Saturday, 28 January 2023

Save Our Libraries!

Will libraries become a thing of the past?

A REPORT published by the Charted Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) late last year found that nearly 800 libraries have closed since the Con-Dem government (led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg) instituted austerity measures way back in 2010.

According to their web-site –  https://www.cipfa.org/ – CIPFA is ‘the professional body for people in public finance.  Our 14.000 members work throughout the public services, in national audit agencies, in major accountancy firms, and in other bodies where public money needs to be effectively and efficiently managed.’

According to CIPFAs annual survey of Britain’s libraries (which doesn’t include figures for Ulster) almost a fifth have closed since 2010.  At the moment, 3,583 libraries are open, meaning that 35 have closed since the last survey.  To date, 773 libraries have been closed due to Cameron & Clegg’s austerity agenda.

Spending on libraries has also been savagely slashed.  National spending on the service in 2009/10 was over £1bn – but had dropped to under £750m last year.  That represents a cut of nearly 30%.

With the above swingeing cuts in mind, it comes as no surprise that the number of librarians has dropped dramatically as well.  Just prior to austerity there were 24,000 people employed in the service.  Last year there were 15,300 paid employees – aided by 51.000 volunteers – a substantial reduction of 8,700.

So what does the future hold for libraries?

As we all know, the Tories walked the last general election (held on 12th December last year).  Not only did they do well in their traditional strongholds but they astonishingly demolished Labour’s ‘red wall’ – constituencies in the Midlands, Yorkshire and Northern England.  This meant that Boris Johnson and the Tories captured seats like Bishop Aukland, in County Durham,  which had been held by the Labour Party (except for one election) since 1918.

In our analysis of the result –  https://nationalliberal.org/2019-general-election-result-–-never-trust-a-tory – we noted of Boris Johnson that:

‘He also made a lot of promises to former Labour voters – particularly in Northern England & Wales. The Tories will want to hold onto these votes for any future elections. Therefore, Boris Johnson’s style of Tory-Populism may – to some degree – even reverse previous austerity measures. With an eye on his place in the history books, we feel that he may go on some sort of ‘spending spree’ on infrastructure projects to create a temporary & illusionary jobs boost. It may even turn out to be a project whereby state intervention and public spending is used on a scale never seen by previous Tory governments.’

At this moment, it’s unclear if libraries will be considered as part of these infrastructure projects.  Sadly, we don’t think that this’ll happen – as Johnson will probably go for headline grabbing projects like hospitals and schools.

However, with schools in mind, the National Liberal Party believes that the future of libraries could be secured by incorporating them with schools to form educational community hubs.  Another idea could to be extending the remit of libraries to become local cultural centres – incorporating art, books, exhibitions, films and music.  Such cultural centres could become an important part in any drive to improve literacy and learning.  As they would be locally based, they would be easily accessible to those folks who’re disadvantaged and wouldn’t normally visit an art gallery or museum.

• THE NATIONAL LIBERAL PARTY would be particularly interested to hear the views of both regular library users and staff.  What can be done – initially – to save more libraries from closure and then promoting the use of libraries?  As well as talking about the issue, the National Liberal Party would urge all of its members and supporters to take action and support your local library whenever you get the opportunity.

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