Shadow culture minister MP Dan Jarvis has warned Ed Vaizey risks becoming the “Dr Beeching” of libraries as the culture minister prepares to give evidence at the DCMS select enquiry and library campaigners make their way to a mass rally in London.
In a speech Jarvis intends to give at the Methodist Central Hall rally this morning (13th March), the shadow culture minister compares Vaizey to Dr Richard Beeching, who oversaw the closure of a third of the UK rail network in the 1960s. Jarvis also criticises Vaizey for failing to “meaningfully intervene” in the closures, which he says “[make] a mockery of the law enshrined in the 1964 Libraries Act".
Jarvis said: “It’s a generation since Dr Richard Beeching published a report which led to the closure of a third of the UK rail network, in what was subsequently seen as an act of monumental short-sightedness. Today, the threat faced by our libraries may not yet be on quite the same scale—though with around 600 of them currently under threat, and hidden cutbacks in hours, staff and books undermining them from within, it is real enough.
"But the greatest similarity to the 1960s is the lack of vision and the waste of opportunity. Ed Vaizey risks being remembered as the Dr Beeching of the libraries—a man who presided over the decline of what should have been one of our greatest assets.”
Today Vaizey, shadow minister for culture, communications and creative industries, will answer questions at the last evidence-giving session of the DCMS' select committee enquiry into library closures. An alliance set up especially to fight the measures, Speak Up for Libraries, including members of UNISON; the Womens Institute; the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals (CILIP); Campaign for the Book; and local library campaign groups; and authors Kate Mosse and Philip Ardagh will rally.
The group is calling on Vaizey to recognise the crisis hitting the service and to take “urgent” action. More than 100 libraries across the country have either closed, are now run by volunteers, or have been turned into social enterprises since April 2011.
The WI is also set to deliver a petition of 70,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street calling on the government to “honour both its commitment to act as a champion of the library service, and its duty of oversight to ensure that a comprehensive and efficient library service is provided".
Dave Prentis, UNISON general secretary, said: “Communities need libraries now more than ever before, but in their hour of need, drastic cuts to council budgets mean libraries are under serious threat . . . By speaking up for libraries, our alliance is sending the government a strong message that we will not take this threat to vital local services and to future generations lying down."
Ruth Bond, chair of the NFWI, said WI members were “dismayed” to see the government “stand by” while libraries closed. “With libraries and library staff under threat from a fatal combination of closures and service cut backs, our leaders seem to be watching in silence while the library service is gradually eroded,” Bond said. “Action to safeguard the future of the library service is long overdue.”
Yesterday, library campaigners called on Vaizey to ensure libraries are run more efficiently rather than closing them down after analysis of data from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy over the last ten years, found that while spending on public libraries has risen, the portion spent on books had dropped.