Shadow culture minister Kevin Brennan [pictured] has called on the Secretary of State for Culture, Karen Bradley, to intervene in Swindon Council’s plans to close two thirds of the borough's libraries.
Posing a written question in parliament, Brennan has asked Bradley to make an assessment of whether Swindon Borough Council's plans to close 10 out of 15 of its libraries comply with the duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service.
Nick Poole, the c.e.o. of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, also pushed the government for intervention and slammed the consultation period which resulted in the proposed closures as “highly prejudicial”.
Poole said: “We note that the financial decision concerning the level of budget reduction had been made prior to the consultation – in effect rendering the consultation meaningless, given that insufficient funds were allocated to provide for anything other than the model now put forward to council cabinet.
"We note in the Cabinet papers that the concerns that were voiced by thousands of Swindon residents have not been addressed and are instead dismissed under the overall context of affordability. Similarly, we note that a staff-led proposal to establish an independent trust – a model that is seeing some success elsewhere in the country – has been dismissed without appropriate consideration on the grounds of affordability.
"In short, we believe from the papers that rather than entering into the process of consultation without prejudice, a highly prejudicial decision was made concerning budget allocation to the library service and that the end result is a service that has been hollowed-out to the point at which it can no longer be considered ‘comprehensive and efficient’."
CILIP has called on the council to re-engage with the proposal put forward by staff and to negotiate a solution which better reflects the public consultation. CILIP has also called on the government to "place the burden of responsibility for this situation" back on central government.
"If central government has placed the council in an impossible position in respect of paying for statutory services, then the council ought to declare its position and petition the government for a remedy", the body said.
A spokesperson for the DCMS told The Bookseller that the department is "currently monitoring" the situation in Swindon, and is awaiting a final decision from the council on its proposals before it considers next steps.
The spokesperson said: “Minister for civil society Rob Wilson is clear in his challenge to local authorities that they must show they have explored all options, including looking at mutuals, before they make significant cuts to their library service. Where the government receives complaints and where local authorities do not appear to be meeting their statutory duties, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport does investigate and can, if necessary, take action under the act.
“The secretary of state has a statutory power to call a local inquiry if, after investigating, there is serious doubt about whether a library authority is providing the required service.”
The spokesperson said that the DCMS is currently investigating Lancashire’s decision to cut 29 of its 73 libraries and also that following an intervention by the DCMS, West Berkshire conducted a full needs assessment and revised its planned library closures.