LIBRARIES are much more than places to browse or borrow books, or in recent years for those without internet, to access the web. They are part of the heartbeat of communities.
Yet libraries have suffered grievously over the past decade as a relentless squeeze on local authority budgets have forced closures or restrictions in opening hours, as funds are diverted to essential services.
The seriousness of the difficulties faced by our region’s libraries is starkly spelt out by the fact that in some areas 80 per cent are now run by volunteers, who deserve the gratitude of their communities for stepping in to keep them open.
Shortage of funds has produced a perfect storm for libraries, as illustrated by our revelation today that the number of people using them has nearly halved in some areas. As budgets are cut and staff numbers decline, there is an inevitable perception that they have less to offer and so fewer people visit.
Changing reading and social habits have also contributed to the decline of libraries. In an age when books can be downloaded instantly and relatively cheaply, the trip to the library to borrow a physical copy has come to seem anachronistic to many, just as shopping on the high street has suffered as online retailing has grown.
But we neglect libraries at our peril. To lose them would damage the communities they have served, in some cases since the 19th century, when they played a vital role in helping to make our nation a literate one.
They remain places of learning and inspiration, and as they carve out a role for themselves in the 21 st century, it is in the interest of communities large and small to support them. It amounts, quite simply, to a case of use them or lose them.
Debate over NHS restrictions
THERE are no easy answers for the NHS as it copes with the challenges of an expanding population that is living longer than ever before, and a constantly increasing number of elderly patients requiring care.
And controversial though the decision by the Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is to require patients to stop smoking or lose weight before undergoing surgery, it illustrates the often unpalatable choices facing the NHS.
Similar policies being considered by the East Riding and Hull CCGs underline that these choices are not limited to a particular area, and it would not be surprising if more parts of Yorkshire followed suit.
However, the warning by the Royal College of Surgeons that such policies could potentially delay operations for millions of people need to be taken seriously, since they could potentially be counter-productive by leading to further costly treatment as a result.
There can be little doubt that the overwhelming majority of patients would stop smoking or embark on a weight-loss regime if advised by their doctors that to do so would not only improve their health but increase the chances of surgery producing the best outcome.
The NHS stands at the beginning of one of its most difficult debates of recent years. The current standoff between the CCGs and the RCS on restricting surgery will have to be resolved.
Both groups would justifiably claim to have the best interest of patients at heart.
The hard part will be weighing that against the best use of resources.
Hull’s shining hour arrives
HULL stands on the eve of one of the most glorious episodes in its long and proud history.
On New Year’s Day, the fireworks that will light up the sky mark the beginning of its year as the UK City of Culture. This long-anticipated and meticulously-planned accolade will bring it the attention of not just the whole country, but the global arts world too.
Hull deserves to bask in that glory. It has suffered much with the decline of its traditional seafaring industries, and it is no exaggeration to see its new-found cultural status as part of an exciting rebirth which also includes its future as a centre of excellence for wind-turbine manufacture.
The opportunities that 2017 offers will be embraced wholeheartedly by the people of Hull. This is a city on the way up once more, and all Yorkshire will join in giving it a resounding round of applause.