Skip to main content

Public Libraries: Closures

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (1) what guidance his Department has issued to local authorities on procedures for public consultation on proposals to close a public library; (253673)

(2) how many local authorities have informed his Department that they have closed one or more public libraries in the last (a) six months, (b) 12 months and (c) two years;

(3) what proportion of public library closures were preceded by a consultation period longer than six weeks in the last two years;

(4) what estimate he has made of the proportion of public library closures reported to his Department before the closure takes place;

(5) whether his Department has established (a) minimum consultation periods and (b) processes for public library closures by local authorities;

(6) what estimate he has made of the proportion of public library closures which was preceded by effective consultation in the last two years;

(7) what steps his Department takes when it considers that a library has been closed without an effective consultation process.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport does not provide local authorities with guidance on procedures for public consultation on proposals to close a public library. The processes by which consultation is undertaken are a matter for local authorities and they are accountable to the communities they serve for the decisions taken.

There are no official national guidelines on consultation or periods of consultation which apply to local authorities. However the Consultation Institute and the code of practice adhered to by central Government outline that a 12-week period represents best practice for consultation. While it is expected that most local authorities would also adhere to this standard, under exceptional circumstances this might not be appropriate.

There is no duty on local authorities to inform central Government about plans to close public libraries. However, we have been informed of plans to permanently or temporarily close libraries in approximately 34 local authorities in the last two years.

We have not been informed how many or what proportion of the library closures implemented in the last two years were preceded by a consultation period of longer than six weeks.

To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport whether his Department has reviewed (a) the legal duties on and (b) guidance for local authorities on the closure of public libraries by local authorities in the last (i) 12 months, (ii) two years and (iii) five years. (253762)

Library authorities have a legal duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” library service under the terms of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has a duty to superintend library services and intervene if a library service is no longer meeting the requirements of the Act. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has not reviewed these requirements in the last five years.

The Public Library Service Standards, introduced in April 2001, defined our expectations of library service provision but were not legally binding. The standards which fed into comprehensive performance assessment were removed in March 2008, when it was replaced with comprehensive area assessment.