Fresh fears for libraries as councils face £5.8bn funding gap

From The Bookseller:

Fresh fears for the future of libraries have emerged with the revelation that local councils are facing a £5.8bn spending gap by 2020.

The concerns have surfaced on the eve of the relaunch of the all party parliamentary group tonight (31st January), which campaigners hope will work to put pressure on government to affect real change in the public library service.

According to the Local Government Association (LGA), the long-term funding crisis means local government will continue to face an overall funding gap of £5.8bn by 2020 and that more than two thirds of the 375 councils in England and Wales will be forced to find millions in savings to plug the funding gaps in 2017/18.

Lord Porter, LGA chairman, said: “No new money from central government is being provided to councils in 2017/18. In fact, more than two thirds of councils will actually be worse off next year than they were expecting. [Even] if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks and open spaces, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres, turned off every street light and shut all discretionary bus routes they would not have saved enough money to plug this gap by the end of the decade.”

. . . .

“We obviously think public libraries are amongst the most loved and widely used public services in the country and councils have a legal duty to ensure provision,” he said. “If these figures are even close to true then it’s very hard to see how [councils will be able to] fulfil the legal requirement [to deliver a comprehensive and efficient library service as defined by the 1964 Public Libraries Act].

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

6 thoughts on “Fresh fears for libraries as councils face £5.8bn funding gap”

  1. Odd that the overall guv’ment would fund all these libraries. Perhaps they take a page from the U.S. playbook and how the individual towns/villages that have libraries to actually fund them and not rely on Parliament to fund them.

    • If I remember correctly, about 80% of council funding comes from central government, because otherwise voters complain about how high their council tax is. So, instead of collecting the tax locally, the government collect it centrally and hand it out to the councils. Who then cut all the services the local people actually want to create sob stories to justify higher taxes.

  2. I’m a councillor. The problem is that central government has historically provided a large part of council funding. It’s certainly not 80% these days, but it has been a significant proportion and under austerity this has fallen. In my district council (not a library provider, but just to give an illustration) we’re talking about cuts of around a third over four years to the overall annual budget. By the end of the three years we’re anticipating no central government grant at all. So the authority will mainly be funded by council tax, business rates, service charges, and rents.

    Libraries have been the first to suffer closures and restructures: in Lincolnshire around 30 of the initial 45 libraries became “community hubs” run by volunteers, and the remainder were given to Greenwich Leisure to run. These closures are similar to the scale of cuts happening nationwide.

    Unfortunately, it’s extremely hard to argue *within* council for more money to go to libraries (as opposed to asking national government for more) when other essential services like social care, public health, road safety and so on are under threat. Councils have been cut to the bone, leading to job losses and service cutbacks that I personally find heartbreaking. We need libraries, but they are just one of many essential frontline services councils provide, and councils are legally obliged to set balanced budgets.

    I agree with Nick Poole. If central government doesn’t reverse this austerity we will lose our libraries, and their cultural and social benefit will be lost to a generation.

    • I feel for you – stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place, you are.

      But, this is what always happens when you give the decision-making power to people that are far away, and don’t have to live with the consequences. Someday, they decide that their needs are greater than yours – and your ability to provide is infinite…

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