Tag Archives: Chris Bryant

Mythomania

Despite the constant misinformation from the government such as only 110 libraries have closed since 2010 we at least know what to expect from this administration as in practice public services and therefore libraries have never been under greater threat. This is down to ideology and dogma, and the rigid adherence to the economically dubious austerity agenda.

I came across the wonderful term ‘mythomania’ recently. Apparently it refers to the behaviour of habitual or compulsive lying…or in other words, spin! The mythomania developed by the government around libraries is almost admirable in its simplicity and effectiveness. Even the Prime Minister has got in on the act recently by claiming that library closures are due to ‘technological change’, whilst totally ignoring the massive reduction in funding.

If Conservatives hold a totally skewed view of libraries you would reasonably expect Labour to have an opposing narrative. Unfortunately not! The Labour view of libraries is rather conspicuous by its absence. This is compounded by major figures such as the new London Mayor. During the mayoral election race, the now successful Sadiq Khan, failed to respond in any meaningful way to campaigners request for support, no doubt cautious over criticising Labour controlled Lambeth.

The equally silent Maria Eagle, Shadow Minister for Culture, Media & Sport seems to have no apparent opinion – or should that be knowledge – of the library crisis, certainly if her Twitter feed is anything to go by. I’ve tried to contact Miss Eagle a number of times by email and Twitter but have, as yet, received no reply.

The last time a shadow minister tried to formulate an opinion around libraries was early 2014 under Helen Goodman. Unfortunately, she was a blink-and-miss-them appointment. Followed by the equally  ‘I don’t really want this role’, Chris Bryant, whose approach to libraries was so akin to Ed Vaizey’s that you couldn’t wedge a piece of paper between them. When challenged Chris’ mantra was ‘silence is golden’, refusing to engage with campaigners or support a fight against closures in his own constituency. Again by a Labour controlled authority.

Labour’s last attempt at writing a policy resulted in the risible Libraries: Innovation, Co-location and Partnership, which again was so similar to the Tories you could be forgiven for thinking they had been written by the same team. And herein lies the problem: the current government has no difficulty with libraries being cut, closed, hollowed-out, or out-sourced. We can disagree with and oppose this approach all we want but at least it’s a clear stance.

Labour on the other hand lack any sort of vision, policy or inclination around libraries and seem supremely unwilling to engage with campaigners to develop one. Unfortunately, for a party committed to public services under Corbynism this presents a conundrum as Labour controlled councils – stand up Sheffield – are just as likely to close and cut local libraries as Tory authorities.

Where there should be a stronger commitment to public services, we get the right of the Labour Party espousing the same free market terminology and localism mantra as the current government. On the other hand the left of the party seem willing to sacrifice valuable local services in order to indulge in petty point scoring against Tory austerity. Added to this mix are senior leaders who refuse to be drawn on the whole issue of the library crisis.

Many have an high expectation of Labour rolling back the devastating damages done to public services and libraries. Given the sheer lack of interest by previous and current shadow minister in the issue, campaigners are unlikely to see a viable alternative to Tory policy developed anytime soon. In fact given how quickly culture shadow ministers come and go it’s unlikely any will have time to develop a proper response.

But then again perhaps the perception that Labour will restore public services to previous levels is in itself a form of unintentional mythomania!

Labour and libraries: the shape of things to come

It’s official, the Shadow Culture Minister has confirmed that not only does he prefer a non-interventionist approach, that Labour will not legislate to protect public libraries, but volunteer libraries are also acceptable. In the interview Chris Bryant accuses the Government of a “dereliction of duty” but then states that he will do exactly the same.

So a hands-off, localism-centred, volunteer approach to libraries is the wrong path for the current government to pursue but if elected Mr Bryant will do precisely that. Only in politics would you get away with such blatant double-speak and expect the public to believe it! It’s a sad indication that some communities are so desperate to save their libraries that they do.

