Libraries support people, communities and society as a whole by providing access to books and literature, and, increasingly, to modern technology. My Department, DCMS, established and funds the Libraries Taskforce to implement the Libraries Deliver strategy, which helps to support and reinvigorate England’s public libraries service.
I thank the Minister for that answer. There is considerable concern in Shenfield in my constituency that the local library will close, and residents have already put together 1,000 signatures. What steps is the Department taking to ensure the future of local libraries?
Local authorities in England have a statutory duty under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” library service. I caution all local authorities that I will challenge them about their proposed library service reductions in each case, before deciding whether a local inquiry is needed, as it may be in some cases.
Will the Minister take a trip up to Matlock, where the county offices are for Derbyshire? The Tory-controlled council there has recently announced the closing down of 20 libraries and a reduction in the hours of every librarian in the whole county. Something needs to be done urgently. Get up there to Derbyshire and sort it out.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his charming invitation to Derbyshire. I am always pleased to visit. It is a beautiful county, and I look forward to my visit. I would say to local authorities of any political party that they have a responsibility under the 1964 Act, which this Department takes seriously and has proven so in the past.
When the library in Lichfield was too costly to maintain, the Tory-controlled Staffordshire County Council sold it and moved the library to a museum in the centre of Lichfield. It will now be bigger and better than before. Will the Minister congratulate t’Tory-controlled Staffordshire Council?
I congratulate my hon. Friend and his council. In fact, councils of all political hues around the country are investing in libraries, building new ones and reinvigorating them. I have opened several myself and visited others that have been renovated. Local authorities are doing that across the country.
I can give the Minister the example of Glasgow City Council, which has a multimillion-pound investment programme in refurbishing libraries, including the 93-year-old Partick library, which has served communities in my constituency for that length of time. Does he agree that that is welcome investment and shows that it is important to protect libraries and reinvent them, so that they can continue serving communities into the 21st century?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his local authority. I am pleased to say that I have visited Glasgow. The reality is that many libraries need reinvigoration, which needs investment. Local authorities have the resources to do that, and they need to make those choices. We know in this House, across the political divide, that libraries have a high value in our communities and our society, and they should be invested in.
Mobile libraries are a vital lifeline for rural communities. Will the Minister give an assurance that when he is considering whether to push local authorities further in their provision of services, he will consider that the provision of mobile libraries is essential?
Yes. Mobile libraries, particularly in rural areas, can be extremely useful. They can visit different villages on different days of the week and be very productive. Many local authorities use mobile libraries, and they are a good thing.
We know that the roll-out of universal credit and the shutdown of many jobcentres has put a huge amount of pressure on libraries. What discussions has the Minister had with his colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about the impact on libraries of the UK Government shutting those jobcentres?
I understand that the DWP made that decision with regard to jobcentres in order to rationalise, with larger jobcentres rather than smaller ones. Libraries are used by our communities for myriad reasons, and that is a positive thing. We want to encourage multiple uses of libraries. They are important community hubs and centres. It is important that they are for the loan of books but are also used for a multiplicity of reasons.
Northamptonshire County Council previously planned to close most of its libraries but has now announced ambitious plans to maintain county-wide library provision. Will the Minister welcome that development and offer the county council whatever support his Department can provide?
Yes, I will. I welcome the county council’s position. It has an ambition to save all 32 libraries in the county, which I am pleased with. I appreciate that there are challenges, but it is right that the council saves those libraries. I have recused myself from making a decision under the 1964 Act, for obvious reasons—it is my home county—but the reality is that libraries around the country should be supported.