Hancock takes on culture post as Vaizey exits

Hancock takes on culture post as Vaizey exits

Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk (pictured), has replaced Ed Vaizey as minister for culture and digital policy, as new prime minister Theresa May completed her reshuffle this weekend. Library campaigners have condemned Vaizey's record in office but said Hancock has "a real chance to find a way forward to revive the service." 

Vaizey himself broke the news of his departure from government, tweeting on Friday night (15th July): "Looking forward to supporting the government from the backbenches #vexit". Also on Twitter, Hancock paid tribute to Vaizey and proclaimed himself: "Energised to take up the challenge to make UK tech & cultural centre of the world".

Hancock has been MP for West Suffolk since 2010, and has served as skills and enterprise minister and as energy minister. He was appointed minister for the cabinet office and paymaster general in May 2015.

He studied PPE at Oxford and has an M Phil in economics from Cambridge. Before becoming an MP he served for a while as economic advisor to George Osborne, then shadow chancellor. His Twitter profile says he "loves cricket and racing."

Vaizey's departure follows that of former culture secretary John Whittingdale, with Karen Bradley taking over the post. Meanwhile Justine Greening has been appointed education secretary, with responsibility for further education and higher education policy added to her brief. Jo Johnson has kept the universities and science minister brief.

Vaizey was appointed culture minister in 2010, and bitterly disappointed library campaigners by a lack of action in office, despite bullish talk while in opposition. His repeated mantra, that there was no crisis in the library service, despite the evident widespread cutbacks and closures, was a cause of particular anger.

Campaigner Desmond Clarke commented on the news of his departure: "Ed Vaizey was our longest serving arts minister but he failed to address the complex issues faced by the public library service. After previous studies and consultations were consigned to the bin, he set up another inquiry into the public library service and then appointed a bureaucratic body to drive improvement. Eighteen months later, there is still no sign of an effective plan.

"Ed was very likeable, almost school-boyish, but sadly, his legacy, at least in terms of libraries, is of a service in serious decline. Perhaps his hands were tied by culture secretaries and their advisors, but ministers are remembered for delivering better services, not for being in denial about what is actually happening.

"The new minister has a real chance to find a way forward to revive the service and attract back lapsed users and readers."

Laura Swaffield, chair of The Library Campaign, said she was "astonished" by Vaizey's departure, commenting: "Ed has consistently, with charm to some eyes, blocked every attempt to protect libraries from wholesale closure or the unresearched mass transfer to volunteers. That was his job and he did it, we thought."

She added: "Neither Matt Hancock nor the new secretary of state Karen Bradley seems to have any background in culture issues. That may not matter if they just listen. It's encouraging that Matt has already tweeted that he is 'a big supporter of our great libraries'. At least he's noticed that it's part of his brief. Libraries hardly figured at all in Ed's weekly reports on his activities.

"But it won't much matter, unless Theresa May's government suddenly starts to realise what libraries do, and what a shambles has been made of a key public resource. Possibly the new government's apparent rejection of mindless austerity will help. I'm not holding my breath."

Meanwhile librarian Ian Anstice, editor of Public Libraries News, was even more critical of Vaizey's record, saying: "Ed Vaizey presided over the biggest cuts to public libraries in history with a smile on his face. While vocal in opposition about the need to intervene when libraries closed, he did not intervene once during his six years in office. This included not only the well publicised closures of branches but also a deep hollowing out of many services that saw dramatic losses of professional and other paid staff as well as deep cuts to opening hours and bookstock.  While claiming to recognise the skills of librarians, he welcomed their replacement by volunteers. Ed did all of this while saying that library services were thriving. Where they did so, it was with no thanks to him."