Closure of libraries could be ‘breaking the law’, Unite warns

The closure of local library services due to funding cuts could be breaking statuary duties, enshrined in legislation dating back to 1850, according to trade union Unite.

Unite has called for an immediate reversal of the continuing cuts to council budgets that fund libraries, saying that a ‘line in the sand’ needs to be drawn to stop the mass closure.

Over 400 libraries have shut within the past five years, and the union claims that this could actually be breaking the law due to the statutory duty of councils to provide ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library services.

Fiona Farmer, Unite national officer for local government, said: “We are asking government to keep our libraries open, reverse the council cuts, and have a fair funding formula for local authorities. It needs to be highlighted that local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide comprehensive library services as a quality service for communities. Libraries are a beacon of hope and practical assistance for people wishing to improve their literacy – we have one of the lowest levels in the developed countries; for those seeking employment; and as centres for strengthening community ties.

“The 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act outlines the statutory duty incumbent on councils to provide a quality library service and the legal obligation of the culture secretary John Whittingdale to improve public libraries in England. National and local politicians see libraries as ‘a soft target’ in this time of austerity, but they could be pushing up against the boundaries of legality, if they persist on this course. Councils could be breaking the law, so now is the time to draw a line in the sand and stop these closures.”