Thursday, 7 January 2016

Lancashire Libraries an "Easy Target" when it comes to Budget cuts, say campaigners

The campaign to fight library closures is growing across the UK - but like many other councils, it seems Lancashire County Council has joined others in seeing possible closures as "easy target" when it comes to cuts.

While the Council hasn't identified any of the libraries it may close in its consultation - unlike the bus services destined for the chop - up to 40 may be closed in an effort to save money as a result of reductions in central government funding.

The Council announced proposals to slash funding in November, reducing funding for cultural sites across the county by 90 per cent and other cuts that will impact public transport users, libraries and see the loss of 367 more jobs. So far the most high profile casualty of the cuts is Lancaster's Judges Lodgings Museum and over 5000 people have now signed a petition protesting at that plan.

While other councils have announced they plan to cut library services and use more volunteers to run some, reported here by The Bookseller, continuing past attacks on the service documented here, Lancashire, a Labour-run council, seems ahead in terms of what taxpayers may lose, to the dismay of campaigners.

The county's proposals call for the reduction of libraries from 74 to 34 to save £7 million (for comparison, about what's being spent in under a week bombing Iraq and Syria, and a fraction of the amount lost to the Treasury annually through company tax avoidance). They have yet to say which libraries may close.

By statute, Local Authorities must provide "comprehensive and efficient" library services and Government must oversee and improve libraries.

These rights are not widely understood and are being neglected in the face of economic pressures. The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, which has launched a national campaign to stop further library closures, says this is putting important principles at risk, including the ability to access a quality library service wherever you live and at times to suit you.

"Public libraries in England provide a lifeline for millions of people every day," they say, offering an alternative vision for the service. "They help people get online, develop their literacy and skills, find employment and build stronger ties across their community. We must stand up and defend our statutory right to a quality library service.

CILIP argues the proposed library closures nationally "undermine rights which are enshrined in the Equality Act, Human Rights Act and Public Libraries & Museums Act."

“We have a situation where our national network of libraries is being dismantled while government fails to provide the guidance that local authorities need to provide the comprehensive and efficient library services they must, by statute, provide," says Nick Poole, CEO of the organisation, which launched a petition in defence of services before Christmas, noting some 443 libraries have closed since 2010.

"These cuts are a totally false economy – they may or may not deliver limited short-term savings but in reality they do lasting damage to local people, communities and businesses.

"It is too easy to cut libraries because the fact they are statutory isn’t understood, explained or enforced," he added. "I urge all local authorities considering announcing cuts to libraries to put their plans on hold until there is clarity from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport about their legal duties to provide library services.”

Ian Anstice, librarian and founder of Public Library News, told The Bookseller he agreed that lack of direction from the DCMS is putting services at risk. "Councils are, without any doubt, seeing libraries as highly tempting targets for cuts," he feels. "They know that the DCMS has not effectively intervened in any reduction to library services so far and thus the value of the statutory status of libraries is highly questionable."

Lancashire County Council says that despite reduced government funding for its services, it will continue to provide a library service for the communities of Lancashire.

Over the next five years to 2020/21 the council needs to make savings of £262m on top of those agreed within previous budget processes, of which it plans to make

"Our vision of the library service for Lancashire is a place for people across generations to use for personal and community wellbeing, which offers flexible, physical, virtual, creative, spaces for the community," they claim in the preamble to their consultation. "They will promote access to and use of the resources needed to encourage personal development, learning and community engagement.

"Lancashire County Council wants to understand what you would like from this space. This space will be developed in response to individual community need. We are passionate about creating opportunities which give people the potential to develop in areas they choose themselves. These physical flexible spaces will be used to promote learning, arts, performance, social activity, digital inclusion, families, heritage and wellbeing.

"The spaces we aim to provide will enable our communities to enjoy an environment which has been tuned to their needs. The spaces need to be safe for everyone and comfortable."

Have Your Say on Library Closures Here on the County Council web site

There is a map of all planned and actual Library closures across the UK here

Why Not Write To Your Local Councillors or MPs about these proposed cuts?

Contact Your City Councillor - List By Ward Here

Contact Your County Councillor - Listed Alphabetically Here

Contact Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood

Contact David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale

• My Library By Right brings people together to campaign for:

  • The public’s rights to libraries to be recognised and respected
  • Public libraries to be treated as the statutory services they are
  • The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to carry out their legal duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act
  • Statutory guidance for local authorities on their duties under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act from DCMS, with support from CILIP and the library and information profession

The Library Campaign is an independent national organisation set up in 1984 to support Friends of Library groups and to campaign for improved services in publicly funded libraries. In March 2004 we became a registered charity (no. 1102634)

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