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Devolution offers ‘more opportunities’ for preserving libraries

Libraries should be given more prominence in devolution deals in order to protect them from funding cuts, the LGA has proposed.

The preliminary findings of Ambition for Libraries, a joint consultation by the LGA and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the future of libraries, are being presented to the LGA Culture, Tourism and Sport board at a meeting today.

The report says that library services are not currently featured in most devolution deals, but recommends that the Ambition for Libraries consultation provides guidance for libraries in how to get involved in devolution deals.

It says: “As deals continue to develop and new ones are signed, we are likely to see more opportunities for local services. Greater freedoms and flexibilities in the system overall will mean that councils are able to deliver more innovative funding and support to services such as libraries.”

It says that libraries could support other goals of devolution. For example, they could play a bigger role in the devolution of economic growth and workforce development by providing more support for people seeking to find a job or start their own business.

Libraries could also help meet the gap in social care services, by providing a social hub and IT skills training for older people.

The report cautions that the consultation’s final recommendations should be limited to a few areas where real progress can be made. For example, it says that the goal of improving England’s international literacy ranking, suggested by some respondents, cannot be solved by libraries alone because of the other factors, such as education and home environment, that affect literacy.

It also says library staff may need more training to allow them to deliver the changing services, and volunteer staff will need greater support.

The report warns that devolved control over libraries may be necessary to try to mitigate the increasing danger of funding cuts.

“Many councils will have to make significant reductions to local services to account for financial reductions,” it says. “This acutely challenging financial context, and the potential impact on libraries, needs to be more strongly recognised in Ambition.”

A number of respondents to the consultation said that it will be helpful if central government produced a new definition of what is meant by a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service in the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.

However, the LGA said it “strongly opposes” this idea because the role of a library service should be defined on a local level to meet local needs, and because of the risk that a national role for libraries would be used to impose further cuts and restrictions.

It says that the consultation “must recognise that libraries are a locally delivered service that will look different in different places, reflecting local need”.

A recent investigation by the BBC found that 525 libraries have transferred out of council control in the past five years owing to funding cuts.

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