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Massive library service cuts \'may be illegal\' PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 01 December 2010 12:31

Far-reaching cuts to the library service planned for Oxfordshire may be illegal, according to protesters who have contacted culture minister Ed Vaizey, whose constituency of Didcot and Wantage is within the county. The local authority is proposing to stop funding 20 out of its 43 libraries and instead throw them open to local communities to run.

Oxfordshire\'s news follows announcements of swingeing library service cuts in North Yorkshire, Leeds, Gloucestershire, Cambridgeshire, Buckinghamshire and other authorities, with news of fresh closures coming almost every day.

Campaigners in Gloucestershire have already written to culture minister Ed Vaizey, saying the council\'s proposals for library cuts go too far and could breach the statutory obligation to provide a proper book-borrowing facility. In 2009, Vaizey was highly critical of Labour\'s Andy Burnham\'s response to planned cuts in the Wirral, which would have seen 11 local libraries close. The then shadow culture minister said at the time that "if Andy Burnham is not prepared to intervene when library provision is slashed in a local authority such as the Wirral, it is clear that he is ignoring his responsibilities as secretary of state".

The culture secretary ? now Jeremy Hunt ? has a duty under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act to superintend the library service and ensure that local councils offer a "comprehensive and efficient service" to their population. Councils looking for budget savings following the comprehensive spending review say that offering a service is not the same as keeping libraries open, and that library services can be provided by mobile libraries, online lending systems and other measures.

A spokesperson for the Department for Media, Culture and Sport said today that the government was "a committed champion of public libraries and their value." The spokesperson said: "We continue to monitor proposals being made about changes to library services across England and we take our duty to superintend the delivery of services, including any reduction in programmes, very seriously." The DCMS added that the government would keep the use of its statutory powers, including those regarding intervention, "under consideration on a case-by-case basis".

Ed Vaizey\'s office said the culture minister would not be commenting on the situation until Oxfordshire council had completed its spending review process.

Courtesy to guardian.co.uk.

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