The Publishers Association said it is “not expecting good news” from the Chancellor’s Spending Review tomorrow (25th November), while library campaigners have warned that further cuts to local councils could “all but destroy the public library service as we know it”.
Library campaigners, booksellers, educational and academic publishers are bracing themselves for the Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement, to be given in parliament tomorrow and coinciding with the first Spending Review since 2013, which sets out a five-year-view of the government’s spending plans.
The announcements are expected to be particularly grave after Osborne tasked government departments with modeling savings of between 20% and 40%, with The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimating that Whitehall departments without spending protection will face cuts of 27% - the steepest budget reductions since the Second World War.
Richard Mollet, c.e.o of the Publishers Association, told The Bookseller the trade body would monitoring four areas closely, but added that he “was not expecting good news.”
He will be looking out for announcements on the future of research councils and the level of research budget, whether schools’ funding will remain protected and the impact on resources for sixth form colleges, the scope and size of the proposed Apprenticeship Levy and the settlement for local government with its potential knock-on effect on library services.
“We are not expecting good news in any of these areas and so our work following the announcement is likely to focus on seeking to mitigate the impact of these decisions,” Mollet said.
Meanwhile library campaigners have said they are “worried” about further cuts to the already “unfocused, inefficient and out of date” library network.
Alan Gibbons, author and library campaigner, told The Bookseller: “Since 2008 austerity has closed hundreds of library points and seen the loss of 37% of library staff. Volunteer libraries are becoming ubiquitous. I fear four more years of the same will all but destroy the public library service as we know it.”
He added: “Education is supposed to be protected but wherever I go budgets are tight with libraries top of the list for cuts. This government has a complete disregard for public service.”
Laura Swaffield, chair of the Library Campaign, said: “Naturally we are worried. Cuts to local authorities have already had devastating effects on what was once a thriving national library network. Further cuts can only do more damage to this vital public service.”
Former Waterstones boss and library campaigner, Tim Coates, argued that the libraries might have survived the huge cuts proposed if money wasn’t "wasted" due to bad management of the service. "Last year the operating cost of the public library service in England was about £800m,” he said. “That is a huge amount of money, a lot of which, sadly, is wasted because the service is so unfocused, inefficient and out of date. It ought - in theory - be possible to operate an even better library service even if that money were reduced by 30% to £560m, but for that to come about the management and cost, leadership and structural issues that have to be addressed quickly are immense and there has never been any sign of anybody able or willing to do that."
He added: “Sadly therefore - not for lack of need, demand or funding- but because of poor management at all levels - a large cut is likely to have a major impact on public libraries and their future."
He said the "only hope we have" was that the Libraries Taskforce may be able to "mitigate some of the reduction in service."
Veteran library campaigner Desmond Clarke agreed that campaigners should work with the Libraries Taskforce to find practical solutions. He said: “We have long known that further cuts to libraries' budgets are likely. What is important is that, led by the Libraries Taskforce, we all focus on finding practical solutions, including sharing services, making much better use of technology, structural change and effective management of available resources. Never before has the need for imaginative leadership been so urgent.”
Speaking on Radio 5 Live Business this morning, CILIP c.e.o. Nick Poole warned that the "long term economic future of the country is at risk in the name of short-term deficit reduction" as library services continue to be cut.
“[Libraries] are delivering real benefit for the economy. We have business and IP centres led by the British Library that delivered £37m worth of gross value added last year. We’ve delivered £27m of savings to the NHS through people going to the library for information about health instead of going to their GP," Poole said, "So this is a false economy to just regard libraries as a cost, they are genuinely delivering for their communities.”
Booksellers from chain retailers like Waterstones and WH Smith to independents will be keeping an eye on what is announced on business rates. Last March the government said it was launching a review into the rates system, but this won’t report back until 2016 and some newspapers have speculated that Osborne will have to raise business rates in order to get back on track with his pledge to create a £10bn surplus in the books by 2020.
Political commentators have speculated this goal is becoming increasingly unobtainable amid increased spending on counter-terrorism and the NHS, as well as the House of Lords block on his proposed £4.4bn in welfare cuts.