Headlines: July 29th, 2005

The Government is backing a review of the library service that could see the establishment of a single purchasing agency, other streamlining measures and longer opening hours. Currently library services are provided by 149 local authorities.The review recommendations are contained in a report by PKF accountants and business advisors, commissioned by the department of Culture Media and Sport and the Museums and Libraries Association, which looked at the efficiency of public libraries and the way their stocks are suplied.

The report’s recommendations have been supported by David Lammy, Minister for Culture, who said that for libraries to be able to provide the best possible selection of books they needed to buy them at the most economical cost and that meant they needed to adapt their ways of buying. Mr Lammy said that by working together on joint orders and shared systems public libraries could save between 7 and 20 million pounds that could be spent on more books and other improvements such as longer opening hours.

At the moment the authorities running libraries vary greatly in size and in the make up of the communities they serve. English public libraries account for only about 3 per cent of book purchasing, compared to the larger spend and bulk buying used by big bookshop chains. Library services currently buy their stocks individually or in loose consortia.

The PKF report says efficiency gains and better value for money would result from services across the country adopting the same processes and buying books together. As a result the few companies that supply libraries would need to tender only once for the business, cutting their costs. PKF says the suppliers recognise that they could offer libraries better discounts for books if this happened.

Mark Wood, the chair of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, said, “There are currently 149 library authorities doing things 149 ways. There must be room for streamlining and efficiency gains within this structure and for re-investing in the things that matter to library users. The PKF report makes some important recommendations and we look forward to working with library authorities and others to carry them forward.”

For the local authorities, Sir Jeremy Beecham, vice-chairman of the Local Government Association and chair of its efficiency task group, welcomed the report and said councils looked forward to working with the MLA to improve value for money while recognising the need for flexibility to cater for local needs. He was also anxious that schools should be involved in any new arrangements.