The Arts Council England libraries director Nicky Morgan has said it is not the organisation's role to feed information on potential problem areas for libraries back to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, as recommended in the library report published by the CMS select committee this week (5th November).
The report emphasised ACE's role in providing advice to the secretary of state on library concerns, stating: "We note that the Arts Council's libraries team is based in all the regions and is intended to advise on best practice. This team could also be used to feed information on potential problem areas back to the DCMS. This system of advice backed up by intelligence should both help councils to adapt their approach to reductions in the library service, which may serve to reduce the recourse to judicial Review and enable the Secretary of State to give a swifter and clearer response to any complaints or judicial referrals."
But Nicky Morgan, director of libraries at ACE, said: "When the Arts Council took on the role of developing public libraries from the MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council), we were very clear that we would not be undertaking a supervisory role, assessing whether library services were 'comprehensive and efficient'. Instead, library relationship managers would collate knowledge and information on arts and cultural activities in their regions, and note and develop innovation and areas of interest."
She added: "As we mentioned in our submission and evidence to the Select Committee, whether a library service meets the statutory requirements of the 1964 Act needs to be defined at a local level by a library authority."
With ACE set to lose one fifth of staff in a cost-cutting restructure and reduce its regional offices from nine down to five, some have also questioned its capacity to act effectively on libraries. A spokesperson for librarian group Voices for the Library said: "The committee suggested that the ACE libraries team should provide information about potential problems to the DCMS because they are ideally located around the country; this will no longer be the case. The CMS Select Committee has 'no doubt that the Arts Council will fulfil its duties in respect of libraries efficiently and with enthusiasm' - unfortunately VftL have plenty of doubts."
However Morgan said ACE was "confident in our ability to fulfil our role in supporting public library development". Although the dedicated libraries director role is to go as part of the restructure, with ACE's eight directors instead now intended to have both a specific expertise but also a wider portfolio across the arts, Morgan said: "We will have a robust recruitment process, to ensure that we recruit someone who has a comprehensive knowledge of the libraries sector, as well as a wider cultural overview."