Are volunteer libraries statutory or non-statutory?

The following is my own view culled from reading all relevant government and press reports for the last three years.  It does not represent legal advice.  The page is the result of a collaboration with blog reader “Librariesmatter”.  Please do send in any more information or thoughts to in order to improve this page.

A volunteer library can count towards a council’s statutory provision. The council can decide if the library is statutory or non statutory.  If the former then there should be ongoing council support and the library is included in any DCMS assessment of whether the council is meeting it’s obligations under the 1964 Act.

There has been no case law on this but the  following points suggest that a Council should support a volunteer library if it is to be considered as statutory:

  • The Council has to annually set a ‘balanced budget’ under the Local  Government Finance Act 1992. The Council has to set an annual budget where its legal  commitments are funded. It’s commitments include the full cost of providing the  statutory public library service.
  • The Council should fund third sector organisations providing public  services on its behalf using the ‘full cost recovery method’. This is the total  cost of delivering the service including relevant overheads. This approach also  implies that a community-run library should not have to seek donations or  non-Council grants to provide the statutory service. Guidance can be found in
  • There is a general duty to ensure equitable treatment between  communities and residents. For example, if a town library is operated by the  Council then the Council pays 100% of the running costs. If a community-run  library is part of the Council’s statutory library service then it would be  inequitable for the Council to not fund the community-run library. Some  residents, in the vicinity of the community-run library, would end up paying  twice for the statutory library service [Although this does not appear to be a legal requirement to avoid: For a guide on “double taxation” see this link – Ed.].

If the branch is non statutory then the council has no responsibilities for the building and can therefore offer no support for it whatsoever or it can, on the other hand, support it. The simple fact that a council supports a volunteer library in some way does not imply it is statutory. If the library is non-statutory then funding it is not a legal commitment  of the Council. This is leaving aside any  local contractual commitments for example commitments under a building  lease.  Under the Council’s general power of competence (Localism Act 2011)  a Council could fund a non-statutory library partially or fully but it has no  power to specifically raise taxes to do this. The existence of a non statutory building has no relevance to the statutory service under the Libraries Act.

Double taxation (“librariesmatter” response to NALC note)

“I don’t think  the NALC note is particularly relevant to local statutory community-run public  libraries.

The two areas  mentioned in the NALC note were 1) delegation and 2) organisational.

1)       If a service is delegated from say a County Council to a  Parish Council then the relevant funding should be passed down to. For a service  like footpaths determining the necessary funding     is  likely to be an inexact science, so sometimes PCs will top up the delegated  funding to maintain/improve footpaths that concern local residents. Is this  double taxation? I’m not sure it     is.

2)       The second area is organisational where different levels of  government provide a service in some places compared to others. This would be  double taxation if it was clear that taxes were     being  raised in an authority for a service they weren’t providing. There is a let out  if is administratively too difficult to avoid an element of double taxation e.g.  district councils  with parished and non-parished areas.

Neither of  these circumstances feels particularly relevant to public libraries. It is clear  who is responsible for public libraries (PLMA 1964) and the cost of providing a  library branch is relatively easy to determine so any delegated funding should  be clear too.

Also the  paying twice issue for libraries is not just between Councils but more between  communities and residents generally i.e. it is inequitable to require resident  donations or discretionary top up grants from Parish/Town Councils to maintain  the local statutory public library service when in other places within the  library authority’s area they are not required. The principle of funding a  public service is not divisible. If this principle were to be divisible then  watch out for the stampede of Councils saying yes we provide that public service  but funding it is somebody else’s responsibility. “

See also
  • #1 written by librariesmatter
    about 10 years ago

    I agree with you that a Council can decide whether a branch is part of its statutory library service or not. If we are talking about a branch run by a local community and staffed partly or entirely by volunteers then the issue is whether the Council partnering with the community run branch is the best way to deliver the statutory service to that community. Best is a combination of service delivery and cost. Obvious alternatives are a traditional Council run library (arguably – expensive to serve a small community) or a mobile library (lower cost but providing significantly less service).
    If a branch is part of the statutory service I don’t agree with you that a Council has the freedom not to support it. If a branch is part of the statutory service the duty of support is the same in principle between all branches whether Council or Community-run. The extent of the support provided can and probably should vary branch by branch depending on what is necessary to serve each community. Councils are responsible for funding statutory services for which they are responsible. Thus they should fund the cost of running a Community-run library included in their statutory service.
    I agree with you that a Council has no particular duty to a library branch outside of the statutory service. Some Councils are providing support for non-statutory libraries but that is purely at their discretion. This is no doubt due to local resident pressure. However the Council still has a legal duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service to the residents in the area served by the non-statutory library.

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