Public Libraries

1. Questions to the Cabinet Secretary for Housing, Local Government and Planning – in the Senedd at on 12 June 2024.

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Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

8. What steps is the Welsh Government taking to ensure access to public libraries across South Wales Central? OQ61250

Photo of Julie James Julie James Labour 2:29, 12 June 2024

Diolch. Local authorities have a statutory responsibility to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. The Welsh Government provides funding to support the development of public libraries, including recent investment of over £900,000 for a shared digital library platform, and a capital fund to improve library buildings and facilities. Sorry, I nearly did the same thing to you then, Heledd, because I had the wrong glasses on. [Laughter.]

Photo of Heledd Fychan Heledd Fychan Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

Thank you, Cabinet Secretary. You will be aware that library services have shrunk because of the pressure on local government budgets, but the need for libraries is as apparent as ever, as they evolve and extend provision as community hubs. Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964, you have a duty, personally, to inspect and promote the improvement of the public library service provided by local authorities. Since 2002 Welsh Ministers have fulfilled this duty through the Welsh public libraries standards framework. The sixth framework associated with this ended in 2020 and it was extended for two years due to the pandemic. Can you outline how the work on the seventh framework is progressing and when it will be published?

Photo of Julie James Julie James Labour 2:30, 12 June 2024

Thank you, Heledd. I don't have that specific detail, but I'm quite happy to write to you with it. But it is the responsibility of local authorities to provide, exactly as you say, a comprehensive service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964. We've provided a 3.3 per cent increase to the local authority settlement in the last year to try and make sure that they have enough money for these very vital services. I completely agree with you: these are vital, not just for the library service, if you like, but, actually, they're often a community hub, a meeting place, a place for story-telling for children, and all the rest of it.

I think the shared digital platform will be very, very useful, so that all libraries across Wales can have access to that and can order books from elsewhere and so on. That will assist local libraries to be of very much more help to their local populations. And we've just provided £41,000 to support two regional inter-library loan schemes in 2024-25, including one that covers South Wales Central. So, I hope that we are doing our bit to try and shore them up. But the bottom line is that there isn't enough money in public services and we need to make sure that we get better funding for public services.

Libraries are one of those support services that shore up the education system, they shore up the public health system; they are fundamental building blocks to civilised society, aren't they? I certainly grew up going, every week, to the library with my mum and I remember those days with great pleasure. So, it's really important that we make sure that that experience is there for others. I don't have on me the specific answer to your question, but I'll make sure that you get the answer to that. But I just want to reassure you that we are very keen to make sure that all the citizens of Wales can access a library service in one form or another and to make sure that that's as accessible as possible.