There is little chance that Boris Johnson’s government will do anything for libraries. The Institute for Fiscal Studies commented that his manifesto contained very little altogether, and would look thin even as a one-year budget. IFS director Paul Johnson added: “The implication of the Conservative manifesto is that they believe most aspects of public policy are just fine as they are. Little in the way of changes to tax, spending, welfare or anything else.”
Conservative plans would leave public spending outside health by 2023-24 still 14% lower than in 2010-11. On local authorities specifically, the IFS found that the money allocated by the Conservatives would not be enough to meet rising costs and demands. Even if council tax rises by 4% a year (the maximum permitted) spending per person will be at least 20% lower than in 2009–10. Further cuts in services seem inevitable.
In the run-up to the election, Boris Johnson was quizzed by the BBC’s Andrew Marr on mass library closures since 2010. He claimed: “Some local authorities have been able to manage their finances so as to open libraries… I want to invest in libraries but we can only do that when we get the economy motoring.”
In response, CILIP chief executive Nick Poole said: “Firstly, local library services are not just the responsibility of local councils. The 1964 Public Libraries Act requires central government to oversee and improve public library services – a responsibility the previous Conservative government failed to implement.
“Secondly, while we are delighted that Mr Johnson’s local council has been able to invest in libraries, the fact that many cannot has less to do with sound financial management and more to do with the cuts of circa 30-40% handed down to them by the previous Conservative government.
“Finally, Mr Johnson appears to suggest that the country can only afford libraries when there has been an economic recovery. As we have commented time-and-again, this is a fundamentally misguided policy. By investing in libraries, you create opportunities for education and skills across the country, which in turn creates the conditions for future economic growth.”

* There is also little sign that the Conservatives have taken on board criticism of their campaign’s use of disinformation tactics – such as disguising their own Twitterfeed as an independent fact-checking site and using it to issue fake “information”. In an official complaint, CILIP said this crossed “a line which ought never to be crossed – raising the spectre of state-sponsored misinformation and the deliberate undermining of truth and accountability which should have no place in British politics.” Yet the party used exactly the same device on election night…

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Tell Helen!

Helen Goodman MP became (Labour) Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport last autumn. She has now started consulting on public libraries. Unfortunately her questionnaire has been circulated only to library staff organisations…

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