Libraries minister visits Lancashire over cuts

Libraries minister visits Lancashire over cuts

Libraries minister Rob Wilson met with Lancashire County Council this week as part of an investigation into the council’s controversial plans to close 28 libraries.

The plans to shut 28 out of the region’s 73 libraries in order to make £200m worth of savings by 2020 have been branded “disgraceful” by campaigners.

The visit was instigated by an official complaint from Tory MP Ben Wallace, who called for the government to intervene in the closures.

Wilson met with councillors including Cllr Jennifer Mein, the head of Lancashire’s library service Julie Bell, and the head of property services Mel Ormisher.

Mein said: “It was a very cordial meeting. He was here for quite some time. He offered a couple of things and we are looking into it. It’s not to reopen the libraries that are already closed. It gave us the opportunity to let him know what a fantastic (library service) offer we actually have. I think he was impressed with some of the things he heard.

“We have a duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient service and obviously he was probing to try to make sure we did do that, also that we’ve consulted properly according to the rules. He will be writing to us in two to three weeks.”

According to the Lancashire Evening Post, Mein is hopeful that some extra funding may be available.

The DCMS declined to comment on the meeting when asked by The Bookseller, saying it was a "private" affair, but added that the minister's visit was “to discuss and question the authority’s existing and future plans for its library service” and meet local representatives who had concerns about a library’s closure.

Wilson also met with representatives to discuss the closure and impending sale of Whalley Library, which was put up for sale after the council failed to find voluntary groups to run it.

Neil Martin, a spokesperson for the Save Whalley Library campaign, said: "I'm delighted that we were able to achieve some form of redress on behalf of the whole community. The fact that a senior minister and civil servants came all the way from London on an investigatory visit shows just how seriously the government is taking our complaint."

Councillor Terry Hill added: "A full and frank discussion took place with the minister. It made a refreshing change for our arguments, which were confidently expressed and well argued by participants who genuinely care about what is happening to and the already negative consequences of the closure for the community in surrounding areas, were listened to in detail. This is very different from short shrift we received from Lancashire County Council when our detailed submissions were simply ignored."