Culture secretary Ed Vaizey has said that inquiries into library closures cannot be called “willy-nilly”.
Speaking at a parliamentary debate held last night (12th September) to discuss Gloucestershire libraries, Vaizey expressed his favour for library volunteers and pointed out the rarity of inquiries from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport into library closures.
He said: “When one reads debates about the future of library services and calls for inquiries, one assumes that an inquiry is called every minute. In fact, the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 has been on the statute book for almost half a century, and in that time only one inquiry has ever been called.” He added: “One cannot simply call an inquiry willy-nilly.”
Vaizey recently confirmed he was not intending to intervene over closures in Bolton, Lewisham and the Isle of Wight.
At the debate, Cheltenham Liberal Democrat MP Martin Horwood spoke out against closures in Gloucestershire, where campaign group the Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries is battling to save libraries. He said: “Libraries are community hubs and noticeboards, providing sources of information as well as pleasure and learning.
"They are vital in communities that face particular challenges, where free access to books is not some middle-class luxury, but an essential local service—and not simply access to books, but access to quiet work space, including for homework, when sometimes that is impossible to find at home.” However, the Conservative Gloucester MP Richard Graham described the complaints as “an artful and early kick-off to a Lib Dem county council election campaign”.
Vaizey conceded that: “it is genuinely the case that the position in Gloucestershire has been uncertain for some time”, but said he would have to wait for his officials to review the situation before the possibility of an inquiry.
Vaizey also referred to funding available to help library services from the Arts Council, which he described as being “responsible for superintending and promoting the library service”, despite the fact that the body has said those superintending responsibilities rest with the DCMS.
He ended the debate by saying: “I make no apology for the increase in volunteers in libraries. They make an enormous difference to the provision of library services.”
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