UNISON warns coalition is sleepwalking into a library crisis


UNISON is warning the government that it is sleepwalking into a damaging library crisis that will rob future generations of the vital services that a vibrant local library can provide.

Through drastic cuts, a hollowing out of the service and now the looming threat of privatisation, the future of the UK’s library service is in jeopardy. And with damaging consequences, the Tory-led coalition has so far failed to act to protect libraries. It has even closed down the body charged with advocating for libraries, passing responsibility on to another ­ Arts Council England – that has also been drastically cut.

Fifty-five libraries have been withdrawn since April 2012. Between April 2011 and April 2012 more than one hundred were either closed down, turned over to be run by volunteers, or as a social enterprise.

Analysis by UNISON of council finance data shows that local authority library budgets have been cut by £122m between 2010/11 and 2012/13. The five largest cash reduction took place in Essex, Kent, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire.

As part of the Speak up for Libraries coalition, UNISON, along with other organisations and campaigners, is today holding an event in at the Chartered Institute of Libraries and Information Professionals (CILIP) Headquarters in London to champion public library services and library staff, and discuss the best way to make sure that libraries are supported now and in the future.

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “The government is sleepwalking into a library crisis. Cuts, closures and
now the threat of privatisation are seriously threatening the future of our libraries. The government’s failure to act, and the massive cuts it is inflicting on councils, are a recipe for disaster.

“Libraries have a long history of enriching people’s lives. Since Victorian times they have been at the heart of vibrant communities. Now they are a vital resource for hard-pressed parents who struggle to afford books, for the elderly and for people looking for a job. But there is a real chance that the library service we hand over to the next generation will be a shadow of its former self.

“Not only has the government failed to act to protect libraries, it has closed down the body that used to advocate for the service, passing it on to another body that is struggling to cope with massive budget cuts. The government has to act before it is too late.”

The union is also warning libraries not to look to the private sector as the answer to shrinking budgets ­ as five local councils are understood to be doing.

Wokingham council recently spent more than a year in discussions with private companies regarding taking over the running of the council’s library service. After concluding that it would not provide enough benefits for our library users they ditched the plans.

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