Government investigating complaints about Lancashire library closures

Planned library closures by Lancashire County Council to plug its severe funding shortfall are being investigated as a formal complaint by the government.

Lancashire County Council announced the plans to close services, including libraries and children’s centres, at more than 100 sites in order to tackle its financial problems, with its deficit due to reach £147.9m by 2020-21. The libraries budget is expected to be cut by £6.1m in the next two years.

On Saturday, Paul Maynard, the Conservative MP for Blackpool North and Cleveleys, published a letter on Twitter he had received from Rob Wilson, the minister for civil society, in response to concerns he had raised about the cuts.

Wilson said the Department for Culture, Media and Sport had received “a number of representations” about the cuts, and is treating them as a formal complaint under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

The investigation will consider whether the council is fulfilling its duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” library service, and whether a formal inquiry is needed.

Cllr David Borrow, deputy leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “We have received a letter from the minister for civil society acknowledging that they have received complaints about the changes we’re making to Lancashire’s library service, and that these will be formally considered by the secretary of state.

“We have carried out a great deal of detailed work to ensure our proposals for libraries fulfil the council's statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service, and I'm happy for them to be scrutinised by the secretary of state.

“The changes we are making will contribute towards the huge savings the council needs to make, while ensuring that people still have good access to library services through an extensive network across the county. A modern library service is about far more than providing books in buildings, and we are planning to invest in and extend the reach of our mobile libraries, and meet the increasing demand to access digital resources, to ensure the council continues to meet its statutory duties. I hope that our offer to help establish community-run libraries will add to what will already be a comprehensive network.”

Lancashire County Council said last week that it has now assessed 49 business cases from community groups to take over the services, of which it has found 13 acceptable, rejected 16 and asked for further details on 20.

A recent independent report by accounting firm PwC found that even with the cuts, the council’s cumulative deficit could reach nearly £400m by 2021, placing it at risk of government intervention.

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