Library association CILIP has criticised Boris Johnson following his comments on library services, following an Andrew Marr interview where the Tory leader suggested library closures were solely down to councils’ financial mismanagement.
In a grilling by the BBC host on Sunday morning, Johnson was asked about the number of libraries that had closed since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, a number Marr put at 500.
Johnson replied: “I’m afraid very often local authorities - and yes we want to be spending more and want to be supporting local authorities - but some local authorities have been able to manage their finances so as to open libraries.”
He gave an example in his own borough of Hillingdon, and then added: “I want to invest in libraries but we can only do that when we get the economy motoring.”
In response, CILIP c.e.o. Nick Poole said though he was “delighted” libraries were forming part of the national debate, Johnson’s comments included three key “misconceptions”.
He said: “Firstly, local library services are not just the responsibility of local councils. The 1964 Public Libraries Act requires central government to oversee and improve public library services – a responsibility which the previous Conservative government failed to implement.
“Secondly, while we are delighted that Mr Johnson’s local council has been able to invest in libraries, the fact that many cannot has less to do with sound financial management and more to do with the cuts of circa 30-40% handed down to them by the previous Conservative government. This is why we have called for a fair funding settlement for local government, to reverse the emergence of library ‘haves and have-nots’ across the country.
“Finally, Mr Johnson appears to suggest that the country can only afford libraries when there has been an economic recovery. As we have commented time-and-again, this is a fundamentally misguided policy. By investing in libraries, you create opportunities for education and skills across the country, which in turn creates the conditions for future economic growth.”
Jeremy Corbyn has also made libraries an issue for Labour, telling the Penguin website he would “guarantee” a pledge to protect libraries. The Labour manifesto includes a £1bn Cultural Capital Fund for libraries, museums and galleries, while the party had promised to reintroduce public library standards.
At the start of the election period, CILIP launched its #VoteLibraries campaign, calling for a future government to secure better public library services. The organisation has launched a 10-point manifesto by Bobby Seagull, which includes demands for a £50m improvement fund.