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Public Library Service

Volume 524: debated on Thursday 3 March 2011

The Government are a champion of public libraries as vital hubs of local communities. We drive library improvement, and shortly after coming to office, we set up the future libraries programme, which more than 30 local authorities—[Interruption.] The Film Council was Labour Government policy. The programme supports innovative and efficient models of service delivery. In addition, my Department and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council continue to monitor and work with local authorities on their proposals for their library services.

I thank the Minister for those words, but in Cambridge the Conservative county council is reviewing library provision, resulting in service reductions and the possible closure of such great facilities as Milton road, Arbury Court and Rock road libraries. The Liberal Democrat opposition on the county council proposed a small amount of money to save all those services. What comment does the Minister have in view of his earlier remarks about what the county council ought to be doing?

The county council is, I understand, not only part of the SPINE project, but works with Lincolnshire council under the future libraries programme. I will not comment on the specific proposals that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I understand that Cambridgeshire county council is considering turning many of its libraries into community hubs and consulting extensively on its proposals.

What assessment have the Government made about the impact of library closures and reduced library services on efforts to improve adult literacy?

The improvement of adult literacy is incredibly important, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has secured substantial funding for adult learning. Many library closures are simply proposals, and many local authorities are continuing to consult on them.

Labour-run Bradford council proposes to close Wrose, Denholme and Wilsden libraries in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that if a Conservative-led Bradford council could afford to keep those libraries open a few years ago, with the same grant as Bradford receives now from the Government, Labour-run Bradford council should be able to afford to do so, too?

As I said, it would be wrong of me to comment on specific proposals, but I am sure that Bradford city council will want to consult extensively with local people.

The DCMS website says:

“We would be concerned if libraries were closed, or their services disproportionately reduced, just to save money.”

If the policy is not intended to save money, why does the Minister think that councils are proposing to close libraries?

The Labour Government said in March last year:

“The Government recognises that library closures may sometimes be necessary but closures must form part of a strategic approach to service provision”.

I agree with that statement.

Northamptonshire county council, which happens to be Conservative-led, has reconsidered its proposals to close libraries and is keeping them open. In particular, in my constituency, Councillor Terry Perkins led the campaign to save Irchester library. Does that not show that Conservatives are listening?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. A lot of councils are listening. Local people have reacted to many councils’ initial proposals; there has been consultation; and many councils are changing their plans—and that is a good thing.