Libraries

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:45 pm on 14th June 2016.

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Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin 12:45 pm, 14th June 2016

3. Mr Maskey asked the Minister for Communities what plans he has to protect libraries, including the Homecall and mobile library services, to ensure continued access for people with disabilities, older people and people who are socially isolated. (AQO 33/16-21)

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I am aware that Libraries NI is considering a range of savings measures in response to the previous Executive's decision to reduce the budgets of unprotected Departments by 5·7%. I recognise the concerns that many in the community, including people with disabilities, older people and people who are socially isolated, will have about the impact of the reductions on their library service. I assure the Member, however, that, whilst Libraries NI will wish to continue to review the efficiency and effectiveness of the Homecall and mobile library services, neither will be affected by the current budget reductions exercise.

I regard the mobile library and Homecall services as important ways of ensuring that library services can reach people who are unable to access local branch libraries. They are particularly valuable to rural communities, older people, those with disabilities and parents or carers of children without access to private transport. They also make an important contribution to combating social isolation, which is one of the reasons why I am content that they are not affected by the budget reduction exercise.

I can also confirm that my Department received a bid for additional in-year resources from Libraries NI to help it meet some of its other existing pressures. That bid forms part of a wider budget review exercise that is being undertaken across my Department. I will, of course, be considering Libraries NI's bid in that context. Until all considerations are completed, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on that issue.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his response so far and for his commitment, in his new role, to support those who access libraries. The library service received substantial support throughout the previous mandate. The Minister has identified categories of people who are in most need, so I ask him once again to do his best to ensure that those who are most in need — he listed the categories — will continue to be able to access library services.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I am happy to give that commitment. Libraries play a vital role in Northern Ireland. Within a two-mile radius of libraries and mobile stops, nearly 90% of our population are within reach. They are a shared space and are valued by all of the community. People avail themselves of them, and it is important that they continue to play an important role in our society. It is an area that I am considering, given the pressures that Libraries NI is under, but there are particular vulnerable groups that need support, and I want Libraries NI to continue giving that support.

Photo of Richie McPhillips Richie McPhillips Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister and offer him my best wishes. You have probably answered my question, but, for clarity, can you give us an assessment of the impact of the budget cuts on libraries, particularly for users with disabilities, older people and the socially isolated?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

A number of those issues were dealt with in my initial response.

I congratulate the Member on being elected to the House. I assure him that this in an area in which I invoke my experience in my constituency. I remember arguing that it was right to close a particular library because it was small and we were getting a new library. Of course, there were people in the specific locality who did not want to see the closure of that library, but it facilitated a new library being built in Lisburn. Sometimes, those are the difficult decisions that political representatives need to take. They need to provide that leadership to the community, because, when you can see the bigger picture, you need to go out and sell it to people. This is an area that Libraries NI is acutely aware of. There have been investments in new libraries, and there are opportunities for the functions that libraries deliver to be broadened to include other aspects of government. That is something that I want to see Libraries NI continue to do.

Photo of Christopher Stalford Christopher Stalford DUP

First, I welcome the Minister to his place and wish him all the very best. I hope the Member for Lagan Valley — the Minister — will show kindness and deference to the people of South Belfast, as I am sure he intends to.

Will the Minister outline for the House the practical steps that the Department intends to take to address the deficiencies in disability access to the public library on the Lisburn Road?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP 2:15 pm, 14th June 2016

I thank the Member for that welcome from one representative of a great city to another representative of a city. I am delighted that Mr Stalford is here in the Assembly. I remember him well from our Young Democrat days, so I am particularly pleased that Christopher is here in the Assembly.

The Member raised issues around the deficiencies at Lisburn Road library. There are also issues with deficiencies at Coleraine library. I am delighted that capital funding has been secured for the redevelopment of the Lisburn Road and Coleraine libraries: up to £1 million is being provided to Lisburn Road and £250,000 to Coleraine library in this financial year. That funding will enable Libraries NI to begin to address any existing deficiencies and to provide modern libraries for the whole community. The total cost of each project is estimated to be £3·5 million, with £1·5 million for Lisburn Road library and just over £2 million for Coleraine library. It is envisaged that work at the Lisburn Road library will begin in December of this year, with work beginning on the redevelopment of Coleraine library starting in January 2017. Both projects will take approximately one year to complete.

I trust that that answer will be helpful to the Member. My colleague Mr McQuillan has been engaging with me in respect of Coleraine library, and I trust that that will be helpful.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

Congratulations to the Minister on his appointment. Minister, many small libraries are valued by their communities. I place on record my thanks to the staff, who are highly dedicated in the service that they deliver to the public. They quite often go over and beyond that which is required of them as library staff. What assurances can the Minister give to my constituents in East Antrim that small and rural libraries will be retained and enhanced and their service delivery improved?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I thank the Member for his question and his best wishes. Libraries NI has work to do. It has had to deal with a 5·7% reduction in its budget and is looking at ways in which it can do that that will minimise the impact on front-line services. Obviously, having access to a library is vital, but so is having stock in it. We need to make sure that the libraries that we have will provide the services that the public expect. It is not always about maintaining bricks and mortar; it is about what is inside. I am keen to make sure that libraries continue to play an important role in our community. There has been investment in libraries in the past number of years, and I want to see Libraries NI continuing to do that.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

I congratulate you, Minister, on your appointment. Will you give an assurance that Libraries NI will not transfer to local government?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

Thank you for the question. Maybe the Member has caught me out on this one, but I am not aware of there being proposals for libraries to transfer to local government. I am certainly happy to look into that issue and allay any concerns that the Member may have about it.