DCMS intervenes on West Berkshire libraries

DCMS intervenes on West Berkshire libraries

Eight libraries in West Berkshire have been temporarily saved from closure following intervention from the government.

West Berkshire council made proposals earlier this year to close eight out of nine of the region’s libraries – as well as two mobile libraries – in order to save £730,000.

Last week, the BBC reported that seven branches and a mobile library would be saved from closure thanks to £1.4m in "transitional funding" from the government. £475,000 of this funding will go to libraries over the next two years. The BBC said the council will then transition the libraries to a self-service system to save money.

Local paper Newbury Today later revealed that the council took the decision following an intervention by the DCMS.

A report published by the council shows that the authority was told by the DCMS that a detailed needs assessment to "inform any changes to the way libraries operate” was needed before the changes could go ahead. The report said: "The council will fail in its equality duty, and also its statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act, if it proceeds with a major reduction in its libraries service without due process”.

Nick Poole, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), told The Guardian: “We are pleased to see decisive action by DCMS to maintain public libraries in West Berkshire and signs that government is prepared to intervene where councils may be considering cutting statutory services.”

Last year, CILIP launched a campaign, My Library By Right, that set out to “hold the government to account for its legal duties” to keep libraries open.

Chair of the Library Campaign Laura Swaffield told The Bookseller: "In very rare cases, DCMS does a little arm-twisting behind the scenes when really grotesque cuts are planned. Not nearly often enough. But this public stance is unusual. Maybe it means the minister is responding at last to mounting complaints about his uselessness." But she added: "I suspect it'll just be temporary. The plan can probably stay almost unchanged once the council goes through the motions of doing a needs assessment, just as councils can ignore 100% opposition as long as they 'consult'."

A DCMS spokesperson said: “Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service and we have powers to ensure they comply.”