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Closure of Lancashire's Libraries and Museums

Volume 615: debated on Monday 10 October 2016

The petition of residents of Hyndburn,

Declares that local libraries in the borough of Hyndburn should not be closed.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take action to prevent the closure of libraries in the borough of Hyndburn.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Graham Jones , Official Report, 20 July 2016; Vol. 613, c. 929.]


Observations by The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Karen Bradley):

The Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 (the Act) makes it a statutory requirement that every local authority provides a comprehensive and efficient library service. Local authorities must determine how best to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service for local people, 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.

Public libraries are a valuable resource for all members of the public. There is a strong library service in England, with 3,076 public libraries and £713.9 million invested by Councils in 2014/15. In the same year there were 224.6 million visits to libraries and 190.9 million book loans in England.

Further, public libraries have the ability to support the transformation of individuals, communities and society as a whole. The range of outcomes they help to achieve is substantial and varied. However, in response to the challenges they face public libraries are modernising and innovating to stay relevant and meet the changing demands of their communities.

Our support of public libraries is why the Government and the Local Government Association established the Libraries Taskforce in 2015. The Taskforce has already published Toolkits and case studies to assist local authorities and consulted on a draft vision for public libraries, “Libraries Deliver: an Ambition for Libraries in England 2016— 2021”. It is expected that this will be finalised and published soon, and will provide a range of practical and innovative options local authorities can deploy to maintain and transform library services. The Government wants local authorities to work with us and their local communities to consider the options available and ensure library services are sustainable for the long term.

Lancashire County Council has been considering library service changes for some time. In January this year the Council undertook a four-week consultation, about proposals and to gather information on how the library service was being used. The proposals included reducing the statutory service from 74 static libraries to 34 libraries. Following consideration of the feedback, the Council issued a second consultation which closed on 14 August. This included proposals to deliver 44 libraries in its statutory public library service, comprising of 37 staffed and resourced libraries, together with seven unstaffed satellite libraries where people could use self-service counters.

The proposed service was to include six mobile library vehicles, a home library service, and the virtual library service.

Lancashire County Council also noted interest from some communities in taking responsibility for buildings and / or taking over the running of a service which the Council no longer proposed to maintain. It invited expressions of interest as part of the consultation.

The Council has considered the feedback to this consultation and revised proposals that included provision of 39 fully staffed and five satellite libraries were put to and agreed by the Council Cabinet on 8 September. The Council intended to close three libraries in Hyndburn - Clayton-le-Moors, Oswaltwistle Library and Rishton Library. Clayton-le- Moors and Oswaltwistle due to close on 30 September, with Rishton to close between 1 October and 30 November 2016.

Council officers are currently considering the viability of business cases submitted by volunteers to take on the running of each of these libraries and are due to report to the Council Cabinet at its meeting on 6 October. Should the business cases be deemed viable we understand Independent Community Libraries may be established at these locations.

The Department has recently received representations raising concerns that Lancashire County Council may, as a consequence of the changes to its public library service, fail to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. The representations are being treated as a formal complaint under section 10 (1) (a) of the Act and the Minister for Civil Society has therefore written to Lancashire County Council to inform them. The Department will seek relevant information regarding the proposed changes to the library services, to enable my careful consideration as to whether a local inquiry is necessary to resolve any real doubt about the Council’s compliance with its statutory duty under the Act.