No, minister?

<p>Last week the new culture minister Ed Vaizey unveiled the first steps in his strategy for libraries in a keynote speech at the Remodelling Libraries conference in London. Hopes were high after a strong performance in opposition but the speech fell short of the bold agenda some had anticipated. </p>
<p>Gone was the idea of a Library Development Agency, which Vaizey had supported in opposition, with the culture minister instead announcing a &quot;support programme&quot; for libraries, to be led jointly by the Museums, Libraries &amp; Archives Council (MLA) and the Local Government Association (LGA).</p>
<p>The programme will offer &quot;intensive, proactive work&quot; with about 10 library authorities initially, Vaizey said, and will &quot;investigate where they can drive down costs while maintaining a quality service.&quot; Voluntary alliances will also be encouraged to reduce the overheads of the service, with Vaizey saying frankly that 151 separate library authorities were &quot;too many&quot;. Meanwhile, as expected, the Advisory Council for Libraries is to be abolished.</p>
<p>MLA chief executive Roy Clare commented: &quot;It is absolutely the right approach that services are re-designed and controlled as close to the user as possible, while using wider geographical and national collaboration in back office and management costs to make savings, so the MLA is delighted to be working in close partnership with local government to help bring about this transformation.&quot;</p>
<p>Bob McKee, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library &amp; Information Professionals (CILIP), gave a positive response to Vaizey's plan. &quot;The next few years will be extremely challenging for public libraries and radical changes will be necessary if they are to survive in a period of expenditure cuts,&quot; he said.</p>
<p>Ayub Khan, chief librarian at Warwickshire, also welcomed Vaizey's support plan, saying: &quot;It involves all the stakeholders, and I think it's a good idea that the programme is going to be rooted in the LGA because they are the ones with a greater influence on councils.&quot;<br />
But others found the change of heart over a Library Development Agency a let-down.</p>
<p>Labour MP Lyn Brown was formerly chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Libraries (APGL) and set in motion that group's report on libraries. The report, published last October, noted a &quot;woeful&quot; lack of leadership and strongly recommended a separate development agency to provide strategic vision for the library service.</p>
<p>Brown commented: &quot;I'm really disappointed that Ed went back on what I understood was a commitment about setting up a Library Development Agency. I wonder if the civil servants have got to him already.&quot; She also criticised the binning of the Advisory Council for Libraries: &quot;The ACL is one thing that has been a constant for half a century. If formulated properly, an independent advisory council for the minister would be worth its weight in gold. He has now cut himself off from access to that.&quot;</p>
<p>Library campaigner Desmond Clarke said he thought Vaizey had lost an opportunity that was open to him during his honeymoon period in his new job. &quot;If you're really going to tackle the leadership issue, well, leadership is about people, and people with vision. It's a disappointment because people do believe he understands far better than any previous minister, and is genuinely committed. It's almost as though he has been kidnapped by the civil servants.&quot;</p>
<p>Councillor Henry Higgins of the London Borough of Hillingdon said Vaizey's sudden turnround reminded him of the TV series &quot;Yes, Minister&quot;. &quot;We had problems with the MLA, so what's the difference now?,&quot; he said. &quot;[New Justice Secretary] Ken Clarke [who has critiqued the prison system] has shown a real appetite to be bold. The lack of boldness [from Ed Vaizey] is quite infuriating.&quot;</p>
<p>The culture minister told <i>The Bookseller</i>: &quot;The key is to join things up, join up the experts in the MLA with the people in the LGA and IDEA [The Improvement and Development Agency for local government]. The initial focus has to be on costs. The second thing I don't want to lose sight of is disseminating best practice.</p>
<p>&quot;For me, the failure of leadership came from my desk, the library minister [previously Margaret Hodge]. The Library Modernisation Review was a classic ministerial excuse for not acting, my view is to get down to it and get stuck in.</p>
<p>&quot;I don't want to be the minister who proposed a new quango a month before government publishes a Bill to abolish quangos [the government intends to cut the number of bodies through the Public Bodies (Reform) Bill]. The support programme will be a task force made up of key stakeholders and we're going to meet on a regular basis. It'll be flexible, and other individuals can engage with it. [The Reading Agency director] Miranda McKearney, for example, should be able to have a role in working with it and delivering it.</p>
<p>Asked what the involvement of library users would be in the process,&nbsp; Vaizey said: &quot;The Reading Agency is a user group-&mdash;it has set up hundreds of book clubs across the country. Local authorities are user groups.&quot;</p>
<p>Critics remain unconvinced. Lyn Brown said she would be aiming to re-establish the APGL with the aim of continuing to campaign for a separate development agency: &quot;Splitting up the MLA would have been very sensible and wouldn't have created a new quango,&quot; she said. &quot;Little programmes here and there will come and go. They are not as effective as a development agency with vision, leadership and skills. Do I think [MLA chief executive] Roy Clare is committed to libraries? Yes, he's committed. But do I think there is a structure in place for him to be effective? No.&quot;</p>