Culture minister Ed Vaizey has repeated his assertion that secretary of state Jeremy Hunt will intervene over library closures "only when all other avenues have been exhausted."
Vaizey was replying to a written question from shadow culture minister Dan Jarvis, as recorded today by Hansard.
Jarvis first inquired of Hunt, "who in his Department is responsible for identifying and advising him on potential problems with the provision of library services by local authorities, including whether a library authority may be in breach of its statutory duties under the Libraries Act 1964."
To this, Vaizey issued the reply: "Public library services provided across England are monitored by this Department's officials who engage directly with library authorities. They also monitor correspondence sent to the Department, monitor websites and press articles, and engage in meaningful discussion with organisations that have current information about public library service provision. These include Arts Council England, the Society of Chief Librarians and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals."
Jarvis then asked whether the Department for Culture, Media and Sport had set any criteria for intervention in a local library authority, and "whether it is his policy to intervene in local authorities where a substantial programme of library closures is undertaken without (a) an adequate assessment of local needs and (b) a strategic libraries plan."
Vaizey replied: "I endorse the analysis and approach adopted by the inquiry held in 2009 into the proposed closure of libraries by Wirral metropolitan borough council. When authorities consider reorganising library services it is important that they have assessed the local needs of their communities and have prepared a strategic plan for their library services. Library authorities must provide a service which best meets local needs within available resources. Where there is evidence that this may not be happening, dialogue will commence with the local authority concerned. Use of statutory powers, including those regarding intervention, will be exercised on a case by case basis only when all other avenues have been exhausted."
There has been widespread dissatisfaction amongst campaigners at the lack of intervention from Jeremy Hunt over library closures, despite prolific requests for him to do so. The secretary of state has a duty to "superintend" the library service under the 1964 Libraries Act.