Skip to main content

Public Libraries

Volume 556: debated on Thursday 10 January 2013

2. If she will take steps to encourage use of public libraries and to discourage local authorities from closing or reducing the usage of such libraries. (136076)

We are doing a lot to support libraries. We have given Arts Council England responsibility for libraries and it has set up a £6 million fund to support culture in libraries. We have just appointed a specialist adviser. We have regular communications with councils. We have announced our e-learning review. Only at the end of last year we published our comparative reports on library performance.

Libraries provide a centre for deprived children to be able to study when there are no facilities at home. I highlight a case where Brent council closed six of its libraries last year. Since then, library visitor numbers have fallen by 130,000. The council attempted to save nearly £1 million by closing the branch libraries, but it has had to mothball them, which has cost it £500,000. Equally, £120,000 has been spent on legal fees. At the same time, it is negotiating—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. The question is simply too long, and it is not clear what it is.

No, the hon. Gentleman has taken far too long, and he has enough experience that he ought to be able to be more succinct. Let us have a brief response from the Front Bench.

Briefly, libraries are run and paid for by local authorities. I hear what my hon. Friend says. Perhaps it is best to point to good examples of Tory councils, such as Hammersmith and Fulham and Hillingdon, which have kept their libraries open and are reducing or freezing their council tax at the same time.

I wonder whether the Minister has had time to reflect on passing the responsibilities for library development to the Arts Council and whether he now regrets not using the money instead to create a perfectly formed, small library development agency.

In times of economic austerity one has to be careful with public funds, but in any event I think it is long overdue for the Arts Council to have responsibility for libraries, in order to join up responsibility for local libraries with local culture.

In my constituency, Sefton is proposing to close all the branch libraries, radically reducing access. Does the Minister think that that is the only or best way to deal with the budgetary squeeze and will he look into that particular case?

We always keep an eye on proposals by local authorities to reorganise their library services and we will certainly keep an eye on those proposals.