Librarians tell Swinney to shush

IF YOU want to know the time ask a policeman. But if you want to keep in touch with what's happening in your local area you should, according to the Scottish minister John Swinney, phone a librarian.

Challenged over his Government's plans to remove public notices from local newspapers, Swinney has suggested members of the public should ring up their local library to have information notices read out to them – a proposal that will annoy even the most mild-mannered of librarians.

The Scottish Government is supporting moves by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to place public notices on the web as part of a cost-cutting drive. The plan has angered the newspaper industry, which will lose millions of pounds of valuable advertising revenue.

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Currently the Scottish public sector spends about 10m every year on public notice advertising.

The web alternative is to be piloted in five local authority areas: Edinburgh, Fife, Glasgow City, Inverclyde and South Lanarkshire.

Swinney's suggestion was revealed in his answer to a parliamentary question tabled by Marilyn Livingstone, the Labour MSP for Kirkcaldy.

When asked how those without computers could access the notices, Swinney replied that they would be available in libraries and council offices, where staff could provide the information over the telephone.

Livingstone said: "It is ridiculous that people and libraries are being asked to do this.

This move will have a substantial impact on people's access to information. I don't know how people who don't have the internet will be able to access this information."

Charities for the elderly have expressed concern about the plans to by-pass newspapers when it comes to local authorities providing information on building projects, road works and licensing announcements.

They have pointed to statistics contained in the Government's Scottish Household Survey, which showed that nine out of 10 single pensioners, 46% of single parents, 49% of single adults and 77% of couples of non-pensionable age have no access to the internet in or outside the home.

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Livingstone was also concerned about the effect the move will have on newspapers.

"The press plays a huge part in safeguarding our democracy. They will find life increasingly difficult if this advertising revenue is lost.

But a spokesman for Swinney said: "At a time when the UK Labour Government is planning to slash spending in Scotland by 500m a year, people will be astonished at Marilyn Livingstone's judgment in defending significant sums of public money being given to print newspapers when there are far more effective and cost-effective ways to communicate this information in the internet age – including making full use of local community facilities.

"And if Ms Livingstone does not understand that, then her own Labour colleagues in local government do, because of the five pilot local authorities, three of them are Labour (Glasgow], a Labour/Tory coalition (South Lanarkshire], or Labour minority control (Inverclyde]."