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Vaizey announces £6m library fund
29.06.12 | Lisa Campbell
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has announced £6m of funding for libraries to use on arts and cultural activities, which he said would “help raise the ambition and expectation of libraries.”
In his speech yesterday (28th June) to The Future of Library Services Conference, Vaizey said the new pot of money, from the Arts Council’s Grants for the Arts programme, and spread over two years, will enable library authorities to “lead projects working with artists, arts organisations and other cultural organisations on arts and cultural activity through
While raising the profile of libraries in the community through “ambitious, innovative partnerships”, Vaizey said the move also represented a significant commitment from the Arts Council in its new role.
However, library campaigner Desmond Clarke has questioned exactly what the designated cash would be spent on, and if it will reach those smaller libraries most in need of it.
“The question is, what specifically is this £6m for, and will the money trickle down to smaller branch libraries especially in rural areas, because they have been disproportionately affected by the cuts. Will they actually benefit?" he asked.
Vaizey also used the platform to tell libraries his department would be commissioning reports on all library authorities in England based on CIPFA’s new ‘comparative profile reports’, which have been developed to benchmark local council services against comparable authorities. The reports, he said, will be publically available in December this year for MPs, councillors and other interested people to see how their local service compares to another.
Vaizey said: “I must emphasise that this is not an attempt to sanction local authorities and certainly not a return to top-down, inflexible library standards. But if we see wildly diverging opening hours between two similar authorities with similar budgets and infrastructure, there will be an opportunity to ask questions and look at how opening hours could be improved.”
He also said every library should be wifi-enabled and that, working with the Department for Education, his department would seek to provide automatic library membership for primary school pupils, to encourage them to use their local library –an idea put forward by children’s author Michael Rosen.
As part of his speech, Vaizey said the number of libraries to close was around 60, not 600 as regularly quoted in the press, and stressed that new libraries continued to open, which has drawn criticism form some library campaigners,
Vaziey said: “I remain resolutely optimistic about library services. I have never, even in opposition, depicted the library service as being in crisis.”
Library campaigner and award-winning children's author Alan Gibbons responded by saying: “The reason this nightmarish scenario [of 600 library closures] has not occurred has been because local communities have mounted commendable resistance, reducing councils' room to manoeuvre. This has included legal actions, pickets, protests, read-ins and a lobby of parliament. None of this agitation is reflected in this blandest of
Campaigners were also disappointed no mention of e-lending or controversial
plans not to award authors with PLR was made in Vaizey’s speech.