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Written Statement - Public Libraries in Wales

John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport

In our Programme for Government, we rightly focus on tackling poverty and stimulating jobs and growth. Libraries are at the heart of this agenda. They provide a vital community service for people of all ages and are an essential component of a civilised society. I am determined to work with other bodies to develop a resilient strategic framework for the forward delivery of Welsh library services. We need libraries more than ever to provide opportunities for learning, free access to digital services and places where the whole community can meet in safe public spaces. Knowledge is power and libraries are a tremendous resource for people empowering them and making a real difference to their lives.

Wales has the only strategic framework for the development of library services in the UK. The current strategy, Libraries Inspire, will be completed by 2016.  Since 2004, the Welsh Government has invested over £20m in supporting our local libraries, introducing new services and re-furbishing community facilities to encourage new audiences. Increasingly libraries are co-located with other important community services, making access easier and sharing costs. The Welsh Government has also continued to annually monitor the performance of local authorities in delivering library services through the Welsh Public Libraries Standards Framework. As a result, library usage in Wales has more than held its own compared to the rest of the UK over the last 10 years.

The partnership to deliver innovative services in Wales extends to further education, higher education and our National Library. Last week I launched a partnership between the National Library and organisations in Merthyr Tydfil CBC. This exemplifies the power of collaboration between our national cultural institutions and local organisations, delivering more to people all over Wales. With the Minister for Education and Skills, I will shortly be launching a pilot to enable every child in Wales to join their local library. We want the children of today and future generations to continue to benefit from outstanding libraries.

These are difficult financial times for local authorities and I acknowledge the intense pressure under which councils are making difficult decisions. My officials are working closely with the Welsh Local Government Association to better understand where we can target support. However in such circumstances it is even more important to provide leadership to strengthen our ability to maintain and develop effective library services.

Public libraries are a statutory service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 and I expect local authorities to be mindful of their statutory responsibilities to provide 'comprehensive and efficient ' library services in setting their budgets going forward. The Welsh Public Library Standards provide a performance framework for the delivery of library services and my officials will be closely monitoring the impact of any changes in service provision in relation to these agreed standards. I expect local authorities to consult fully with their communities and conduct impact assessments of any changes to current provision.

In light of my statutory role to superintend and promote the improvement of public library services, in the New Year I will be commissioning an expert review of current and future plans by local authorities to deliver public library services. The aim will be to identify sustainable future models which maximise the opportunities obtained through collaboration, partnership and innovation. The review will also examine new models for the procurement of materials and delivery of operational functions; including expanding on current good practice, such as the role of the National Library of Wales to co-ordinate digital resources on behalf of Welsh libraries.

I will announce the terms of reference for the review shortly and I anticipate that I will receive the recommendations of the review in late spring 2014. The review will need to take into account any published recommendations from the Commission on Public Service Governance and Delivery and the forthcoming report on public libraries from the National Assembly’s Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee.

I intend to ensure that people all over Wales benefit from a strong, resilient library service, responsive to public need, well managed, demonstrating financial efficiency and professionally run. The people of Wales fought hard to establish a free library service, we must ensure that those values continue to underpin the library service of the future.