Rt Hon Jeremy Wright QC MP

Department for Culture Media and Sport

100 Parliament Street

London SW1A 2BQ

By email to: [email protected]

Dear Minister

Complaint reference TO2017/01856

You will no doubt be aware that Barnet Council is commissioning a review of its changes to the library service introduced in 2017.  As you know, Save Barnet Libraries has provided considerable evidence of the impact of these changes particularly on young people, older people and people with disabilities, following our initial complaint of December 2016. As this complaint remains under investigation by your department, we believe that you will be bound to take into account the findings of the Council’s review. We therefore consider that you have a duty to supervise the review process to ensure that the evidence and conclusions are robust. We note this review is particularly timely as the Minister for Children and the Minister for Education recently highlighted the effects of poor literacy and the Minister for Loneliness last year highlighted the impact of social exclusion.

We suggest that the review must meet the standard of the Charteris Inquiry so as to decide whether local library provision is compliant with the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 and the Equalities Acts 2010. [1] In particular, we seek assurances from you and the Council that the review will be:

 ·         Independently conducted, well-publicised and with appropriate terms of reference.

·         Given sufficient time and resources actively to seek new evidence from Barnet residents, schools and a   wide range of organisations, including Save Barnet Libraries.

·         Taking into consideration evidence already collected.

·         Concluded with the publication of evidence and recommendations.

Without your oversight and these assurances, we have serious concerns about whether the review will be a meaningful exercise. The original Needs Assessment compiled by the Council failed to consider whether residents’ needs would be met under the new regime. The Council has never responded to our detailed complaint letters about the failures of provision and it failed to include libraries in its recent Annual Equalities Report.[2] It has also responded inappropriately to concerns raised formally by residents.

Residents approached their MP, Theresa Villiers, in April 2018, with their concerns about the exclusion of unaccompanied under15s from unstaffed libraries. In response to Mrs Villiers’ request for information, Council staff misleadingly claimed that it is “well-established Council policy, in the interests of child protection, children under 15 should not be unaccompanied at libraries. Self-service opening hours mean this policy is better enforced but it is not new”.[3] This is simply not correct – under 15s were always (and still are) allowed to enter alone during staffed hours.[4] The difference that the council staff failed to acknowledge to Mrs Villiers is that, after the introduction of unstaffed hours, and despite the massive expenditure on security guards, under 15s have lost two thirds of their independent library access.[5] This has led to drastic drops in children and teens’ use, as illustrated by the Summer Reading Challenge of 2018, which saw a drop in participation of 50%.[6] Visitor figures show drastic drops particularly where staffed hours have been most reduced.[7]

The Council rejected similar concerns raised by their Youth Assembly in June 2018. The Youth Assembly passed a motion for “more study spaces and communal areas in libraries” and called for “restrictions on the times during which youngsters can use them to be scrapped”. The purpose of the Youth Assembly according the Council’s website is to take “key issues…directly to Councillors who discuss how the Council can best address these issues”. Despite this, the Strategic Director of Children and Young People, Chris Munday, speaking on behalf of the Council at the relevant committee, rejected their demands, calling for “myth-busting” and stating that “libraries are there, young people are using them, there is an increase in satisfaction”.[8]

We are particularly concerned by the conclusions Mr Munday went on to draw regarding the review: “I will make sure when we do the review we will be looking at how to continue to promote libraries in Barnet, because I am concerned that young people feel they can’t go to a library when they can”.[9] Unfortunately, this suggests that the review, which is being organised by Mr Munday, will focus on justifying the changes that have been made rather than genuinely exploring their impact.

For these reasons, we believe that the oversight of DCMS will be necessary to ensure that review will be compliant with the law, fully independent, with the process as well as the result open and transparent. We are copying this letter to Richard Cornelius, leader of the Council, and we look forward to yours and Mr Cornelius’ early response.

Yours sincerely

Emily Burnham                                           
Barbara Jacobson

Robert Strang

(on behalf of Save Barnet Libraries)

Cc:      Simon Richardson, Head of Libraries at DCMS

            Cllr Reuben Thompstone, Mayor of Barnet

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-local-inquiry-into-the-public-library-service-provided-by-wirral-metropolitan-borough-council

[2] https://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s50100/Annual%20Equalities%20Report%20201718.pdf

[3] This information was provided by Council staff in a letter that Theresa Villiers MP sent in April 2018 to residents who had raised concerns. Residents submitted a complaint to the Monitoring Officer about the misleading information, but this was never answered. Note that contradictory information was provided by Barnet Council to DCMS see Freedom of Information Act request: FOI2017/07597.

[4] https://barnet.gov.uk/citizen-home/libraries/teenage-library-services.html

[5] https://barnet.moderngov.co.uk/documents/s30695/Appendix%20A%20-%20Libraries%20Options%20Appraisal.pdf page 20

[6] 2113 children participated in the 2018 Summer reading Challenge; 4216 children participated in the 2016 Challenge.

[7] Volunteer libraries show drops between 27%-85%. Core libraries (staffed 15-16 hours a week) show drops ranging from 18%-66%. Data not available at all libraries. Data for 2017-18 obtained by FOI request. Data for 2016-17 on council website: https://open.barnet.gov.uk/dataset/library-statistics-2016-17

[8] https://www.times-series.co.uk/news/16279229.barnets-youth-assembly-wants-better-libraries/

[9] ibidType your paragraph here.