How to make an official complaint to the DCMS

This guide was produced by a campaigner in 2018 for the benefit of others. I hope you find it useful.

What is the DCMS? The DCMS is the Government department that has public libraries as one of its areas of responsibility. Its full title is: The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

So to whom exactly will a complaint be made and who will respond? Any complaint regarding public library provision needs to be made to the Secretary of State (SoS).  It will normally, though, be the Junior Minister who responds. Expect to receive a standardised ‘holding’ response from someone in the SoS’s ministerial support team when you send in the letter.

What is the normal pattern of response? Usually a complainant or complainants will be told that consideration is being given as to whether or not their complaint is to be treated by DCMS as a ‘formal complaint’. If it is deemed to qualify as a formal complaint, a decision will be made by the SoS as to whether or not he or she is ‘minded to intervene’, having first made an assessment of the local situation. I believe that the authority is asked for an explanation as to why it has taken the action that it has (eg library closures, massive cuts in opening hours). If the decision is for intervention, the SoS will then ask the relevant Library Authority to remedy the situation that is being complained about. If the local authority does not comply with the action that the SoS has requested then he or she has the power to order a local enquiry. There has only ever been one such an enquiry – in the Wirral in 2009. After that enquiry the local authority did remedy the situation.

A  word of warning.  The process described above can take a very long time – months and even years. At the moment there are seven such complaints from different parts of the country awaiting DCMS decisions.  It should also be noted the SoS does have the following powers as stated in Section 1 of the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act which is the major piece of legislation governing public libraries in England and Wales:

· …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.”

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