The Government has decided to further cut local government spending by 1.7% on average.  This is on top the already historically high level of cuts of 28% already agreed.  Inflation of course makes that figure even worse.  It’s interesting to see that different authorities are, however, being dealt with differently – with some (with a high proportion being  in comparatively prosperous parts of the country) receiving fairly large rises of up to 6.4% (well done Uttlesford).  but others (with a high proportion being in less prosperous areas) getting cuts of up to 8.8% (bad luck Barrow-in-Furness).

The chair of the LGA finance panel, Sharon Taylor, was questioned about this on Radio Five and used libraries as a direct example of a service that libraries would “become almost unsustainable”.  Well done to her for standing up for libraries, by the way.

Sharon: We’ve had cuts of 28%.  We’ve budgeted on that basis … we now expect the total cut to be 33% and perhaps significantly more … The funding crisis in adult social care is the kind of 3am in the morning stay awake issue for local government.  It’s forcing councils to take money away from some of our other really popular services to plug the gap and until we address that issue – and it must be addressed in a cross party way I believe – we won’t be able to guarantee that we won’t take funding away from services like libraries and leisure centres which will have their funding cut back to the point where they become almost unsustainable.

Interviewer: But is local government as efficient as it could be or is there still areas where you could still save money?  I mean, many might argue that libraries are a luxury in today’s world.

Sharon: Well, as somebody who was greatly assisted in a mature studies degree by my local library, I’ve had to take issue with that.  Many people who would not otherwise have access to the resources that libraries provide find them a hugely valuable resource and in answer to your question about efficiency, we are delivering fresh efficiency in local government … but since 2010, we’ve reduced our workforce by 230,000 posts, we’ve cut the annual pay bill by £1.4 billion …”

By the way, this review of the year was sent out by Unison to all its library contacts.  I think it neatly sums things up:

  • In January the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee began what was promised to be a short inquiry into library closures in England to which UNISON submitted evidence…
  • The second National Libraries Day was held in February, with celebrations happening across the UK
  • In March the newly formed Speak Up For Libraries coalition held a successful rally and lobby of Parliament, funded by UNISON’s General Political Fund
  • Campaigners in Surrey saw success with their legal challenge in April, with a ruling against the Council’s proposals for the use of volunteers on equalities grounds
  • The Love Your Libraries message was delivered to Welsh AM Huw Lewis in May by UNISON members keen to encourage the Assembly’s more positive attitude to libraries
  • In June, UNISON contributed to the Arts Council ‘conversations’ blog on the value of in-house services
  • CILIP’s policy on the use of volunteers was revised in July to oppose job substitution, following a strong reaction from their membership
  • August saw another successful Summer Reading Challenge take place in libraries around the UK, this year’s theme was the Story Lab
  • Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson kicked off a tour in support of UK libraries in Scotland in September
  • Library staff and supporters joined October’s TUC March For a Future That Works highlighting the damage being done to libraries by austerity measures
  • November was a busy month, with the CMS Select Committee report finally published and the Speak Up For Libraries conference taking place
  • And finally, publication of the annual CIPFA figures in December spelt out the scale of the challenges for the year ahead, with libraries likely to be under ever-increasing pressure. However, we should take heart from the continuing high profile interest that library campaigns across the UK garner and the determination of UNISON branches and members, library users and campaigners to continue to advocate passionately on behalf of libraries.”


  • Angry Brits occupy local library – AM (Australia).  “Renegade” isn’t usually a descriptor used for librarians and bookworms but when the conservative-run London borough of Friern Barnet lost its library because of government cuts, the locals took some unlikely action. They opted for a sit-in. Once they’d occupied the building they established their guerrilla library.”

“RACHAEL BROWN: The guerrilla occupation of this library has also seen the forging of unlikely friendships. Take retired account Keith Martin, for example, and professional squatter Pete Phoenix.

PETE PHOENIX: Massive level of support. I mean I’ve been doing squatting community projects for 20 years and this is probably the biggest level of support because it was already a very strong local campaign. And you know this council’s being totally undemocratic and they’re privatising 70 per cent of the council services.”

  • Community right to bid – Voices for the Library.  Looks at this new legal right, which is one of a new armoury of resources for local groups faced with closing council services such as, sadly, libraries.

Local News

  • Barnet – Library squatters to be evicted, judge rules – Guardian.  “Squatters who have occupied a north London library for more than three months with the blessing of the local community are to be evicted, a judge has ruled. However, the court recognised their right to protest and the illegal tenants have been given a six-week stay of execution before they will be moved on.”

“District judge Patricia Pearl praised the way the squatters and residents have been running the library. “There is no suggestion that this is anything other than a happy, pleasant, well-run place,” she said. “The local community is delighted with the effects Mr Phoenix has had on their campaign.”

The Hamptons Play Occupied Friern Barnet Library, 14th December



So now we know. Labour’s much vaunted replacement for Bolton’s closed libraries, the Neighbourhood Collection, has been an unmitigated flop.

As the report to Councillor Morris earlier this week shows the total number of book borrowed from libraries in Bolton in the first six months of the new “service” has fallen by almost 101,000 compared to the same period last year and borrowing from the 5 collection points is just 10,000 books. A net fall of over 90,000 in the number of books being read from Bolton’s libraries and neighbourhood collections in 2012 compared to the same period last year.

Borrowing at every one of the replacements for closed libraries is down. In Astley Bridge the number of books borrowed from the library in 2011 was over 19,000, whilst 2,189 were borrowed from the replacement neighbourhood collection at Oldham’s in 2012. For Halliwell the figures were 15,000 in 2011 and just 1,832 this year. Tonge 13,215 in 2011, 439 in 2012, The Orchards, 10,839 down to 435 and Heaton down from 27,934 to 5,264, even though it is in the same building.

However you dress them up the figures are stark. Despite Labour’s previous claims borrowers have not gone to other libraries. Borrowing overall is down 20%. In other words, for every 5 books borrowed from Bolton’s libraries in the first half of 2011, only 4 were borrowed in 2012.

How does Labour’s Executive now respond to an answer it gave at a previous Council meeting that neighbourhood collections were being well received and well used by readers?  Will the Executive member now apologise for mis-leading the Council and the public of Bolton?

Yours sincerely

Councillor John Walsh OBE, Astley Bridge Ward, Bolton MBC

Letter to Bolton News

  • Middlesbrough – Council: Hemlington Library and CCTV saved – BBC.  “Mr Mallon said he was impressed by the community’s support for Hemlington Library but wants it to become a “volunteer-supported” service.”
  • Oxfordshire – Vaizey done goodQuestion Everything. “I hate to say it but Vaizey has actually done a very good thing in getting CIPFA to do these comparisons. It confirms what I have been saying all along about the Oxfordshire library service, its expensive and bloated and the back office spend is far too high, this has to be tackled instead of forcing volunteers to replace low paid library assistants in a scheme that doesn’t really save any money.” … “a roughly 7.4 million library service is now costing 4.4 million in other expenditure (includes service support) according to the CIPFA returns and its far too high.”
  • South Gloucestershire – Yate Library teams up with entrepreneurs to help budding entrepreneurs – Gazette. “The library is holding its first ever new business workshop in the New Year as it hopes to utilise its resources more effectively and provide people with a useful event. Senior library assistant Sandra Turner said: “We hold a lot of community events where people can make and create things or meet an author, but we have never done anything for people looking to start up a business.”