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 – according to Unite, the country’s largest union.
Unite has called 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.”