Library services around the country have seen a “sustained trend” of being cut or redesigned as council funds are directed to priority areas such as social care, it was claimed today.
Figures released by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy show a 29.6 per cent decline in spend on libraries by local authorities since austerity began in 2009/10.
National spending on libraries topped £1bn in 2009/10, but dropped to under £750m in 2018/19, despite a small “uptick” in spending from the previous year.
And since 2014/15, the total number of paid staff has fallen by 15 per cent from 18,028 to 15,300, while the number of volunteers has increased by 24.3 per cent from 41,402 to 51,478.
Rob Whiteman, CIPFA CEO, said: “While we have seen a small uptick in the amount spent on libraries over the last year, budgets remain tight, with spending remaining well below 2009/10 levels. Today’s findings show a sustained trend in which many services have been cut or redesigned, with councils’ ever-decreasing funds directed to priority areas such as social care.
“This is the shape of today’s local authorities. As the country prepares to go to the polls, candidates should be having honest conversations with the public about the role of local government, and the future of lower priority services such as libraries.”
In Yorkshire, the net expenditure on libraries by town halls rose from £54m to £58.8m between 2017/18 and 2018/19, though the number of people visiting library premises fell from 15.5m to 14.99m in the same period.
The busiest libraries in Yorkshire were Harrogate, with 274,471 items issued, York with 263,082 and Sheffield Central with 235,886.
The three most visited libraries – Central Manchester, Wembley Library in Brent, and Woolwich Library in Greenwich – continue to receive well in excess of one million visitors a year.
The data released today also reveals how local authorities have redesigned library services in response to tightening budgets and changing consumer habits.
Spend on audio-visual materials, such as CDs and DVDs, dropped by over 60 per cent over 10 years as libraries have moved towards greater use of online resources.
In North Yorkshire, libraries have been run by volunteers for years as a result of a shake-up prompted by cuts to the county council’s budget.
Last December, the first library to serve the village of Goathland since 1966 opened in a community hub building, an 110-year-old village hall run by a trust.