Bal­anc­ing the books: £8.5m less spent on city’s li­braries

Glossop Advertiser - - News - Char­lotte Dobson and Alice Cachia

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’.”

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