Library budgets slashed by £30m

Local authorities have cut the amount of money they spend on public libraries by £30m in the last year, according to a new survey.

The survey by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), found total spending on libraries has fallen by 12% in Britain over the last four years.

Total spending fell by £30m in 2017/18, with the service losing 712 full-time employees (FTEs).

CIPFA’s survey also showed 51,394 volunteers putting in 1,780,843 hours in 2017/18, as libraries come to rely on the passion of members of their community to keep the service alive.

Visitor numbers continued to decline with a 10m drop in visitors to 233m visitors, however the top three libraries all receive well in excess of 1m visitors a year.

There were 182,895,334 books issued to 7,991,752 active borrowers in Britain in 2017/18.

‘Libraries have faced significant cuts under austerity, with councils forced to reduce spending on all ‘non-essential’ services across the board,’ said CIPFA chief executive, Rob Whiteman.

‘We can view libraries as a bit of a canary in the coal mine for what is happening across the local government sector, as we see it reflect many wider trends.

‘A lack of funds is forcing many councils to get creative in how they deliver their services, and we find in our public libraries this loss of paid employees is creating a reliance on volunteers,’ added Mr Whiteman.

‘Similar cost shifting is happening across almost all local government services, with communities finding everything from legal aid to green waste collection no longer as accessible.

‘There really needs to be some honest conversations about the direction of travel of our councils and what their role is, as the funding gap will continue to exacerbate these issues.’

Last week, cash-strapped Northamptonshire County Council announced plans to allow 17 of its libraries to become community managed.

The approach taken in each local area has been developed in partnership with community organisations and councils, tailoring each individual proposal to local need and the resources available.

‘At the heart of this proposal is the fact that we’ve worked with some wonderful community groups who clearly have a passion for books and libraries,’ said cabinet member for health and wellbeing, Cllr Cecile Irving-Swift.

‘As such we’ve been able to sit down and draw up unique plans with the groups so that a model is proposed that is workable in each location.’

Jamie Hailstone
Senior reporter - NewStart


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