Nearly 800 public libraries closed since austerity launched in 2010

Spending has fallen by 30 per cent over past decade, figures reveal

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Friday 06 December 2019 14:24 GMT
Secondhand books are among the most popular items to be bought
Secondhand books are among the most popular items to be bought

Nearly 800 public libraries closed since the Conservative government launched austerity in 2010, new data reveals.

Currently there are 3,583 libraries open in the UK – 35 fewer than last year and 773 fewer than in 2010, a survey from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (Cipfa) has found.

The closure of nearly a fifth of the UK’s libraries comes after spending has declined by 29.6 per cent over the past decade, figures from Cipfa reveal.

National spending on libraries topped £1bn in 2009-10 before austerity began, but then dropped to less than £750m in 2018-19, the annual survey shows.

Since 2014-15, the total number of paid librarians has also reduced from 18,028 to 15,300.

The findings comes after a report this week revealed that children who own books are six times more likely to read above the expected level for their age and yet 380,000 pupils still miss out.

Rob Whiteman, CEO of Cipfa, said the data on libraries showed a sustained trend where services have been cut as stretched councils have forced to direct funds to priority areas such as social care.

He said: “This is the shape of today’s local authorities. As the country prepares to go to the polls, candidates should be having honest conversations with the public about the role of local government, and the future of lower priority services such as libraries.”

A separate study from Unison has suggested that a decade of “savage” austerity cuts to local authorities has led to the closure of libraries, children’s centres, bus routes and toilets.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “Each cut has a major impact on a community, whether it’s a pensioner feeling isolated in their home because they can’t get a bus or people being unable to borrow books or use the internet in local libraries.

“Squeezed budgets have forced councils to make impossible decisions. No local authority wants to cut the services it offers but with much less funding coming from Westminster, they’ve often had little choice.

“It’s vulnerable people and those least able to fend for themselves who suffer most.”

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson was challenged over hundreds of library closures on The Andrew Marr Show and he claimed he could only invest in libraries when the economy was “motoring”.

He said: “We want to be spending more. We want to be supporting local authorities. But some local authorities have been able to manage their finances so as to open libraries. I give you the example of my own borough of Hillingdon in west London, where they opened libraries.

“I want to invest in libraries, but we can only do that when we get the economy really motoring.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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