In response to a question. Mr Bryant said: “The last thing I think they want now is some know-it-all in Westminster telling everyone everywhere how to run local services”. Which seems a strong indication that, just like the current incumbent, Ed Vaizey, he will not intervene when local councils decide to decimate their library service.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise as it’s been pointed out that Chris Bryant refused to support campaigners in his own constituency when they fought successfully to save Rhydyfelin library from closure. As usual, while happy to criticise conservative library cuts Chris Bryant remains steadfastly silent when Labour councils do exactly the same.

What’s becoming apparent is that the Shadow Minister will not be drawn into a meaningful discussion about libraries. Many, including Voices for the Library, have tried but with no success. It seems nothing makes him go silent faster than being asked an opinion on libraries and he’s more comfortable pontificating inanely in the press than talking to those who genuinely know about the sector.

Many have an high expectation of Labour rolling back the devastating damages done to libraries. In the interview Chris Bryant gives lie to this hope. If elected it looks like it will be business as usual and rather than rescuing libraries it appears that what we get instead is an Ed Vaizey mark II; a swapping of tweedledum for tweedledee with only the colour of the political logo changed.

 

A reply from Labour…sort of!

If you haven’t yet seen it Cilip has received a reply from the Conservatives as part of the Election Watch Campaign. As expected it is the usual political fluff, managing to fill space without actually saying anything of substance. A sort of fifty shades of vanilla, which describes most of mainstream politics at the moment!

Part of the problem is that the campaign letter itself is fairly bland and non-specific, inviting a insipid response in return, which is precisely what’s happened. As a reply it is too inane to even bother critiquing and merely proves the point that politicians don’t communicate to elucidate, merely to make themselves or the party look good.

Anyway, I prefer to let the coalition’s atrocious record on libraries and public services for the past five years stand for itself.

So far there doesn’t appear to have been any replies from the other political parties but obviously, the most anticipated will be from Labour (did anything ever come of the consultation carried out by Helen Goodman?) and I hope Cilip has better luck than myself in receiving a reply. Despite three emails to Chris Bryant and a Twitter exchange he still hasn’t bothered responding.

That said, he might just be killing time until Labour is elected and hoping for a more exciting portfolio and thus libraries are so far down on his list of interests that it’s not worth formulating an informed response.

Leaving silent Bryant aside, I did have slightly more luck when contacting Labour via the House of Lords and received a response from Lord Collins, whose reply is below including his speech re: Abolition of the Library Advisory Council for England.

While I appreciate that Lord Collins at least answered, and that Labour appears to at least acknowledge the difficult situation libraries face, unlike Ed ‘crisis, what crisis?’ Vaizey, this has not translated into any clear statement or commitment from Labour regarding library provision. And like the Conservatives the reply manages to say a lot without actually answering the questions asked.

So far, it appears that Labour’s policy on libraries is to not actually say what their policy is, but then again, perhaps they just don’t have one!

_______________________________________________

Dear Leon,
Apologies for not getting back to you sooner, however I wanted to provide you with details (below) of the press release Chris Bryant put out put out last week setting out current policy on Libraries. I have also set out below a local story about the visit Chris did on the subject.
I am also attaching for your information a recent speech I made in Grand Committee of the House of Lords on Libraries.
Hope this assists.
Best wishes,
Ray
Lord Collins of Highbury
40 million fewer visitors to libraries under Cameron
New House of Commons Library research shows library closures have accelerated rapidly since David Cameron’s Tory led Government came to office.
  • There are now at least 330 fewer libraries open for 10 hours or more a week – an 8 per cent drop.
  • The number of visits has declined rapidly since 2010. In 2009/10 there were 322 million visits, but by 2013/14 visits had fallen to 282 million – a 12 per cent drop.
  • The percentage of people visiting libraries in the most deprived areas, which rely on public libraries the most, has fallen since 2010 from 46.2 per cent of people to 36.8 per cent. That is a 21 per cent drop.
  • Since last April a further 216 static libraries and eight mobile libraries have been put under threat of closure or passing to volunteers.
The research was commissioned as the Government is failing to keep records on how many libraries have been closed or handed over to voluntary organisations. And despite their statutory duty under the 1964 Act to “superintend and promote the improvement of the public library service”, Tory ministers have not provided any national leadership.
The next Labour government will ensure a Culture Minister will chair the “task and finish group”, set up following the Sieghart review into libraries in order to provide leadership to the sector. It will also work with the Department for Communities and Local Government to encourage greater collaboration and cooperation between the 151 library authorities in England, and give councils longer term funding settlements so that councils can better plan ahead, deliver savings and meet local needs.
Chris Bryant MP, Labour’s Shadow Arts Minister said:
 
