British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:52 pm on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough 12:52 pm, 13th March 2020

My hon. Friend made an important intervention that was, like the British Library, content-rich. I welcome her words. She is absolutely right that the British Library is helping entrepreneurs, and also that the Bill will help the British Library to be more entrepreneurial. It was the library’s brilliant idea to decide to set up these IP centres—the first in the world—and we are now helping it to expand them.

I welcome the fact that the British Library is going to renew the Boston Spa campus, with all the opportunities around that. The point about having borrowing powers is that it allows for the most to be made of opportunities. I welcome the fact that the library is exploring a presence in Leeds. I love the idea of British Library North. I really like the idea that it might use the old Temple Works. It is a famous building of the industrial revolution that at one point contained the world’s largest room, which is pretty cool. The only thing I would say—to grind my own axe for a moment—is that I would love to see some of these things happening in the midlands, especially the east midlands. So, “British Library, if you are listening, do not forget your old friends in the midlands! Please use your new borrowing powers to help us too.”

All the things that the British Library is doing create opportunities to drive economic growth, in small ways and big. Tracy Brabin made the good point that there is an excellent café there. It reminded me of the old advert for the Victoria and Albert museum that described it as a very good café with rather a nice museum attached. So there are small things but also much bigger things. One can imagine the physical regeneration and wonderful things that could be done in Leeds with the new campus. The fact that the British Library could borrow would let it go that little bit further.

This is a slightly different category of thing, but Network Rail recently rejigged Market Harborough railway station. It is great, but everything was replaced, like for like, whereas we could have made more of the opportunity of that regeneration. I hope that this new set of powers for the British Library will enable it to make the most of the opportunities and exciting things that it is doing.

I recently published a report on—Members should not groan—levelling up. It looked at, among other things, innovation, science and culture spending. I was struck that, taking Arts Council England and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport direct funding of national institutions such as the British Library together, London received 47%—nearly half—of the total spending in England in the period from 2010-11 to 2017-18. Amazingly, that is a slightly lower percentage than in previous decades, but the spending is incredibly London-centric.