Fresh fears for libraries as councils face £5.8bn funding gap

Fresh fears for libraries as councils face £5.8bn funding gap

Fresh fears for the future of libraries have emerged with the revelation that local councils are facing a £5.8bn spending gap by 2020.

The concerns have surfaced on the eve of the relaunch of the all party parliamentary group tonight (31st January), which campaigners hope will work to put pressure on government to affect real change in the public library service.

According to the Local Government Association (LGA), the long-term funding crisis means local government will continue to face an overall funding gap of £5.8bn by 2020 and that more than two thirds of the 375 councils in England and Wales will be forced to find millions in savings to plug the funding gaps in 2017/18.

Lord Porter, LGA chairman, said: "No new money from central government is being provided to councils in 2017/18. In fact, more than two thirds of councils will actually be worse off next year than they were expecting. [Even] if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks and open spaces, closed all children's centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres, turned off every street light and shut all discretionary bus routes they would not have saved enough money to plug this gap by the end of the decade."

When asked about the likely impact on the funding hold on libraries, an LGA spokesperson told the Bookseller that "no service area will be immune from cutbacks to plug funding gaps next year". Campaigners fear the cuts will further affect the public library service which is already suffering a "crisis" in the sector.

This month it was revealed that libraries in Plymouth, Bury and Bristol have been put at risk of closure. Bury in Manchester is being forced to close 10, if not 11, of its 14 libraries to make up for £32m-worth of cuts needed by 2020, hot on the heels of Plymouth City Council's plans to close 10 of its 17 libraries. Meanwhile, Bristol has confirmed a £1.4 million cut to its library service.

Nick Poole, c.e.o. of librarians body CILIP, told The Bookseller that the cuts were the “worst kind of short-termism” and called on national government to reverse the austerity.

“We obviously think public libraries are amongst the most loved and widely used public services in the country and councils have a legal duty to ensure provision," he said. "If these figures are even close to true then it’s very hard to see how [councils will be able to] fulfil the legal requirement [to deliver a comprehensive and efficient library service as defined by the 1964 Public Libraries Act].

“I have sympathy with the local authority position, and having personally looked at [council budget] figures, it’s clear that local authorities are under impossible pressure as a result of the austerity programme. Now [the solution] comes down to national government reversing austerity.

"Cuts to local authorities are all being done in the name of protecting low tax regimes for the well off", he said, adding: "It's important to understand cuts to libraries are really shifting cuts elsewhere. Libraries only make up one to two percent of local authority expenditure. It's very bad economics."

Ian Anstice, librarian and editor of Public Libraries News, agreed with the false-economy of cutting public services for short-term gain. He told the Bookseller: "Local councils are used to seeing libraries as something they can cut, thinking that money ‘saved’ can go on social welfare and the services. However, libraries are social welfare and help out in so many other ways too. The fact that mean-spirited and short-term cuts to budgets just see the cost of everything, and not its value, runs the risk of creating philistines.”

He added: “Cuts on this magnitude mean, at the very least, the decline in library numbers - already a source of so many headlines - will continue and may deteriorate, to the detriment ultimately of us all.”

Tonight (31st January) will see the relaunch of the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group, chaired by Sheffield MP and shadow minister Gill Furniss. Campaigners have said they hope the group will work to put pressure on government to affect real change in the public library service.