Public libraries have been disproportionately affected by austerity policies. Since 2010 over 340 libraries have closed according to BBC data and the number of qualified librarians has reduced by a quarter. Expenditure on public libraries in England fell by £69.1m in three years and the number of books has reduced by 20.5m in five years.
The Chancellor has an opportunity to distance this Government from toxic austerity policies. Unthinking cuts continue to damage frontline services rather than seeing them as an investment in our communities and economy. Not only does austerity threaten community cohesion, it makes little fiscal sense as cuts to library budgets cost the public purse more elsewhere, across employment, educational attainment and healthcare.
Delivering economic growth during Brexit means the Chancellor must avoid the trap of investing in big infrastructure while failing to develop the skilled workforce we need. Improving life chances for everyone needs investment in life-changing library services, which are the building blocks for strong communities and successful local economies.
The UK faces a significant literacy and skills crisis. In order to compete in the global economy the UK’s success hinges on a workforce with advanced skills. Yet the country is failing to develop basic literacy skills among young people. Over a third of UK firms report concerns with school leavers’ literacy or use of English. The country ranks at the bottom of teenage literacy league-tables among 23 developed nations. However the UK’s senior citizens have some of the highest literacy levels in the developed world.
In addition to emergency relief funding CILIP has called on HM Government, the DCMS, the Department for Communities and Local Government, ACE and the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce to provide greater leadership and support for libraries by strengthening national development support for libraries and creating a robust national plan for improving libraries with accepted quality standards and strategic investment.