Big Issue founder John Bird has urged the government to intervene to save under-threat libraries and independent bookshops across Britain.
Using his position in the Lords to agitate on behalf of those without a voice, Bird has written to Lord Ashton of Hyde, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, recommending the Westminster government provide emergency relief funding for local authorities struggling to keep libraries open.
“I believe there is an urgent need to stem and reverse the worrying waves of library closures across the UK,” said Bird. “These closures are clearly incompatible with the urgent necessity of improving the nation’s [often] poor literacy rates.”
I believe there is an urgent need to stem and reverse the worrying waves of library closures across the UK
Meanwhile, speaking exclusively to The Big Issue ahead of next week’s Autumn Statement, Labour leader Jeremy Corybyn hopes new chancellor Philip Hammond will provide additional funding to reduce the strain on Britain’s ailing libraries and bookshops.
“I’m a passionate supporter of libraries and encouraging all of our children to read and indeed I’ve always supported summer reading challenges in my local libraries, getting all the kids to come in, read six books and then they get a prize in the autumn and an afternoon in the library and where they get sort of snacks and food and stuff and they enjoy it.
“I fully support [The Big Issue’s campaign]. Once you lose a library, you never get it back.”
As part of The Big Issue Literacy push, Bird also called for “appropriately staffed and equipped libraries in all schools”, part of a commitment to reverse decline in literacy standards.
In a stirring defence of the importance of independent bookshops, Bird recommended that they be given status as “cultural hubs”, exempt from ordinary businesses rates and other tax burdens. “These bookshops, together with our local libraries, have important status as community and cultural hubs in our country – a status that is more fully recognised in other European countries,” wrote Bird.
Last month during a House of Lords debate on literacy, Lord Bird warned that the government must be ready to build more prisons and homeless shelters if the libraries close at the current rate and literacy declines. Watch Lord Bird’s speech above.
We will bring more on The Big Issue literacy campaign soon