Sunday, 13 March 2011

Protect the legal duty to provide public libraries

This is a two-part post. We start off with a new, and important, way that you can help defend public libraries, and then we move on to a rant. I recommend that you read, and act on, the first bit, and read the second bit at your own peril.

Practical Action You Can Should Take

Last week, on 7 March, Greg Clark MP, Minister of State for Decentralisation (seriously) announced that the Government is carrying out a review of statutory duties placed on local authorities by central government.  It wasn't a very loud announcement, I don't think - it had certainly slipped under my radar until yesterday, when Voices for the Library, Alan Gibbons, Katy Wrathwall (one of the CILIP Trustees), Public Libraries News, and others drew attention to it. ETA: a CILIP press release about this was issued on Monday 14 March.

The Dept for Communities and Local Government has drawn up a list of 1,200+ statutory duties that central government currently places on local authorities, the majority of which, they say, arise from primary legislation.  They are asking us, the general public, to comment on these or other statutory duties, and to say which should be kept, and which should be lost.

Three of the 1,200+ duties relate directly to public libraries.  Local authorities are currently required by law (the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964) to provide a 'comprehensive and efficient' library service.  Three duties imposed by this legislation are included in this review.  Removing the legal obligation to provide decent library services could have really serious consequences given the pressure that libraries are facing now when council could, and are, being held to account through legal challenges to their plans.

You can comment on this review via this form. Information about the review, including spreadsheets of all the identified duties (libraries are mentioned in the Excel second file), is available on this DCLG page.  These are the three duties affecting libraries are DCMS:
DCMS_026: Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 1(2)

Duty: To provide information and facilities for the inspection of library premises, stocks, records, as the Secretary of State requires.

Function: Necessary for Secretary of State to fulfil (requirement) to superintend library service (see s1 of PLAMA 1964)

DCMS_027: Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 7

Duty: To provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. In fulfilling this duty, must have particular regard to the matters in s7(2)

Function: Secure provision of local library services

DCMS_028: Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 11

Duty: Supplemental provisions as to transfers of officers, assets and liabilities

Function: Provisions provide, for example, continuity of employment for transferring employees. This secures consistency across library transfers etc and in line with other local authority employment legislation

(This summary copied from the Voices for the Library post
Once you've filled in the form, you can also write to your local MP (find him or her here) (ETA: here's my letter) to voice your opinion on the subject.

The rant

The questionnaire is framed almost entirely in terms of 'burdens' (this review, is in fact part of a 'Tackling burdens: Reducing burdens on local government' initiative).  The use of this term sums up for me everything that I think is wrong with this whole Big Society business.  It's clear that by 'burden' we're supposed to think of something that we (or, in this case) local councils would be better without.  When I'm asked if a particular duty is a burden, an answer in the affirmative will be taken to mean that I think that duty can be dispensed with.

But the way I see it, we have government and councils precisely so that we can lumber them with 'burdens'. Healthcare, schooling, social care, policing, libraries, museums, the fire service are all difficult and expensive to provide: in stark terms, they're burdens to those entrusted with providing them.  But just because they're difficult to do it doesn't mean that government (local or national) shouldn't have to do them.  Because they are by their nature burdensome, handing them over to the masses is surely unlikely end well. The masses are unlikely to rush round to do them instead (either commercially (commerce might want to cherry pick the profitable bits, but is unlikely to want to have to so *all* of it) or as volunteers), and even if they did, they'd be unlikely to be able to do them very well.  I want my local authority to be emburdened with the duty to do the stuff that makes us civilised.



  1. I totally agree with your rant! The whole thing is just unbelievable and incredibly frustrating. Firstly that they basically tried to slip this in under the radar, possibly hoping that no one would bother reading through over a thousand different duties, secondly the slant they've decided to take on it - even the email address was! And I suppose thirdly that Ed Vaizey was defending the 1964 Libraries and Museums Act last year and now here it is being reviewed, but that doesn't surprise me at all.

  2. Re-read this when searching public libraries under your blog tags.
    The current thinking for county councils seems to be community involvement ie putting the burden of paying for branch libraries onto friends/volunteers providing staff or raising money from the parish precept.
    I am attending meetings within my village and have just set up a page for the group.