Ed Vaizey has been given a speech proclaiming the arts sector is in "rude health" this is while Newcastle are slashing their arts budget by 50% and Westminster council by 100% and responded to the decimation of library service by listing lots of cherry picked examples of stuff going on and proclaiming: "Libraries “In Crisis”? Again, I don’t think so."
Yes there are new libraries opening, they seem to be large city centre libraries, replacing their 60’s predecessors backed financially by the widely discredited PFI method of funding and the other stuff he mentions is blue sky bullshit about business incubators, hatchery spaces and other nonsense descriptions of the things that good libraries have been doing for years anyway. All the waffle, nonsense and Boris lite bluster doesn’t disguise the fact that actually library numbers are being savagely cut.
In the last few years 347 libraries have closed, 7.5% of the library service. This is before the cuts have even really kicked in. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number for 2013 is higher than the 201 that closed in 2012. And on top of that the arts council say that by April this year, 425 libraries, or 12% will be community supported, in other words, local authorities no longer see them as part of their statutory network and volunteers are keeping them open.
So since the coalition came to power, 19.5% of libraries will have been closed or cut either wholly or partially so they have to rely on volunteers to replace the low paid library managers and assistants. A fifth of libraries, cut. Crisis, I do think so.
By the end of this year, the 19.5% is obviously going to be a much higher figure, if Ed worked in the real world and the business he was responsible lost this many branches he would be out of a job. At what point will he think any of the 151 library authorities will be in breach of the “comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof” 25%, 30%, 50%? This is from the man who when one authority was closing libraries in 2009 declared: “If Andy Burnham is not prepared to intervene when library provision is slashed in a local authority such as the Wirral, it is clear that he is ignoring his responsibilities as secretary of state, which in the process renders any sense of libraries being a statutory requirement for local authorities meaningless.”
The hypocrisy is so high I’m surprised it hasn’t breached the distance across the curved universe and hit Ed in the back of his own head. The minister is of course selectively ignoring part of the act, he has also ignored the part about needing an advisory body but helpfully has added in extra parts saying councils can factor in the resources available to then as a factor on deciding what their statutory library provision should be. As long as they tick the boxes in the right way, they can close as many libraries as they want. The councils rather than band together to pool the management resources are in nearly all cases cutting the low paid library managers and assistants rather than tackle the duplication that exists across the authorities borders and the shocking high service support costs of running library services. The sensible plan, as cuts are inevitable would have regional library management hubs to cut down on the duplication of having 151 library authorities, the Tories, despite supposedly the party of efficient public services are not doing this though.
Ed’s boss Dave, went to the electorate with the central plank of his manifesto being the “big society”. The public said no, so we are getting it anyway, without a mandate. Others including quangos and taxpayer funded organisations are also supporting the big society, also without a mandate from voters, the Arts Council, The LGA, SCL are all pushing the approach that cuts low paid staff, maintains the bloated service support and get the volunteers to provide the service to themselves approach. The approach that is destroying the library service on the altar of Dave’s vision of the big society.
In 2025 the library service is likely consist of lots of badly managed, glass monstrosities, with PFI liabilities soaking up whatever’s left in the library budget. In the areas outside the city centres, in the rough suburbs of Swindon, Sunderland, Liverpool and beyond, in the remote rural villages, in the shires and the Home Counties thousands of communities will have had their beating hearts ripped out, never to recover, never to be replaced.