Local council services are an important part of our communities and how we live. They are a safety net for when things go wrong, they bring communities together and help us to improve our quality of life.
Libraries are a crucial local service, acting as a social hub and a haven in their communities. They do a lot more than lend books. Libraries offer a place for people to work, relax, discover and think. They host events, give adults and young people access to IT, introduce young children to books, help people to find work and so much more.
Since 2010, the Government has cut £16.673bn from the money English councils receive.
Many have tried to manage severe cuts and keep services running by cutting library jobs, shortening opening hours, introducing charges, and merging, privatising or closing services.
Although they are a service that councils must legally provide, libraries have been hit hard by cuts to local government spending.
478 libraries have closed in Great Britain since 2010, leaving fewer than 4000 libraries open and thousands of library workers’ jobs lost. Closures, redundancies, outsourcing and loss of expertise are devastating for libraries and the people who depend on them.
Library cuts have made everyday life more difficult for groups who are more likely to rely on council services regularly, like women, older people, disabled people and those on lower incomes. For them, cuts to library services can mean that they miss out on vital support to find work or meet other people in their community. This can lead to the more vulnerable in our communities becoming more isolated and then needing more intensive support from other services.
What does the future hold for local libraries?
Recent political upsets such as the EU referendum and this summer’s general election result mean that we are entering uncharted waters, with a minority Conservative Government propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Many councils will still face a black hole in their budgets and will inevitably look to cuts in local services, including libraries, to fill the gaps, leaving even more libraries at risk of closure and an even tighter squeeze on working conditions for library workers.
Right now it is difficult to know exactly what the future holds for funding to public services. But, with the Government in a weakened position and a clear signal from the public that they have had enough of austerity, this is the ideal time to make a stand for better funding for libraries.
What can we do to save libraries and other local services?
UNISON wants local services that continue the long tradition of councils as the bedrock of our communities, with proper funding so that services are secure for the long-term.
UNISON is calling on the Government to:
- Review how it allocates funding to local services so that it meets the diverse needs of local communities and ensures that properly resourced library services can be delivered
- Enforce the commitment in law for local authorities to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service
- Give a real living wage and equal pay to all local government workers, with proper training and development opportunities