Government considers inquiry into library closures

Campaigners rejoice as Libraries Minister Rob Wilson writes to Lancashire and Swindon council bosses to explain intervention over closures

Campaigners across the country are fighting to save libraries from serious cuts and, in the worst cases, permanent closures.

Theresa May’s government is considering a dramatic intervention in Lancashire, where local people are fighting against plans to shut no less than 28 libraries.

Libraries Minister Rob Wilson has sent a letter to Lancashire County Council explaining that the Secretary of State for Culture is now “minded” to order an inquiry, since the scale of the closures could leave the area without a “comprehensive and efficient” library service.

Despite the minister’s letter, the Labour leader of the local authority Jennifer Mein told the Lancashire Evening Post that council bosses “still have confidence we’ve actually done the right thing.”

Wilson has also written to Swindon Borough Council to say his government department is investigating a formal complaint about plans to close 10 out of 15 libraries in the area.

Sarah Church, of the campaign group Save Swindon Libraries, said it was “welcome news” and urged council bosses to rethink closures planned for August.

“Campaigners and library users would strongly urge the council to halt the changes until the inquiry is complete,” she told The Swindon Advertiser. “To blithely carry on regardless is a reckless potential waste of public money – to bring back reduced or terminated services may cost a lot more than continuing to fund our much-beloved library service.”

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Although it is not yet clear whether precisely what form government inquiries into Lancashire and Swindon could take, Nick Poole, chief executive of the library and information association CILIP, told The Bookseller the interventionscannot just be a bureaucratic exercise.”

The last full public inquiry into library services happened under the Labour government in 2009, when an inspector looked into planned closures in Wirral and the council was forced to scrap its plans.

The Big Issue’s #WhyBooksMatter campaign to keep libraries open and champion greater literacy galvanised support from readers, authors, publishers and reading organisations.