Libraries 'bearing the brunt' of council budget cuts

Students in a library

Councils in England, Scotland and Wales have cut spending on public libraries by £25m in the last year, figures show.

Funding fell to £919m in 2015-16 from £944m the previous year, analysis by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) said.

Chief executive Rob Whiteman said libraries were "bearing the brunt" of local councils' budget pressures.

The government said libraries were "hugely important" and it was "committed to helping them flourish".

According to CIPFA, the number of library visits fell 5.5% last year to 250 million and the number of permanent staff members dropped by 5.3% to 17,064 over the same period.

The Library of Birmingham is the most frequently visited, with 1.6 million visitors last year, followed by Manchester's Central Library with 1.48 million visitors and the Wembley library in Brent with 1.38 million.

But in recent years, hundreds of libraries have closed with many others turning to volunteers to help run services.

'Running down'

Last week, the government's Libraries Taskforce pledged £4m to support disadvantaged communities through libraries and urged councils to consider them when delivering other public services.

But Dr Lauren Smith, spokeswoman for Voices for the Library said the funding was a "drop in the ocean" compared to the cuts libraries have suffered.

"Libraries most valuable assets are their staff but they are massively underpaid for the expertise they have: supporting literacy, digital engagement, finding information for citizens," she said.

She said the drop in library visits matches the drop in funding - with councils "running down" services in order to justify closing them.

"Unless you pay for it, you're not going to see public libraries have the impact they should," she added.

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Image caption Libraries in the UK "make the very best of resources", says the Local Government Association

Ian Stephens, chairman of the Local Government Association's culture, tourism and sport board said library staff, councils and communities have the creativity and ambition "to make the very best of resources".

But he added that "councils have experienced a 40% reduction in core central government funding over the last parliament and funding pressures will continue over the next few years".

'Grim outlook'

Mr Whiteman said despite the "grim outlook", libraries are continuing to transform and innovate, adapting to new services and visitor habits.

The government said it had rolled out wifi to more than 1,000 libraries in England to increase access to digital services and the e-lending of books.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said: "Libraries are hugely important community assets and we are absolutely committed to helping them flourish and prosper in the 21st century".

The DCMS also pointed to a number of new and refurbished libraries that have opened this year - including those in Haringey north London, Manchester and Oxfordshire.

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