Balancing the books: £8.5m less spent on city’s libraries
MANCHESTER council is spending nearly £8.5 million less on libraries than it did seven years ago.
Analysis of town hall spending shows that £16.1m was spent on the running of the city’s libraries in the financial year of 2010 to 2011 – the same year the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government came to power.
When adjusted to allow for inflation, it means the council should have spent £19.4m in March 2018 on its libraries to reach at least the same amount.
Instead, it spent £11m – meaning libraries have missed out on £8.4m in the last seven years.
Town hall chiefs say they’ve had their budget slashed by more than £300m since 2010, putting pressure on all areas of spending.
The council says it is committed to providing an ‘excellent’ library service across the city, citing the recently refurbished Central Library as an area of investment.
Executive member for schools, culture and leisure, Coun Luthfur Rahman, said: “Since 2010, we have invested £50m in the four-year project to fully refurbish and transform Central Library, while also funding new libraries, carrying out refurbishments and improving access to digital technology for members – all of which has led to increasing visitor numbers, lending levels and use of Wi-Fi within our libraries.
“Manchester is extremely proud of its libraries and will continue to invest in their future, making sure that residents continue to enjoy free access to local learning and leisure spaces which host high-quality facilities, activities and events.”
Library campaigners have accused the government of ‘washing its hands of any responsibility’.
Some £4.6m of the £11m that Manchester city council spent on libraries went on staff, while the remaining £6.4m was spent on running expenses.
Although funding has been cut overall to the city’s libraries, experts have praised the success of the Central Library in particular.
verall in Greater Manchester, libraries have missed out on £19.3m, when compared to 2010/11 funding.
Ian Armistice, from Public Library News, said: “The cuts to local government budgets, started in 2010, show no sign of slowing despite claims that austerity is over.
“Despite being a statutory service, government refusal to intervene in any cut since they took office mean that councils can target libraries with effective impunity.
“More than 500 libraries are now volunteer-run instead of run by paid staff.
“In addition, there’s been a ton of ‘hollowing out’, with cuts in staffing, opening hours, bookstock and other things which naturally reduces demand and thus is used as part of a vicious circle to justify further cuts.
“Where funding stays the same, library usage is maintained or increases. We see the same in this country with the success of Manchester Central Library. It’s not a case of ‘saving’ them – but rather stop cutting them.”
A council spokesman said the authority had invested in a number of new facilities in the last seven years, including the Avenue Library & Learning Centre in Higher Blackley, Brooklands Library, Beswick Library, Abraham Moss Library and the Arcadia Library & Leisure Centre in Levenshulme.
Moss Side Leisure Centre, home to Hulme High Street Library, Newton Heath Library and Withington Library have also been refurbished.
Yet in nearby Bury, ten libraries closed in 2017.
Laura Swaffield, chair of charity The Library Campaign, said: “Since 2010, there has been a massive loss in libraries. Across the UK there were 4,482 in 2009/10 – as of 2016/17 there were 3,745.
“That’s at least 737 gone. In about half of these cases, they haven’t visibly closed but they have been dumped on to volunteers to run as best they can.
“Invariably this happens only when the council ignores what the public wants and says ‘either you take it on or it closes for ever and we flog off the building’.”