuts to essential public services such as benefits, libraries, children’s centres and mental health support. By contrast, the Green Party produced a worked-out financial plan in its 2010 manifesto.” Chapter 16 Green Party Manifesto

 

  • #1 written by Alan Beard
    about 2 years ago

    Ed Vaizey: ‘we estimate that the total number of static library closures to be 93′. If this was true it would be a damning statistic. However look to the right of this page: CIpfa have calculated that 49 service points were lost in 2013/14, 74 were lost in 2012/13 and 201 in 2011/12. I make that 324. This does not take into account the number of lost hours too with libraries that remain open (eg the hours at Birmingham Central Library have been halved). You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself and your slash and burn attitude to public services. It’s no good blaming local authorities, it’s your fault for cutting grants. And yes there is plenty of money – by closing tax loopholes and chasing corporations who avoid tax you could fully fund the NHS, and re-open all libraries and even open some new ones. You choose not to. OK, then face up to what you are: a friend of the rich, an enemy of the people. Stop lying and dissembling.

  • #2 written by librariesmatter
    about 2 years ago

    Ed Vaizey’s comments relate to England.

    The CIPFA public library statistics for the UK show:

    2009/10 2013/14 4 year change
    Static libraries 4,064 3,920 -144 -3.5%
    Mobile libraries 548 362 -186 -33.9%
    UK Total 4,612 4,282 -330 -7.2%

  • #3 written by Ed Hunt
    about 2 years ago

    What no MOOCs(1)?!

    In a world where the internet is bringing education to the people instead of people having to go to the education, why aren’t libraries involved?

    Recently (through reciprocal hospitality – for me a library-based internet activity) I met someone who did a law degree via a MOOC – while he was working – and at a cost of about £300.

    There is a world out there full of opportunity which could be brought to local libraries – but it takes leadership and vision for that to happen.

    (1) Massive Online Open Classroom – university courses – available completly free – you pay only when you register for a formal qualification.

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