Ministers misbriefed

<p>As The Bookseller has so often reported, the public library service needs more books: new, backlist and treasured. It is not the government's fault, but since Labour arrived in power in 1997, library book stocks have fallen by 21 million copies, about one-fifth of those available. Whatever else libraries do, this decline is a serious problem&mdash;the abundant overall resource needs to be much more focused on books than it has been.</p>
<p>In the Observer on 9th September, Margaret Hodge, the new culture minister, wrote: &quot;Since 1997 the number of books has increased by 1.5 million.&quot; She was showing that she has been given completely wrong information by her officials.</p>
<p>It is incredible that such an obvious mistake could be made in our democracy&mdash;but her predecessor David Lammy was given the same figure when he started in the job. On 28th February 2006, Lammy, who said the same thing in Parliament, was forced to apologise to the House of Commons for misleading them. He was obliged to circulate a correction showing how book stocks have, in fact, fallen.</p>
<p>Sadly, the damage has already been done. The need for more books has become the one thing to which ministers and officials will not admit, because it will remind us how incompetent they are.</p>
<p>The five culture ministers since 1997 have all been wrongly briefed on arrival. Chris Smith heard nothing of the decline in book lending, Tessa Blackstone and Andrew McIntosh were not shown the damning audit commission reports about the service, and both Lammy and Hodge have been likewise misinformed. Neither of them have demonstrated the least grasp of Gerald Kaufman's select committee report of 2005.</p>
<p>It is time for the officials responsible in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council to be sacked&mdash;with a public inquiry into why this has taken place.</p>