Lord John Bird has championed the cause of libraries in the House of Lords, probing ministers on their funding plans at today’s House of Lords Questions.
The Big Issue founder and crossbench peer asked the Lords’ representative for the Department of Culture Media and Sport Baroness Diana Barran to outline the governments’ plan for libraries. He also quizzed her on the “cross-governmental problem” that sees DCMS promoting libraries while it falls to the local government minister to spend the money.
— John Bird (@johnbirdswords) February 3, 2020
Funding has been in short supply for libraries in the last decade. A total of £213m in real terms has been axed from their budget since 2010, resulting in a 10 per cent shrinkage to the library service, according to Public Libraries: The Case for Support, a report put together by CILIP and The Big Issue.
Baroness Barran responded by citing an increase in “local government resources of £2.9 billion, meaning spending power will rise by 4.4 per cent in real terms in the year 2020-21”.
She said: “The government are committed to supporting a sustainable, long-term future for libraries in England. We want libraries to be resilient and equipped to meet local challenges—to thrive, not just to survive.”
In response to Lord Bird’s other concern about government departments seeing eye-to-eye, Baroness Barran highlighted the “real progress” made as a result of the Libraries Taskforce and the establishment of the five-year Libraries Deliver strategy.
She said: “For the first time, we have some clear data about libraries; not so long ago, we did not even know how many libraries we had. We are now building a dataset that will allow both departments to make good decisions.”
In total, more than 92,000 people have sold The Big Issue since 1991 to help themselves work their way out of poverty – more than could fit into Wembley Stadium.
The Big Issue has long been fighting the corner for libraries. Lord Alan Haworth alluded to many of the reasons why in the short debate. Libraries are “for more than just books, they are for digital skills, accessing benefits, keeping warm and finding human kindness”, according to the Labour peer.
To that list you can add boosting literacy skills, strengthening community ties and opening up a world of cultural capital to be discovered by people who have no other way of accessing it.
The Big Issue will continue to keep libraries on the agenda – keep an eye out for more in next week’s magazine.