A ‘line in the sand’ needs to be drawn to stop the mass closure of libraries in England, Scotland and Wales – which has seen more than 400 libraries shut in the last five years – said Unite, the country’s largest union.
Unite called today (Thursday 4 February) for an immediate reversal of the continuing cuts by government to council budgets, which fund library services.
The union said that local councils have a statutory duty, enshrined in legislation stretching back to 1850, to provide ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library services – and could be breaking the law by closing them.
Unite said that the savage cuts to local government budgets since 2010 have put libraries in the frontline for the axe as they are seen as ‘a soft target’.
The latest figures published by CIPFA (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) show that in March 2011 there were 4,340 libraries in England, Scotland and Wales. In March 2015 that figure had dipped to 3,917 – a loss of 423 libraries.
Unite national officer for local government Fiona Farmer said: “We are asking government to keep our libraries open, reverse the council cuts, and have a fair funding formula for local authorities.
“It needs to be highlighted that local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide comprehensive library services as a quality service for communities.
“Libraries are a beacon of hope and practical assistance for people wishing to improve their literacy – we have one of the lowest levels in the developed countries; for those seeking employment; and as centres for strengthening community ties.
“The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act outlines the statutory duty incumbent on councils to provide a quality library service and the legal obligation of the culture secretary John Whittingdale to improve public libraries in England.
“National and local politicians see libraries as ‘a soft target’ in this time of austerity, but they could be pushing up against the boundaries of legality, if they persist on this course. Councils could be breaking the law, so now is the time to draw a line in the sand and stop these closures.”
An umbrella group Speak Up For Libraries is staging a lobby of parliament on Tuesday 9 February. Library workers and users are being urged to attend the meeting at Central Hall, Westminster SW1H 9NH at 11.00. From 13.00, they will be meeting their MPs to make the case for libraries.
They will be joined by Unite library members from Greenwich and Bromley library services who are taking industrial action at the proposed swingeing cuts to their respective libraries, despite the fact that Greenwich council has £320 million in reserves and Bromley council with more than £400 million in its coffers.
Greenwich library staff voted by 90 per cent to strike from 00.01 on Tuesday 9 February until 23.59 on Friday 12 February in protest against the proposed withdrawal of the mobile library service. The borough has 11 static libraries
Bromley library service members will strike from 00.01 on Saturday (6 February) until 23.59 on Saturday 13 February in the long-running dispute over the council’s privatisation programme, including at the 14 libraries where there are plans to replace professional staff with volunteers.
Members of the public are urged to join a march in Bromley on Saturday (6 February) to protest at the attack on the library service. It meets at Bromley South station at 12.00, heading off at 12.30 for the march down Bromley high street.
The link to the Cilip website: http://www.cilip.org.uk/advocacy-campaigns-awards/advocacy-campaigns/my-library-right
The link to The Library Campaign: http://speakupforlibraries.org/
Notes to editors:
For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble in the Unite press office on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940.
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1 Web: unitetheunion.org
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.