“Under David Cameron, successive Tory Secretaries of State – Jeremy Hunt, Maria Miller and Sajid Javid – have utterly failed library-users.
“Libraries are a vital part of the social and cultural life of this country.  They extend opportunities for people, whatever their background, to read, learn and explore and they help bridge the widening inequality gap in the country.
“That is why a Labour government will provide genuine national leadership, encourage greater collaboration in local government, and give councils longer term funding settlements so that councils can better plan ahead, deliver savings and meet local needs.”
ENDS
Notes to editors:
1.      These graphs were produced by the House of Commons Library, based on figures from CIPFA and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Taking Part Survey.
2.      Library closures have accelerated rapidly since 2010 – there are now at least 330 fewer libraries open for 10 hours or more a week.  That is an 8 per cent fall.
3.      The number of visits has declined rapidly since 2010. In 2009/10 there were 322 million visits, but by 2013/14 visits had fallen to 282 million.  That is a 12% drop.
4.      This has happened in every region in the country.
5.      Especially worrying is the decline in visits by young people – we are losing the next generation of readers and learners.
6.      The percentage of people visiting libraries in the most deprived areas, which rely on public libraries the most, has fallen since 2010 from 46.2% of people to 36.8%. That is a 21% drop.
7.      Since last April: 216 static libraries have been put under threat of closure/passing to volunteers. Eight mobile libraries under threat. One new library opened. 3 refurbishments over £50,000, 11 libraries (three static and eight mobile) libraries closed, nine libraries passed to volunteers, one entirely new volunteer-run library. This is according to Public Libraries News.
Christopher Bryant says the Government needs to do more to maintain libraries By Lincolnshire Echo  |  Posted: February 05, 2015
MP Christopher Bryant visited Lincoln to discuss the current state of libraries across the county
Labour MP Christopher Bryant has called on the Government to take more “responsibility” in maintaining libraries across the county.
The shadow minister for the arts’ visit to Lincoln Central Library came after Lincolnshire County Council announced plans to hand over 30 libraries to volunteers, following a consultation that cost more than £720,000.
The idea was first mooted in 2012, with more than 20,000 signatures opposing the plans. The subsequent ruling by the High Court criticised the way in which the council reached the decision, however a second consultation has reached the same verdict.
Mr Bryant believes the importance of the library cannot be overestimated.
He said: “I think libraries for so many people are their best way of getting on in life. It is part of our social fabric. The most distressing thing is the visits in the most deprived areas have declined.
“The big solution is government cannot wash its hands. It has got to take some responsibility, it has to assess what is happening in the country. It is a bit depressing that 60 per cent of libraries in the country do not have Wi-Fi.
“I know Karl (McCartney) and I have never heard him say a word about the library in his constituents. Maybe he never uses the library?
“I think if Lucy (Rigby) is in parliament she will make an enormous difference. She is one of the best candidates we have got. The leadership of the Labour Party would listen to Lucy,” he added.
_____________________________
Speech

Public Bodies (Abolition of the Library Advisory Council for England) Order 2014

Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab):

My Lords, I echo my noble friend’s remarks about the current crisis libraries are facing. They are not a luxury but a practical tool and provide vital public space for individuals and families across the country. They are a resource for parents and young children, schoolchildren who do not have a place to work at home, jobseekers who are trying to gain new skills and employment, elderly people living in isolation and community groups. Increasingly, they are incubators for new ideas and places where businesses come to fruition.

