AS communities across Yorkshire have already learned to their cost, there is no turning back when a library is closed and the network would be even more threadbare if it wasn’t for all those volunteers giving up their time to keep local branches open.
In fairness to the councils concerned, the 20 per cent funding cut is in line with the rest of local government – other services have been just as badly hit – and is indicative of the difficult decisions that now have to be taken. However crude figures about usage, used to determine whether a library stays open or not, fail to make sufficient account of their importance to society – and that they might be the only place, outside a classroom, where a child comes into contact with a book which might inspire a love of words.
If this happens, and it is only middle class or privileged children who can afford to buy a book or download an e-book on their latest mobile device, what will this say about the effectiveness – or otherwise – of the Government’s social mobility agenda?
Perhaps the time has come when councils, and the Government, need to be far more hard-nosed when it comes to preventing another round of branch closures while also recognising the expertise of fully-trained librarians. Can they offer more services? What about opening small shops inside the larger libraries, with profits generated going towards new books, or the powers-that-be exploring whether a chain like Waterstones – now making money again – would be prepared to sponsor branches in return for pre-determined tax breaks? Better still, the Treasury and HMRC should compel online retailer Amazon to pay a rate of tax which is more commensurate with its revenue in the UK – and use that money to support libraries and the life chances now being denied to today’s youngsters and future generations. If not, why not?
UNLIKE his political soul-mate David Cameron who bowed out of Parliament this week, George Osborne does intend to remain active in day-to-day politics despite Theresa May deeming the former Chancellor to be surplus to her requirements.
Mr Osborne clearly believes that he has unfinished business when it comes to the Northern Powerhouse, but two Freudian slips during a round of interviews and speeches to promote his new foundation reaffirmed his status as the country’s number one Marmite politician.
First the former Minister spoke about the Northern Powerhouse empowering cities – before quickly correcting himself and adding the word ‘counties’. The slip-up gave credence to those who believe that his flagship policy has focused almost exclusively on the big cities, and at the expense of surrounding towns and rural communities.
And then Mr Osborne, speaking from his Manchester power base, spoke about Westminster being ‘200 years’ away when, in fact, he meant ‘200 miles’. For many, Parliament does feel light years away because Yorkshire and the North is still the poor relation when it comes to infrastructure investment.
That said, it was pleasing to learn that this most of enigmatic of politicians had read Mrs May’s opinion piece in The Yorkshire Post on August 18 when she set out her vision for the future. Far from distancing herself from Mr Osborne and his obvious desire to be a back seat driver, her commitment to the English regions appears to be even stronger and it is important that any lingering score-settling does not stand in the way of Westminster delivering – belatedly – for the whole of the North.
Time to savour British lamb
IF MORRISONS and other supermarkets can manage to champion UK farmers by stocking their shelves exclusively with British lamb in August, why can’t Asda and Tesco?
This goes to the heart of the National Sheep Association’s latest naming and shaming exercise as part of its continuing campaign to persuade the major supermarkets to support local producers rather than undermine them with cut-price imports.
If this is the approach of Asda and Tesco now, what will it be like when import conditions improve so it is even easier for lamb producers in, say, New Zealand to sell their meat in British shops?
This serves as another reminder, if one was needed, that the major supermarkets not only need to be held to account when it comes to procurement policies, but that their shoppers insist on Yorkshire lamb wherever possible.