Saturday, 10 November 2012

Creative inertia

Confused about his role

Mr Vaizey has made a factually inaccurate statement in parliament. He either doesn’t understand the nature of his responsibility and job or he is trying to pass the buck to someone else. This is what he said on the 12 Sep 2012:

“A £6 million fund has been provided by the Arts Council, which is now responsible for superintending and promoting the library service”

And yesterday there was an article in the bookseller where Nicky Morgan who is in charge of libraries at the Art Council said this:

"When the Arts Council took on the role of developing public libraries from the MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council), we were very clear that we would not be undertaking a supervisory role, assessing whether library services were 'comprehensive and efficient”

ACE have extra problems without Vaizey imagining they do his job for him, they are facing cuts themselves and will only have five of these library relationship managers to cover England. Considering how badly the envisioning the future of the libraries survey was done, they aren’t resourced to supervise councils to make sure they comply with the act. Of course no one really knows what the act means and the interpreter of the act won’t tell us, he doesn’t even think it’s his job to uphold it! The act is quite clear though:
 “From the commencement of this Act it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England and Wales, and to secure the proper discharge by local authorities of the functions in relation to libraries conferred on them as library authorities by or under this Act.
Ed said at the select committee that:

“I have taken a view that I should keep at arm’s length from the organisations involved in the various campaigns, but that I should take advice from officials about whether or not they believe, on the basis of their investigations, that there has been a prima facie breach of the comprehensive and efficient duty. That is the position I have taken”

And yet in this transparent and open government of ours the department won’t release the advice that he has been given because he has sat on his hands, my FOI was refused and severely delayed and the ICO is currently looking into it. No doubt the department will continue to resist releasing this advice as I’m sure they have been given a very specific remit to investigate in such a way that always returns the result the department wants, I.E to not intervene. If an authority closed every single library I doubt the DCMS would judge it to be a breach of the act. It is obviously Tory party policy to make savage cuts to libraries, the other parties can cut too and blame the Tories so it’s a win/win for them too.

In opposition in 2009 Ed said the Tories would be:

"Launching a voluntary Library Charter, to which local authorities would be invited to sign up. This would set out minimum standards for libraries, a community reading strategy, provide guidance on what constituted a “comprehensive and efficient” library service under the Public Libraries Act, and so provide objective guidance for the use of the Secretary of State’s powers to call in a local authority’s decision to close a library."

I'm still waiting to see what Ed thinks are minimum standards for a library service that can be measured against the act, in the meantime I have emailed the DCMS and my MP David Cameron asking what is going on and who is actually in charge of libraries, we all know who is responsible.

1 comment:

  1. (Reissue of my comment with typos removed)

    The first comment on the most recent Public Libraries News maintains that "MLA never had an oversight function. That it did is a myth." See

    But I believe this to be a assertion that has no basis in fact. Was it a mischievous attempt to mislead? Probably not.

    For example : On 18th November 2010 I received this via e-mail from Roy Clare, CE of the MLA. It certainly implies that the MLA had an "oversight” function :

    Hello, Shirley, yes happy for you to circulate. Wirral’s key features were a “perfect storm” of the following factors:

    #. Stated intention for large numbers of closures
    #. Driven by asset-review, not social outcomes #. Ineffective consultation with public (and staff) *
    #. Potential of library services not well recognised *
    #.No workable strategy for service improvement*
    #. ‘Good Practice’ elsewhere not being considered

    It was the combination that led us to consider appealing to Secretary of State.

    In our view one or two of these factors on their own would not be sufficient grounds to cry ‘foul’. Each is important, but those marked * are fundamental.

    Hope that helps?


    Roy Clare CBE
    CEO, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council

    I have other mails from Mr Clare which refer to specific councils and show that the MLA had a watching brief. I won't bother you with them, but they are in my archive.

    If the Minister and Secretary of State are satisfied with the status quo and the paucity of information on which they can rely - we can only assume they have no interest in their statutory duties.

    What does that say about them and should it be tolerated ?