Council chiefs warn library closures could hamper literacy drive

PLANS TO improve literacy by enrolling every eight-year-old child at a local library will be undermined if continued Whitehall funding cuts force closures, town hall chiefs suggested.

Photo: Tony Johnson

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, in a joint article written with comedian David Walliams, said improving access to chances to read was “a matter of public justice”.

They said it should be a “national mission” to improve the UK’s performance, after a 2013 OECD report found English young adults have among the lowest literacy levels in the developed world.

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The country ranked 22nd out of 24 countries included in the study of 16 to 24-year-olds.

“If we don’t address illiteracy, it’s the disadvantaged who miss out most of all. This is a question of social justice,” they wrote - with poor readers struggling to find work and enjoying worse health.

“No matter where they live or what their background, every single child in this country deserves the opportunity to read, to read widely, and to read well,” the pair told the Daily Telegraph.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) cautioned that councils were coming closer to being forced to take the axe to libraries and other services as austerity measures bite harder.

Ian Stephens, chair of the LGA’s culture, tourism and sport board, said: “Councils recognise the importance of boosting literacy among children and many already work with schools and other partners to encourage local children to read and join their library.

“Working with local communities, councils have found innovative ways to keep providing library services while managing reductions in their budgets of up to 40 per cent since 2010.

“However, efficiencies and innovation can only go so far and in the face of more potential budget reductions in the autumn Spending Review, councils could have to make some really tough choices about which services they can continue to provide.”