Library services are being hit by failure to spend on book stock and the growing cost of council overheads, according to new analysis from former Waterstones boss and library campaigner Tim Coates.
Using data gathered annually on library services by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), Coates' research has shown that spending on book stock by councils has declined from a high of £79.2m in 2007/8, before the international recession, to its present figure of £65.1m, recorded in the latest set of figures for 2013/14, a fall of nearly 18%. In 2000/1, the first year analysed, book stock spending was £75.4m, meaning the present figure is a decline of a more than 13%.
At the same time as spending on book stocks has decline, the amount spent on council overhead charges has increased dramatically. The money, which is taken from library budgets to fund overall council expenditure, has more than doubled from £62.4m in 2000/1, to £133m in 2013/14, a growth of 113%.
Overall expenditure on libraries in England has grown from £756m in 2000/1, to £985m in 2013/14, a rise of 30%.
Coates told The Bookseller: "When you look at these figures, what it shows is that it isn't necessarily a lack of money that is the issue, it's about how it is allocated. It's not austerity that is the problem. What is more fundamental is that not enough money is spent on books, and too much money is spent on overheads."
He added: "The reason that most people use libraries is for reading. Councils have the idea that libraries are there to promote their services or act as day care. Until they realise that libraries are about books and start to invest, then visitor numbers will continue to decline."
Veteran library campaigner Desmond Clarke said: "The doubling of council overhead costs is an issue that people in libraries have been aware of for a long time, but has never been properly addressed. It is a scandal that it has been allowed to go so high – councils give with one hand and take away with the other, taking money out the back door."
The Local Government Association has yet to respond to a request for comment.
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