Saturday 11 May 2013

The LGA and ‘non-statutory’ Public Libraries

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 England in 2015-16.
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;
"Libraries, art galleries & other non-statutory services provided by councils will face 80% cuts by 2020, LGA believes"

Now I’m sure that anyone that knows the LGA’s attitude to defending Public Libraries won’t be surprised by these announcements, clearly shown by this comment made by Chris White, but what they might not know is that the LGA, in cahoots with the DCLG, has been actively lobbying to have, as they see it, the ‘burden’ of statutory duties lessened for local authorities and yep you guessed it this includes the 1964 Act.
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.
see also;


  1. Elizabeth @ElizCro11 May 2013 at 13:46

    Excellent post Alan.

    The LGA should know that libraries are statutory. The discretionary nature of libraries is a lie that I have seen repeated many times and, like you and Alan Gibbons, I am sick of hearing it.

    When will people wake up to what libraries really have on offer and the far reaching impact they have? It is not just about access to books but about improving literacy, supporting learning, access to information,aiding employment, supporting research and promoting a sense of well being and belonging within and beyond communities. I could go on.

    The proposed'universal offers' just add weight to this but will be difficult to realise if we continue to decimate the service through the closure of libraries and the hollowing out of the service.

    Too often lazy officials,journalists and politicians repeat the lie that libraries are merely discretionary or a luxury without understanding not only the legal obligation to provide a comprehensive service but what they really have to offer and how this supports so many other services.

    ....And don't get me started on book-shares parading themselves as libraries, without specialist staff to provide the service. Sadly I think people are being conditioned to accept a lesser service, without really considering the long term consequences.

    That's why I speak up for Public Libraries, and will continue to do so!

  2. Thanks Elizabeth, i'm convinced that these announcements are deliberate and not just down to human error or poor briefing, there is an agenda out there that wants to see libraries divested and diluted.