Vaizey: "no case" yet for libraries intervention

Vaizey: "no case" yet for libraries intervention

Culture minister Ed Vaizey today promised that he would not "shy away" from the responsibility to intervene over library closures that breached local authority statutory duties, but said he had not yet received advice that there was a prima facie case to do so.

Vaizey's comments come despite repeated calls from residents in several parts of the country for the minister to intervene over widespread closures planned for their area. On Friday (17th June), Gloucestershire residents gained a High Court injunction halting the closure of libraries as part of a judicial review claim. Meanwhile, in Lewisham five libraries closed on 28th May despite meetings held between officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the local council and residents.

Vaizey, speaking at London conference "The Future of Library Services in the Big Society", said he had not exercised his power to intervene because there was currently a "fluid situation" in which authorities announcing widespread closures were revising their proposals after local protests. He said: "Campaigning does work."

He argued it was "better to discuss with local authorities before we press the nuclear button of intervening", saying his officials had been having "useful, constructive meetings" with councils and residents in affected areas.

Pressed by The Bookseller on his refusal to act thus far, Vaizey said: "Closing a library does not necessarily mean you have breached your statutory duty. Of course there will be disappointed people where a library closes. I will call it in where there is a prima facie case that they [the local authority] have breached their library duties. I haven't been given that advice yet."

Instead the culture minister preferred to focus on what he called the "positive" story about libraries, "exciting developments in local authorities up and down the country, a lot not due to money but to passion and imagination". As examples he included the recently announced merger of library services between London boroughs Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham, as well as Lancashire libraries celebrating carers' week, the Jesmond library reopening in Newcastle and Manchester libraries upgrading their Facebook page.