Former Waterstones’ boss Tim Coates has called for Ed Vaizey to be replaced as culture minister, and for his replacement to “get a really tight grip on what’s happening” with libraries across the UK and help councils.
Earlier this week it was announced that Birmingham City Council had put a “pause” on its library fund, meaning no new books are being purchased. The library service was appealing to the public to donate books.
Speaking on "BBC Breakfast" this morning (14th August), Coates said that the reason for the library crisis in the UK was lack of management.
“It is a tiny, uncomfortable corner of government policy,” he said. “The problem is there is no management or leadership of the library service.
“I think what needs to happen is the minister, who over five years has proved himself to be absolutely out of his depth, has to be replaced.
“We have a crisis in the library service. In America libraries thrive, in European countries libraries thrive. It is only in Great Britain we have made a disaster out of our library services, and we really now have to something very serious about it.”
Coates said that in London there were approximately 300 libraries which cost around £200m a year to operate. He suggested bringing control for those libraries into one body, instead of separate local authorities, which he estimated would save £80m a year - £40m of which could be invested back into the service, and £40m which could go to the government. He suggested a similar plan for Birmingham and the surrounding areas.
Children’s author and library campaigner Alan Gibbons told "BBC Breakfast" that Vaizey had provided “no strategic leadership” for libraries.
“This is a bomb that has been ticking for a long time,” he said. “We have had no leadership from the government or councils.”
Gibbons this week reissued a call for Vaizey to debate him “head-to-head” on the subject of libraries and the future of the service, saying that the minister’s team had not offered suitable options for the debate.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said it was in discussions with the Library Campaign to find a suitable date and had offered both morning and evening slots “at their request”.