Library Campaigners were aghast recently at yet another announcement made by the LGA stating that Public Libraries were a ‘non-statutory’ service.
"The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents council leaders, has "mapped out" the likely impact of a 10% funding cut to county councils and unitary authorities in
in 2015-16. England
It predicts that, on average, they would have to save £30m on top of the reductions already made.
This, it argues, would mean reducing spending on a "broad combination of non-statutory services which might include children's centres, museums, libraries and sports centres, as well as reduce road maintenance budgets, increase bus fares and switch off streetlights between midnight and dawn"."
This isn’t the first time they’ve made this claim, in a Bookseller article from 2010 a LGA spokesperson stated;
"A spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA) said: “Library services are a non-statutory service in that councils are not legally obliged to provide a library in every town. They have to provide a service, but there doesn't need to be a library—you could provide a mobile library, for example. Councils are legally obliged to provide other services, such as protecting vulnerable children and adults, and they are very expensive. We have a 28% reduction in funding over four years, so popular non-statutory services like libraries and leisure centres are being reduced. But it is very much a local decision and all councils will consult with local residents." The spokesperson added: “We have to be honest with people. We can't pretend we will be able to provide the same level of service in future"
If it’s said often enough and by an official ‘respected’ organisation then other people start to believe it as well;
"On public services, upper-tier councils predict that adult social care is the service most likely to be severely affected by funding cuts, despite the announcement of additional funding streams worth £2bn by central government. Almost every council will be cutting back a range of non-statutory services too, from libraries to weekly bin collections."
And then it gets out into the twitter sphere, Jack Blanchard from the Yorkshire Post tweeting;
The LGA makes no bones about this, in one of their reports from 2012 they state;
"Councils cannot, unaided, change the legal
or institutional framework that dictates their
service responsibilities, limits their scope
to do things differently, and constrains their
revenue base. Councils cannot repeal
the statute law that requires care must be
provided, library service provision must be
comprehensive and efficient, roads must
be maintained, equality must be promoted,
or – even – that local newspapers must be
provided with copies of papers for council
"The most direct option is to change the
law. Parliament could repeal a proportion
of councils’ 1300 statutory duties and
councils would cease to fulfil them.
A variation on this approach would be to
exploit legal ambiguities to stretch the
boundaries of what fulfilling a statutory
service obligation involves. Councils could
work with their communities to develop a
shared and reduced set of expectations
about what a park should look like or what
the condition of a well-maintained road
should be. As the latter example illustrates,
though, providing “thinner” rather than fewer
services carries legal and moral risks, as well
as political ones."
Another report from 2012 states;
4. Could councils stop providing some services?
“One way of bridging the gap between expenditure and income would be for local authorities to stop or radically reduce the provision of some services. The kind of provision which is likely to be most under threat as the squeeze described above continues will include coastal protection, economic development, youth services, elections, licensing, recycling, swimming pools, leisure centres, libraries, planning and housing regulation. Such provision is not unimportant, but it is unlikely to be protected if budgets decline as projected on the basis of existing plans and social care expenditure is maintained. Of course, it has always proved difficult for councils to cease providing services. There is a risk of legal challenge and the possibility that local MPs or ministers would oppose such radical change. But if the scenario outlined above comes about, it is hard to see how all the services listed above could be protected. Unhelpfully, some of this provision is important to the promotion of growth.”
So it all becomes a bit clearer then, if you keep pushing the message that Public Libraries are ‘non-statutory’ then it becomes easier to pull the rug from under them thus allowing local authorities to close, cut and divest them.