Skip to main content

This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Public finances - the implications for libraries

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Library news

[Editor’s note: This post was written by Andrew Burns, Director of Finance and Resources at Staffordshire County Council, and President of CIPFA]

I had the pleasure of speaking at the Society of Chief Librarians seminar on 8 June (a general election day where the outcome then seemed predictable!) on the state of the public finances and the implications for public services in general and libraries in particular.

So where are we two months later, post-election, pre-Brexit and, significantly, in the build-up to the Chancellor's first Autumn Budget expected in November?

Whilst much rhetoric is suggesting that austerity is over (or rather the public are tired of that narrative), the Chancellor will no doubt emphasise that we will still need to live within our means and a growing economy is needed to generate the tax revenues to fund public services.

Clamour for resources

The clamour for more resources to invest in the NHS, social care, infrastructure, schools, public service pay, housing and fire safety is building and it seems likely that there will need to be some further investment to improve public services, public confidence in them and to get a budget passed in the House of Commons with a slim majority.

Recent economic forecasts from the International Monetary Fund, the Bank of England and the Office of Budget Responsibility all point to sluggish economic growth with the public finances remaining tough for next five to ten years as we move through Brexit. So disappointing as this sounds, local government, libraries and culture will not be at the front of the queue if there is to be any further public investment.

However it is not all doom and gloom. Devolution, localism and the (albeit slow) moves towards Council’s becoming self-financing provide some opportunities to make better use of local resources, with full control over council tax, business rates, better use of public assets and greater civic commercialism. But this, combined with societal changes, will require different conversations between local partners and the public about the role, size and shape of the state. Improved digital access and literacy could be both a catalyst for, and transformer of, this.

Opportunities for libraries?

In the absence of any more money, there are real opportunities for libraries if they can position themselves to contribute to the agenda for health and wellbeing, inclusive growth, new housing, lifelong learning and skills, and in shaping places to make them attractive to skilled workforces (who pay council tax) and businesses (who pay business rates).

For me, the Industrial Strategy will be a key driver. Stronger regional and local economies are needed to generate the tax revenues to both pay for public services – especially the NHS and welfare state - and reduce the need for them through better jobs, skills, productivity and improved health and wellbeing of citizens.

The Taskforce’s Ambition document clearly shows that libraries can improve wellbeing, strengthen communities and increase prosperity. Literacy and reading is crucial to the skills agenda; culture and creative activity make great places and build strong communities, and who is better placed than libraries to improve digital inclusion?

Your messages are strong. The challenge will be getting them heard by the politicians and policy makers who control the public purse strings. More trusted messengers and more library users (real and virtual) will be needed to enable libraries to deliver!


Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of DCMS or the Libraries Taskforce

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by librariesmatter posted on

    Slightly tangential to the above blogpost:

    The public provide around £800m a year to Councils for the public library service. A lot of quantitative data on public libraries is collected annually by CIPFA. Virtually none of it is made public.

    The publicly released CIPFA information on public libraries is limited to a rather uninformative one page press release some 8 months after the end of the financial year. Here is the latest one:

    The CIPFA public libraries statistics are only available by subscription some 18 months after end of the financial year. Subscriptions cost £246 a year for the hardcopy book and £480 for the e-data. The subscribers are presumably public bodies paying for the data with public money.

    An equivalent £800m company (plc) would typically report its results in a press release 1-2 months after its year end and publish its annual report after 3-4 months.

    CIPFA claim to champion high performance in public services. As a charity it must work for public benefit. Objectively the current CIPFA performance for reporting public library statistics is poor.

    So perhaps Mr Burns as President of CIPFA can help with these questions:
    - Why does CIPFA take so long to produce the statistics?
    - Why aren’t the statistics available to the public?
    - Should completion be made mandatory for every library authority so that
    there is a complete UK data set?
    - What is being done to improve the situation?

    • Replies to librariesmatter>

      Comment by librarieshacked posted on

      Definitely, very well said.

      One point to expand upon is the number of times the public pay for that current data process that they get very little out of.

      1. Each individual library service spends the many staff hours in completing those data returns. In many cases this will include paying (or having historically done so) library suppliers for custom reports. That's public money going into collecting the data.

      2. As you point out the subscription costs for CIPFA are high - many can't afford this, but those that can afford to give some staff access will clearly be paying for it with public money.

      3. The DCMS recognise the need to at least have some of this public data available to the public so end up paying CIPFA for summary data to be released. Not the full data of course, just PDFs.

      In this process CIPFA add very little for the amount of money they receive, except to set the questions and guidance for library services to follow (which is not very good), then to collect the data and apply some basic population weighting to it.

      The public deserve more for their money.

  2. Comment by Frances Hendrix posted on

  3. Comment by Tim Coates posted on

    It's astonishing that CIPFA has made no sensible attempt to collect continuous performance data directly from the library management systems operated by local councils

    If they had done so the results showing how branch libraries perform could be readily available to the public and to councillors who pay for and have responsibility for the library service

    CIPFA has been -- for years and years - a pretty terrible operation in respect to its work for public libraries - the other commenters observe

    One would have liked to hear Andrew Burns talk about plans for improvement instead of this stuff

    We are told Staffordshire libraries are full of initiative and inn good shape . From the CIPFA figures it would appear that the people of Staffordshire wouldn't agree