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House of Commons Hansard
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Thrapston Library
21 March 2018
Volume 638

The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,

Declares that Thrapston Library should remain open.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to compel Northamptonshire County Council to ensure Thrapston Library remains open.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Tom Pursglove, Official Report, 1 February 2018; Vol. 635, c. 1176.]

[P002107]

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.

Northamptonshire Council Council’s (NCC) Libraries and Information Service has provided a range of community services to local people. This has been delivered through 36 static libraries, a mobile library service, and other digital services and resources. However, NCC carried out a review of its Library and Information Service, and from 20 October 2017 to 13 January 2018 it consulted on three options for the future of the service. NCC has since analysed the consultation responses and recommendations were considered by NCC’s cabinet on 27 February and by the full council on 28 February.

The Department understands that the changes agreed by NCC include the retention of 15 staffed static libraries (eight large and seven medium libraries), with the remaining 21 static libraries, including Thrapston library, to either close or become independent libraries (operating outside the Council’s statutory service). NCC has indicated that it will discuss with local community groups the option of these taking over their local libraries, where such interest was shown during the public consultation.

The agreed changes also include the closure of the mobile library service and the intention to extend the current outreach “Library to You” service for library users who find it difficult to access a static library. NCC expects to develop a decommissioning plan and timetable for the changes, to be implemented from 1 April 2018, and an amended library timetable for the libraries remaining in NCC’s statutory service.

With effect from 1 March, following spending controls in place across council services, NCC has revised opening hours at all its libraries across the network, with the intention that they are open for at least three days per week. Thrapston library is open for five days per week Tuesday to Friday (inclusive) 10 am to 6 pm and on Saturday between 10 am and 2 pm.

The Department continues to closely monitor NCC’s library service service provision. In response to representations from CILIP, the Secretary of State has written to the Council to confirm that the Department is treating the correspondence as a complaint under section 10(l)(a) of the Act, that NCC is failing to carry out its duties relating to the public library service imposed on it by or under the Act. The complaint will be considered 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 on 9 January 2018 the Secretary of State for the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced the appointment of an independent inspector to better understand whether NCC is complying with its “best value” duty under the Local Government Act 1999—a legal requirement to ensure good governance and effective management of resources. The inspector reported to MHCLG on 15 March 2018 and has concluded that NCC has failed to properly comply with its best value duty.

The Secretary of State for MHCLG is considering whether or not to exercise his powers of intervention under section 15 of the 1999 Act. My Department is engaging with MHCLG to determine whether decisions taken by their Secretary of State have any implications for the consideration of this complaint.