Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Mrs J E Orman

Summary

The Select Committee is to investigate changes to the Public Library system, following decisions made by a number of Public Library Authorities.

I write in connection with the actions proposed and taken by the Isle of Wight Council, the Library Authority for where I live and pay Council Tax.

I have placed my views below and shown evidence in each of the four areas that are to be considered.

I write to highlight where I feel that the Isle of Wight Council is shown to be in default of its statutory obligations under the PLMA 1964 and, indeed flouted the written advices given by the Charteris Report.

The Isle of Wight Council would also appear to be ignoring its “duty of care” responsibility to the people under its jurisdiction, especially those with special needs and vulnerability.

What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century?

Under current legislation, a comprehensive library service for the 21st century is the statutory duty of every library authority. This requirement is as relevant today as it was set out quite clearly in the Public Libraries and Museums Act (PLMA) 1964 and subsequent minor adjustments contained in the Local Government Act 1972 and the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, together with accompanying Statutory Instruments.

The materials and services supplied by a library authority have changed, modernised, and been upgraded over the years to comply with the needs and aspirations of those qualified to use the service, whilst remaining within the statutory requirements of the PLMA 1964.

Special care must be taken in all areas of deprivation not to lose the duty of care responsibility for those people.

The extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 and the Charteris Report

The Isle of Wight Council is the Library Authority for the Island and the planned closures of branches to its direct responsibility that have taken place together with other actions taken by the Authority, have clearly shown the Authority to be in default of the legislation.

At the same time, it is apparent by its actions that the Isle of Wight Library Authority has chosen to ignore much of the advice given in the Charteris Report 2009.

On the Isle of Wight, the Library Service Headquarters, Newport and Ryde branches libraries have seen very little change. Cowes, Freshwater, Sandown and Ventnor branches have been retained but with reduced opening days/hours and staffing levels. The remaining five branch libraries—those at Bembridge, Brighstone, East Cowes, Niton and Shanklin have been closed as Library Authority libraries.

*The six branch libraries that are to stay open and fully operated by the Library authority are all housed in dedicated library buildings, as set out in Section 8 of the PMLA 1964. However, only the branches in Newport and Ryde continue to have all the facilities and services provided before April 2011.

*Four of the branches that have been closed as Library Authority libraries were not housed in dedicated library buildings. These buildings are in the course of being leased directly or indirectly through an outside body not a library authority, to the respective Town/Parish Council for the area, so that a “community” library may be set up in those areas.

*It is intended that the former library branch at Shanklin, which was housed in a dedicated library building, will be handed over to be run as a “community” library run by volunteers. This is contrary to the regulations contained in the PLMA 1964, Section 8 and subsequent legislation.

*Staffing at all these “community” libraries is to be carried out by volunteers.

*This is contrary to the regulations laid down in the PLMA 1964, as it means that each respective Town/Parish Council has had to raise its precept to carry out the function of a public library service, although not a designated public library authority. The council taxpayers in these areas are now paying twice for their library service. Although the provision of books and some other materials will continue to be carried out by the Isle of Wight Council, it will no longer take responsibility for these community libraries building maintenance and running costs.

*References1—Isle of Wight Council Delegated Decision Report The Library Review: Concluding Stage (Decision Reference 3811 Dated 30.9.2011.
Isle of Wight Council One Island Magazine—Issue 34, dated December 2011, page 18.

The impact library closures have on local communities

Apart from the major towns of Newport, Ryde and Cowes, the Island is largely rural.

Public transport availability and its cost is a major factor on the Island. This means that families especially cannot travel readily to the major towns—either there is no bus service available or the cost is prohibitive.

Unemployment, especially among the 16–24 age-group is above the national average.

Parts of the Isle of Wight fall within the three lowest gradings on the National Index of Multiple Deprivation Scale.

The Isle of Wight Council has undertaken Equality Impact Assessments for Brighstone, Bembridge, East Cowes, Niton and Shanklin but only recently at the time of the decision taken on 30 September 2011, when it has taken into account the fact that there would be four community libraries taking over its responsibilities in those areas, except Shanklin.

Although the area and stops for the one Mobile Library Service have been increased slightly, a second Mobile Service vehicle will only become available when the Housebound Service is taken over by the Voluntary Service sector.

There is a limited on-line service but this presumes that everyone who would like to use it is computer literate and has a computer available to them. This is far from the “norm” on the Isle of Wight, with a lower “take-up” of ICT facilities than the national average.

Even with those six branches remaining open, staffing levels have been reduced and consequently opening days/hours have been lessened.

Staffing levels have been reduced by 45%—45 full time equivalent posts down to 25 full time equivalent posts. There were around 15 compulsory redundancies, with the remainder taking early retirement or voluntary redundancy. With this large reduction in staffing levels there is no way the library service can now be considered to be efficient, in order to meet the statutory requirements under the PMLA 1964.

The general erosions in the level of service now provided, particularly away from the two main population centres and, combined with the reduction in opening days/hours, have seriously undermined the library service on the Isle of Wight, which can no longer be defined as comprehensive under the terms of the PLMA 1964.

The effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964

The Secretary of State has wide powers available to him under the Public Libraries and Museum Act 1964.

The Minister with special responsibilities for the Public Library Service has written on occasion to the Isle of Wight Council reminding the Council of its statutory obligations under the PLMA 1964.

However, if there has been any follow-up from the Secretary of State’s Office, then it would appear not to have had any effect on the Isle of Wight Council’s decisions.

At the time of the Isle of Wight Council’s public consultation beginning in December 2010, I wrote to the Secretary of State in January 2011 (DCMS Response Ref: 163625 dated 31/1/11) and followed this up with a formal submission in February 2011 (DCMS Response Ref: 167128 dated 25/2/11).

Subsequent legislation in force does not contradict nor dilute the powers available to the Secretary of State under the PLMA 1964.

January 2012

1 Not printed.

Prepared 5th November 2012