National Public Library Service Inquiry
Things are moving very fast on the different issues of local libraries around the country – people are considering legal action and many protest events supporting libraries have already taken place.
The fear is that we are on a short term dash towards cultural oblivion that will place a straight jacket on innovation and lifelong learning in many communities, at a time when the country needs to prepare to face up to the bigger challenges the world faces towards 2050. There is confusion because the Minister for Culture is not responding to the calls for leadership in the face of disproportionate cuts, small savings and loss of long term value.
Concerns are being raised that the Department of Culture Media and Sport support the closure of hundreds of small community libraries, which was not what people voted for last year, despite assertions to the contrary. The Minister, Ed Vaizey MP has in the past supported libraries and promised a ‘library renaissance’ in the UK. The silence of this once vociferous supporter is ominous now he is the custodian of our libraries under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. Letters from his Department will state:
“The Government is aware that the proposals remain subject to consultation with local communities and believe it is premature to consider intervention at this stage. When considering whether a local authority’s plans are in breach of the 1964 Act, decisions have to be taken on a case-by-case basis. The Secretary of State needs to consider relevant facts and local circumstances before making a decision”.
Once a library is closed or service reduced each inquiry, if allowed would have to be held on local facts. The Act is vague and this will raise different issues around the country. Many groups are seeking to make challenges under the Act. This can only be done once decisions have been made about the future of libraries in an area. The cost of thousands of inquiries would be enormous as would legal challenges to any refusal by the Minister to hold an inquiry. The trauma of the Government ignoring calls for inquiry in local areas would pull the country apart.
Now Ed Vaizey has said “Even after a decision has been made, I have to take the advice of the MLA before deciding to intervene”.
When local axes fall and legal challenges follow, and this is replicated around the country, millions of pounds will be wasted.
Yet costs could be avoided. Some local inquiry findings would be common to all areas. Campaigners have already gathered significant evidence to support the needs for libraries around the country. Professional organisations are ready and willing to offer advice. The opportunity is to stop, reflect and consider the future of the Public Library Service in the UK. The Government is not prepared to do this so the public must now set out a clear national vision for libraries.
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