In March 2011 we published a blog post
concerning the “Review of Statutory Duties”, in which the Government invited the public to comment on local authority duties and “to challenge government on those which you feel are burdensome or no longer needed
A key aim of the review was to “build a comprehensive list, and remove unnecessary, old and outdated duties.”
Three of these duties related to the provision of library services by local government authorities, as follows:
Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 1(2)
Duty: To provide information and facilities for the inspection of library premises, stocks, records, as the Secretary of State requires.
Function: Necessary for Secretary of State to fulfil (requirement) to superintend library service (see s1 of PLAMA 1964)
Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 7
Duty: To provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. In fulfilling this duty, must have particular regard to the matters in s7(2)
Function: Secure provision of local library services
Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 11
Duty: Supplemental provisions as to transfers of officers, assets and liabilities
Function: Provisions provide, for example, continuity of employment for transferring employees. This secures consistency across library transfers etc and in line with other local authority employment legislation.
The review is now closed
and a summary of findings
for all 1,200+ duties (not just the 3 library duties) has been published by the Department for Communities and Local Government. It received 6,000+ responses “from local authorities, individuals, groups and the private sector”.
It was extremely encouraging (as can be seen in the quotes below) that libraries were specifically mentioned within the report, considering that only 3 out of over 1,200 duties covered this area.
“The greatest numbers of responses, due to the campaign generated interest, were on: planning (including duties regarding allotments), children and young people, and libraries.”
“There was also considerable interest in retaining those requirements around services for disabled children, libraries and the provision of allotments.”
The respondents made “over 21,000 comments on whether duties could be removed. Ninety per cent were supportive of keeping specific duties…” and “Over 7,000 comments were received on whether a specific duty was considered to create a burden – of these responses 85 per cent felt that a burden was not created.”
Alongside that fact that library statutory duties received a significant amount of responses in this review, these figures infer that respondents were, on the whole, in favour of keeping the library duties.
With regard to libraries (and other named duties) the report states “The Government has made specific announcements on these areas of concern and confirmed that it is not the intention of the Government to remove the duties which protect such services.”. This suggests that the duties for library services are safe – echoed by the publication of the definitive list of all statutory duties, in which all three library duties remain intact, with wording unchanged.
However, a key issue raised in the summary report was the desire to remove “the burden of bureaucracy to allow local areas to determine how best to address local issues and concerns.” and the “need to remove many of the process-based duties placed upon local authorities which prevent the sensible and effective operation of many services.” It’s stated that these issues will be considered further by government departments and, as we have seen some local authorities interpret the existing 3 statutory duties in a way that seems to excuse them from different aspects of their duty, we need to be cautious that the above statements aren’t interpreted in a way that has a detrimental effect upon the provision of public library services.
Also, despite the comment that “it is not the intention of the Government to remove the duties which protect such services”, it isn’t clear what will happen next and if we no longer have to worry about the removal of the statutory duties covering libraries. The following quotes from the report suggest that further policy discussions beyond the scope of this review may well impact on the provision of services too:
“Any future consideration of whether to remove specific duties or associated guidance will be a separate exercise, and we will consult further as appropriate.”
“This review did not seek to pre-empt the outcomes of other policy-specific reviews being carried out by other government departments.”
So, from the report, we can see that support for public library services remains strong, which is extremely encouraging and positive, but at the same time there may also be a risk that these services can still be eroded via other routes.
Therefore, we do still need to remain vigilant to keep our libraries safe.