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Councils cut £66m from public libraries

BRUTAL Tory cuts forced local authorities to slash their spending on public libraries by £66 million last year, Labour said yesterday.

There has been a squeeze on paid staff and branches for the seventh year running with new figures showing that total expenditure fell from £919m in 2015-16 to £853m in 2016-17.

Staff numbers fell by 5 per cent (869) — while the use of unpaid library volunteers increased — and there are now 105 fewer libraries, according to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).

Shadow arts minister Kevin Brennan branded it a “hammer blow,” and a direct result of government cuts to local authority budgets.

He said: “Libraries are vital community hubs and they are crucial to social mobility. This government continues to put them at risk with fewer books and fewer paid staff while library closures continue.”

CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman echoed his sentiments, adding: “Unfortunately for libraries and library users, this is a low hanging fruit that continues to be picked.”

Labour is calling on the government to publish the progress it has made with its libraries taskforce — set up to help support and promote them — “so that Parliament and the public can see the full picture of the damage being done to libraries by ongoing Tory austerity.”

The data was supposed to be published in September 2016.

A freedom of information request submitted to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport by Mr Brennan asking them to release the data was refused.

The taskforce has been widely criticised for excluding front-line library staff and campaigners from its steering group.

At a recent discussion about libraries at Westminster, Cambridgeshire County Council library services manager Sue Wills said relentless cuts to the service are turning the sector into a “war zone,” making it difficult to recruit staff.

She added: “We fight every day to keep the service alive … library leaders have battle scars on their backs.”

Professional library body CILIP recently called on the government to halt the decline in school libraries and librarians with authors such as Philip Pullman and Malorie Blackman backing the campaign which argues that libraries support children’s reading and development.

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