The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,
Declares that Oundle Library should remain open.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to compel Northamptonshire County Council to provide adequate funding to allow Oundle Library to remain open.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Tom Pursglove, Official Report, 12 December 2017; Vol. 633, c. 366.]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Matt Hancock):
The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 (the Act) requires all local authorities in England to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. In considering how to deliver this statutory duty, each local authority is responsible for determining, through consultation, the local needs to deliver a modern and efficient library service that meets the requirements of their communities within available resources.
The Act requires the Secretary of State to superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England, and to secure the proper discharge by local authorities of the functions in relation to libraries as conferred on them as library authorities. The Department therefore monitors library service changes to support the Secretary of State in the discharge of these functions, and the Act provides the Secretary of State with powers to order a local inquiry if, after careful consideration, there is serious doubt that a local authority is carrying out its statutory duty.
The Government recognise the importance and value of public libraries for all members of the public. Libraries support the transformation of individuals, communities and society as a whole. They provide access to books, opportunities for people to learn and improve, and bring communities together to support integration and tackle loneliness. In addition, they provide practical help and guidance, including for digital skills, literacy, health and wellbeing, and business development.
The Government are therefore committed to helping public libraries in England prosper, including through the support of the development agency for libraries, Arts Council England. In addition, the Government, with the Local Government Association, established the Libraries Taskforce in 2015 to provide leadership and support to public library services in England. The Taskforce has published a range of information and guidance, including toolkits and case studies to assist local authorities and their library service.
In December 2016, the Taskforce published “Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021” that sets out the Taskforce’s vision for public libraries in England. This is endorsed by central and local government and describes how library services in England support and add value to a range of local and national policy priorities, providing practical examples of existing good practice.
The Government recognise that local authorities are seeking to modernise and innovate library services to ensure they remain relevant and meet the changing demands of their communities. Local authorities are encouraged to work with Government and local people to consider the range of options available to deliver a comprehensive and efficient library service and to ensure that it is sustainable for the long term.
NCC’s Libraries and Information Service seeks to provide a range of community services to local people, including through 36 static libraries, a mobile library service, and other digital services and resources. From 20 October 2017 to 13 January 2018, NCC consulted on three options for the future of its Library and Information Service. The Government understands that NCC has since analysed the consultation responses and recommendations have been proposed for consideration at NCC cabinet meeting on 13 February and final decision at a full council meeting, as part of its budget-setting process, on 22 February.
Under these recommendations, NCC proposes to retain eight large and seven medium libraries (including Oundle library) in its library service, totalling 15 static libraries, and to develop these as community hubs. NCC also intends to investigate the potential future library service provision for a further location in the Corby area. In addition, the mobile library service would close and, to support library users who find it difficult to access a static library, NCC intends to extend its outreach “Library to You” service.
In relation to the communities served by the remaining 21 libraries currently in its statutory library service but not covered by the above proposals, NCC notes that it will seek to develop a community-managed library model by working with communities to develop business plans for local groups to take over the running of these libraries. To enable a transition to develop such community-managed libraries, NCC proposes to provide continued financial support during 2018-19, and in 2019-20 to pay the rental costs for these libraries. In the event that business plans are not feasible for any library, NCC expects to decide to decommission that library, which is likely to mean it closing.
The Department continues to closely monitor NCC consideration of its libraries proposals. If, following NCC’s final decision about its library service provision, the Department receives a complaint under section 10(l)(a) of the Act raising concerns that NCC will fail to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service, the Department will carefully consider the complaint on its merits to decide whether an inquiry is required to determine if the council is meeting its statutory duty.
It should also be noted that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced on 9 January 2018 the appointment of an independent inspector to better understand whether NCC is complying with its “best value” duty—a legal requirement to ensure good governance and effective management of resources. The inspection is due to report by 16 March 2018.