Public Libraries: Funding

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th September 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gill Furniss Gill Furniss Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Steel, Postal Affairs and Consumer Protection) 12:00 am, 6th September 2018

Whether he has made an assessment of the effect on the viability of public libraries of changes in the level of Government funding for local authorities; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Labour, Enfield, Southgate

Whether he has made an assessment of the effect on the viability of public libraries of changes in the level of Government funding for local authorities; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

It is of course for each local authority to decide how to use the funding it receives to deliver its local services, including a public library service that meets local needs. We work across central and local government to encourage investment in sustainable library services so that they can continue to support local and national priorities and needs.

Photo of Gill Furniss Gill Furniss Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Steel, Postal Affairs and Consumer Protection)

As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on libraries, I have spoken to many stakeholders who are concerned by the lack of statistical clarity on libraries. Does the Minister agree with the research analysis published by his own Department that the most complete data on the state of the nation’s libraries—the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy statistics—is flawed, and if so, what does he intend to do about this?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

The issue of data as regards libraries is affected by the fact that libraries are the responsibility of local authorities—[Interruption.] Of course we still have a lot of data available, because local authorities continue to invest in their library services and their net expenditure has been more than £640 million. We continue to look at the data and at how we compile it with the assistance of local authorities.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Labour, Enfield, Southgate

Public libraries are community hubs and engines of social mobility, but book stocks in libraries in England have fallen by 15.1 million since 2010. What recent assessment has the Minister made of the effects of the Government’s cuts to local authority budgets on public libraries?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

In fact, hundreds of millions of pounds are spent on libraries every year by local authorities. I have seen examples of this, including at the Halifax central library, the Storyhouse in Chester and the Oxfordshire county library. I have been travelling the country visiting libraries, and local authorities in many areas are investing large sums in their libraries because, as the hon. Gentleman says, they are centres of social activity. We do look at the quantum of books, but it is for the local authorities to ensure that their libraries are providing a comprehensive and efficient library service.

Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb Conservative, Preseli Pembrokeshire

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating libraries across the country which, with the support of the Reading Agency and other partners, delivered another successful summer reading challenge? Does he agree that that initiative is a great way of encouraging young people to build their reading skills and to become regular users of their local libraries?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I join my right hon. Friend in support of that initiative. In fact, I went to the offices of The Beano, and I was given a few free copies that I am putting in the Library for colleagues. I helped to launch the annual summer reading challenge in July, and library services have encouraged children aged between four and 11 to develop their reading skills and their confidence, which is really important.

Photo of Huw Merriman Huw Merriman Conservative, Bexhill and Battle

Due to the high costs of social care in East Sussex, we lost many of our libraries but, rather than having no plan B, a community group took over the running of the library in Pevensey Bay. Will the Minister do more to support community groups across the country, such as the one in Pevensey Bay, and would he like to bring his library card down to Pevensey Bay to check us out?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the volunteers in his area on the work that they have done. The reality is that that is exactly what our civil society strategy is all about, and there are areas around the country that are doing just that.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Labour, Bolsover

The Minister has apparently been doing a tour of various areas, but has he been to Derbyshire? Has he had words with the Tory-controlled county council? Almost its first decision was to close 20 libraries in the county—a Tory-controlled council. Get something done about it.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The fact is irrefutable that Government support for libraries includes funding for the libraries taskforce and Arts Council England, and the Arts Council has made seven library bodies national portfolio organisations. The fact is that that they receive—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is asking me for dancing lessons, but that I cannot offer. However, that raises the point that libraries across the country offer a wide variety of activities. It is not just about loaning books; many social activities are taking place. We support libraries, and each local authority has the responsibility to maintain a comprehensive and efficient library service.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Northamptonshire faces the closure of 21 libraries, including well-supported libraries in Desborough and Rothwell. Will the Minister send in the Department’s libraries taskforce to give the county council the best advice on how those libraries might be saved, perhaps through the creation of a libraries trust?

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

As my hon. Friend knows, the matter is currently subject to judicial review. In respect of Northamptonshire, it would potentially be a conflict of interest for me to have responsibility for that situation, so the matter has been passed to the Secretary of State. However, I note, as my hon. Friend will know, that the council recently decided to pause its proposed library changes to give further consideration to its proposals for the service, and I am glad about that.