Laura Sharman 06 November 2012

Councils warned over 'illegal' cuts to library services

Council cuts to library services could be illegal, a report from the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has warned.

The cross-party group of MPs says that some local authorities have changed their library provision in a bid to find quick cost savings without taking into consideration their statutory duty. The report calls on Government to provide guidance on the ‘comprehensive and efficient’ requirements by councils.

John Whittingdale MP, Chair of the Committee, said: ‘At the moment councils appear to be somewhat in the dark about what is expected of them and are making decisions which are being overturned by judicial review. This is an expensive, undemocratic and generally unsatisfactory way of making policy.

‘Councils need to be given the support and advice they need to consult locally and develop a service that meets the needs of the local community and complies with their obligations.’

The report concludes that providing an efficient service does not necessarily mean keeping all existing library branches open, but they should be acknowledged as ‘hubs’ of the local community. It also warns that while the wholesale transfer of library branches to volunteer groups is unlikely to meet the statutory criteria, it can be a valuable addition to the service.

The Local Government Association has welcomed the report, saying it highlights best practice in modernising libraries across the country. However, it warns that further cuts will have a ‘significant’ impact on services.

Chair of the Local Government Association’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, Cllr Flick Rea, said: ‘The rising cost of providing social care, combined with falling council funding, is eating away at the money available not just for libraries but all of the most popular services local authorities provide. Until the funding crisis in adult social care is sorted out the budgets for other council services will continue to come under enormous pressure.'

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