Personally, I regret that over the past four and a half years the Government have been slow to respond to the growing crisis in the sector. At a time when many library services were under threat there was no sense of urgency, coherent strategy, direction or guidance for local authorities, and no idea about what might be the minimum acceptable outcome. Libraries are provided at local level, and councils, rightly, have the first claim on leadership, but the Government have a clear duty to minimise the damage done to the library service and to provide an overarching strategic vision.

I feel a little as though I am in a “Monty Python” sketch. We are considering the case for a body in this debate on its proposed abolition, but the Ministers have told us that essentially the ACL is a defunct body, with no staff, premises, assets or liabilities. In other words, it is a dead parrot.

I, too, welcome the Independent Library Report for England, published just before Christmas. However, as Ed Vaizey, the Minister, tells us, it,

“did not include consideration of the statutory requirement of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964”,

and,

“makes no reference to the ACL”.

I admit that I find it difficult to follow the argument that since the ILR did not consider the statutory requirement of the statutory Act or the ACL, its abolition is not dependent on the report’s publication, yet one of its primary recommendations now apparently negates the need for the ACL. As the Delegated Powers Committee suggested, the considerations of the ILR clearly intersect with the practical implementation of the duties placed upon the Secretary of State and local authorities by the 1964 Act, and it is therefore reasonable to see the outcome of the ILR as relevant to the decision on the ACL. I am sorry for all these abbreviations—they will get worse when we get to the recommendations.

Clearly, my party believes that there is a good case for a body to support development, innovation and best practice, including measures to find efficiency savings and increase impact, helping to lessen the pressure for cuts to services. That is why we welcome the conclusion of the review to establish the libraries’ task and finish group. I rather like that name. Gone are the days of a good old task force; it is now “task and finish”. Maybe that is where some of my concerns are.

Cross-party and organisational working must be at the heart of its activities. The Department for Education, the Department of Health, DCMS, BIS and the Department for Communities and Local Government, all have a role to play, as have organisations such as the British Library, Booktrust, the Reader Organisation, the National Literacy Trust, Arts Council England—as we heard from the Minister—the CILIP and the Reading Agency.

Mr Vaizey’s case for the task and finish group is that its functions are far wider than the sole advisory function of the ACL—as we heard from the Minister in her introduction—and, as he says, more importantly, it will also be focused on delivery. Unlike the ACL, the membership of the task and finish group will be flexible and dynamic, so that it can adapt to suit the specific tasks involved. The TFG will report jointly to Ministers and the Local Government Association and will be independent of government.

When, in October 2011, the Arts Council took over responsibility for supporting and developing libraries from the former Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, it did not take on the MLA’s supervisory role for libraries—again, a point raised by my noble friend. At a time when libraries are withering on the vine in many communities, oversight is even more critical than at any time before. The point the noble Earl made was absolutely right. I agree with the view that the recommended role and structure of the task and finish group are not suitable for the ACL, whose primary aim and minimum membership is prescribed by statute. However, I do not necessarily accept that the establishment of the TFG and its range of functions negate the need for statutory independent advice in the Secretary of State’s meeting his obligations under the 1964 Act. I fear that in performing its job, working with a range of authorities, it will miss that fundamental requirement that we must have a library service. And what is that library service? It is certainly not a second-hand bookshop in a local high street. It is more than that, and we need to be very careful about the standards that we set.

Mr Vaizey’s view is that, as we have heard from the Minister today, advice and guidance from stakeholders and officials at the DCMS are sufficient to meet the function of providing advice to the Secretary of State, including on the use of his statutory powers. I am not sure that the fact that nobody has taken action is necessarily evidence that there is no need for action. Clearly, with the number of library closures increasing and access to libraries diminishing, that is not the case at the moment.

