John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport
Our public libraries are vital to Welsh Government strategies, policy and delivery for knowledge and skills, education and community development. On 3 December, I announced an expert review of current and future plans by local authorities to deliver public library services. I would like to update members on progress to establish the expert review panel which will produce a report by July 2014. In supporting the review, my officials in CyMAL will work closely with local authorities through the Welsh Local Government Association. The panel will also consider the work of the Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee's short inquiry into public libraries in Wales.
The review will be undertaken by a small reference panel chaired by Claire Creaser, Director LISU, Loughborough University. Claire is an authority on library performance measures and led the development of the latest Welsh Public Library Standards Framework. The other panel members are Prof Hywel Roberts, a respected authority on libraries in Wales, Dr Steve Davies, Cardiff University who has a particular interest in the management of community libraries, and Peter Gomer, a Policy Officer at the Welsh Local Government Association, who has extensive experience in managing local authority cultural and leisure services. The panel will be tasked to produce a report by July 2014. I am grateful to the Chair and the members of the review panel for agreeing to complete this important work.
The panel will be initially tasked to review the current situation relating to local authorities' delivery plans for public library services. Information will be sought from each local authority and further research commissioned on the likely impact of proposed changes on the performance of library services in meeting the current Welsh Public Library Standards Framework. A comparative benchmarking of the position in Wales against other national public library services outside Wales will also be available to the panel. The panel's conclusions will be included in their report which will outline the position on an all Wales basis, highlighting best practice and any areas of concern.
In considering the position on a Wales-wide basis, the panel will be further tasked to consider whether alternative service delivery models would provide more efficient and effective library services, based on collaboration and joint procurement.
Opportunities for joint working with the National Library of Wales to strengthen the management and delivery of digital services will be included. Libraries have formed a vital part of community life in Wales for over 150 years, providing a safe place to learn, browse and engage with local activities. The digital revolution has provided new ways to access information and knowledge and we need to ensure that libraries continue to deliver services relevant for the needs of the 21st century. I am determined to ensure that everyone in Wales, particularly in our deprived communities, continues to benefit from free access to digital resources. With the introduction of the UK government's digital schemes for welfare benefits, it is vital that people in Wales are able to use their local library to access information and submit applications.
Since 2004, the Welsh Government through CyMAL division has led a strategic approach to public library service development in partnership with local authorities and the Welsh Local Government Association. Over £20m has been invested in improving local libraries, delivering national digital services, a national training scheme and encouraging regional partnerships. As a result, Wales has led the way in the United Kingdom in its delivery of a national library strategy. I intend that the findings of the expert review panel report will be actively used to inform our next national strategy from 2016.