Vaizey resign, say library campaigners

Library campaigners and Unison have called for Ed Vaizey to step down from his position as minister for culture, communications and creative industries after failing to take a strong stance over the issue of library closures.

On Tuesday (13th March) Vaizey gave evidence at the final session of a select committee enquiry into library closures. At the same time, around 300 campaigners under the specifically formed alliance Speak Up for Libraries—including members of Unison; the Womens Institute; the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP) and authors Kate Mosse and Philip Ardagh—gathered across the road, at Methodist Central Hall, to rally against the measures.

Vaizey told the select committee there was “no crisis” in the library service, and said that with “creative thinking” local authorities could open more libraries. The comments led to prominent library campaigners Desmond Clarke and Tim Coates to call for him to step down.

Clarke said: “If he is incapable of giving the sector leadership, he should retire to the back benches and let a stronger minister take charge. We can’t afford to wait to see whether the minister can get his act together, but we must insist on real improvements now in every authority that match the best.” Coates added: “He has had lot of opportunities to take a stance, and now maybe it should be given to someone else.”

Hannah Bailey, assistant national officer at Unison, added: “We would like to see someone else who will actually lead the service in that position, but we do not think there is anyone in the government who will fulfill that role.”

Shadow culture minister Dan Jarvis stopped short of calling for Vaizey to resign. “I am calling for him to do his job. He should be doing his job, it is reasonably straightforward,” he said. But Jarvis did compare Vaizey to Dr Beeching, who oversaw the closure of a third of the UK rail network in the 1960s: “There is no vision, there is no leadership, and it is desperately sad.” Jarvis added that the Liberal Democrats had been “silent” on the issue, and called for them to speak up. “Libraries will almost certainly never come back—once they have been lost, they have gone forever, which is tragic,” he said.

Don Foster, co-chair of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary policy committee on culture, Olympics, media and sport, was unavailable for comment. Vaizey could not be reached for further comment on the issue.

Unison vowed to continue campaigning on the issue. Bailey said: “It is about keeping the pressure up on government and local authorities to raise the level of quality and provision in libraries.” According to CILIP, some 600 libraries in the UK are now under threat of closure, while as many as 700 of 3,500 professionally qualified librarians have lost their jobs in the current financial year.

Coates added that he hoped something concrete and beneficial would come from the enquiry: “When we had a select committee enquiry five years ago they made very sensible recommendations about what should be done,” he said. “Unfortunately the DCMS and MLA missed out on an opportunity to make things better. I hope this select committee will take the opportunity to make things better this time, and I think the library campaigners should be honoured.”