Although DCMS has stated that no budget is allocated to the ACL—I think that its abolition will save approximately £2,500 a year; this is obviously not a budget consideration—I ask the Minister whether, during the period of the ACL’s inaction, any external advice to the Secretary of State has been brought into the department and, if so, what the cost of that advice was

The devil is in the detail

I had an interesting, if rather short, exchange recently on Twitter with Chris Bryant, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Culture. He was criticising Lincolnshire Council over their plans to force local communities to operate libraries. I asked how these plans differed to Sheffield’s and why attack one but not the other. To the more cynical amongst us the obvious answer being one is a Conservative council and the other Labour controlled.

I share his criticism of Lincolnshire but the real issue is that library closures and cuts traverse the political divide and are to be found in Labour as well as Tory authorities. Therefore, only attacking his opponent’s plans appears more petty political point scoring rather than a genuine concern about public libraries.

Mr Bryant did affirm that public libraries need leadership. If elected Mr Bryant will be in a position to provide such leadership – and let’s hope it’s better than the misapplied ‘distributed leadership’ the Arts Council offers – however, we have been here before when Ed Vaizey was in opposition. Support for public libraries is an admirable thing but not if Mr Bryant is unable to articulate how he will differ from the current incumbent whose non-interventionist approach and slavish commitment to localism has been so disastrous for libraries.

In a story in the Independent Mr Bryant accused the Government of “utterly failing” library users and said library closures had “accelerated rapidly” since the election.”

He then went on to say that “Labour would provide “genuine national leadership” in reversing the decline in library use, encourage greater cooperation between England’s 151 library authorities and give councils longer-term funding settlements so they can plan ahead better.

So far, so good. He also stated that “Libraries are a vital part of the social and cultural life of this country. They extend opportunities for people, whatever their background, to read, learn and explore and they help to bridge the widening inequality gap in the country.”

All highly commendable but also, unfortunately, short on detail, big on ‘soundbite’.  It is one thing to say you support libraries but quite another to state how you would support them. The devil, as always, is in the detail and Chris Bryant is not providing any.

Now Labour should be in a very strong position to have an informed view on libraries. Helen Goodman, Mr Bryant’s predecessor, began her own review of libraries last year and equally the review by William Sieghart is available to refer to. So there’s plenty of information and research for Mr Bryant to draw upon.  Also, as a Welsh MP, he can look to the Expert Review of Public Libraries in Wales for inspiration.

Perhaps he could make a commitment to introducing national standards for England, or creating a genuine oversight body, or merging library authorities (not just ‘encourage greater cooperation’ which quite frankly the current Government has tried to little effect). Perhaps he could indicate a desire to revisit the 1964 act and define clearly what a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ service should actually be. Equally, Labour has pledged to boost Sure Start centres and re-expand the scheme should they be elected so perhaps Mr Bryant could make a similar commitment to public libraries. And then there’s the thorny issue of consistent and adequate funding.

Returning to the Twitter exchange, one point that emerged was Mr Bryant supports volunteer run libraries in ‘some circumstances’. What those circumstances are he failed to elaborate on. Unfortunately, sharing the same belief as his opponent, that volunteer libraries are part of the solution, will hardly inspire library staff and campaigners to view Labour as offering anything substantially different to the current government.

Before the conversation on Twitter I had already emailed Mr Bryant (twice) inviting him to share his views, just as Helen Goodman had done, about public libraries. I reiterated the invitation as part of the Twitter exchange. Whether or not he accepts remains to be seen but if he does let us hope for something more substantial than he’s offered so far.

Addendum (09/02/2015): Chris Bryant has called the handover to volunteers in Lincolnshire ‘exceptional‘. I keep coming across slightly different figures but it appears that Lincs has handed or will hand over 68% of libraries to volunteers. Lincolnshire is a Conservative controlled council. Sheffield, which is Labour controlled, has given over 46% of its libraries to volunteers. Coventry, also Labour run, is suggesting reducing its libraries from 17 to 5, a decrease of 70%.

So it seems ‘exceptional’ is fast becoming the norm…for both parties!

(Happy to be corrected on the above figures)