Tim Coates has analysed the latest CIPFA data (2014/15) with some worrying conclusions:
- Children’s book lending has declined 17% in the last three years
- All library book lending has fallen 28% in the last three years
- Library use in major English cities is declining more rapidly than the national picture
- Purchasing of print books for libraries in England has fallen from £80m in 2005 to £49m last year
- Ebooks took 17.6% of the book fund and produced just 1.2% of book lending.
- Council library connected overhead costs have risen to £150m per annum, over and above library management costs
Tim Coates is calling on The Libraries Taskforce to push for significant change on several counts – to ensure all local authorities submit data, to ensure auditing of data is carried out to reduce discrepancies in reporting, and to ensure that the data is released in a timely fashion and in a meaningful format to inform local authorities.
“Last year, when the corresponding CIPFA analysis was published, the newly formed Taskforce observed that it was of limited use because councils submit the data in different ways and that several councils do not complete the returns.
The variation is confined to a very small part of the questionnaire – it only applies to the way the headings councils give to the revenue cost of certain types of capital expenditure – it does not affect the overall costs at all. There are also discrepancies about counting or performance and it means that there can be slight overstatement of visits, issues and of levels of stock. These do not negate the analysis but they make it more worrying and they also highlight the need to audit reports of public activity, which is an important issue.
Out of 205 library authorities in England, Wales and Scotland last year, 18 authorities did not report fully. This year, 31 have not. The totals calculated by CIPFA are not significantly affected by these omissions. However, councils have a statutory duty to provide information on their library services, described in the 1964 Act, and it would be good for the Taskforce to remind them that the CIPFA return is a way to do that, as a matter of urgency.
It is obvious from the figures that councils do not and have not responded to the decline in use of the service – but they should. One reason for this is that the most recent and relevant figures are never available at the time a council prepares its annual budget – which is the time at which needed improvements could be made.”
Coates calls for a dramatic improvement in the collection of CIPFA data for 2015/16, which commences in April 2016. He points out that the Taskforce has already highlighted a need to improve the timeliness, accuracy and detail of the information available to councils. All councils should complete the forms; the CIPFA data should be produced by July 2016 – and it should contain some of the sort of information that he has included in his two presentations.
“Any ‘tool kit’ of advice provided by the Taskforce should include an explanation as to how to respond to the falling use of the library service in budgets and actions.”
Elizabeth Ash, Trustee of The Library Campaign, says,
“The Library Campaign supports this call for accurate, complete and timely libraries data.
CIPFA data needs to be standard, consistent, timely, relevant and meaningful in order to make a difference by informing local authority decision makers as well as allowing others, including the taxpayer, the library user and the library campaigner to hold local authorities to account for the statutory library service that they provide.
The marked reduction in children’s borrowing figures is extremely worrying.
We are witnessing the most appalling and rapid decline in library services, particularly in England, with no decisive action being taken by central government to address this or to superintend.“
You can access the full Powerpoint presentation, here: Public libraries 2014-15 – Tim Coates