Support our Libraries: Government's £1.25 million fund branded ‘pitiful’

Funding announced for Scotland’s libraries is a “pitiful” amount and will not be enough to re-open some facilities, critics have warned.

Campaigners: Maureen Cannell, Robert Mellish and local concept artist 'Mavis Banksy" outside Whiteinch Library.

The £1.25 million fund was announced as part of the SNP’s Programme for Government – however, with 61 libraries still closed, campaigners believe the cash may not be enough to reopen the facilities.

Of Scotland’s 480 libraries which closed during the pandemic, 61 still do not have an opening date. Others are operating with reduced hours or staffing levels.

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The new funding is aimed mainly at libraries in areas of deprivation.

Robert Mellish, who has campaigned to re-open Glasgow’s Whiteinch Library, said the funding would not be enough to support all libraries which remain closed.

He said: “Obviously, we welcome any money spent on libraries. But, honestly, if you start doing the arithmetic – £1.25m – is that really enough?

"We would guess it could be enough to open Glasgow libraries alone, but what about the rest of Scotland?”

Louisa Maddison, a campaigner to re-open the Couper library in Glasgow, said: “I think a general concern, probably across the whole of Scotland, would be that's not an awful lot of money when you split it between all the local authorities and all the libraries, whether they are closed or needing work or operating on reduced opening hours just now.

Louisa Maddison is a campaigner to re-open the Couper library in Glasgow.

"So we'd certainly welcome the funding, but the concern is it might be a bit of a drop in the ocean for what's required.”

Willie Rennie, communities spokesperson for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said: “Library services have regularly been on the chopping block because the SNP have spent a decade slashing local authority budgets. The money announced in the Programme for Government is a pitiful announcement that will barely touch the sides.

"The First Minister may be a keen reader but she seems to have no such concern for offering others the same opportunities as she has. Scottish Liberal Democrats will go into the council campaign making the case for a proper funding settlement for local government that allows services such as these to flourish.”

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Pamela Tulloch, chief executive of Scottish Libraries and Information Council (SLIC), said funding alone would not allow all libraries to reopen, citing other problems such as long running Covid restrictions which has seen councils redeploy staff in other areas.

She said: “The funding should give a helping hand and allow local councils to bring in staff. The funding will go a long way to actually supporting libraries to be re-engaging with their communities.

“It depends very much on the library services themselves. My understanding of it is that pot of money is something that library services will need to apply for. So it depends how they choose to pitch for it. The First Minister was very specific in saying it was to support libraries in areas of deprivation. That was a really clear steer.”

Miles Briggs, Scottish Conservative shadow minister for Social Justice, said: “This fund for libraries barely scratches the surface. There is a certain irony in Nicola Sturgeon regularly posting about enjoying reading her favourite novels, yet continually rubber-stamping SNP cuts to local authorities.

“Savage cuts from the SNP year after year to our councils has meant many libraries have already closed or have not been able to re-open during the pandemic. The Scottish Conservatives would ensure vital local services like libraries are protected by enshrining a fair funding deal for our councils in law.”

The Programme for Government, unveiled by the Scottish Government on Tuesday, said the Public Libraries Covid Recovery Fund would allow libraries to re-connect with their communities as part of Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic.

It said: “Libraries also play a critical role in providing access to culture and, increasingly, in delivering services that support community wellbeing. Given the extraordinary and varying impact of the pandemic on libraries in some parts of Scotland, we will provide a one‑off fund of up to £1.25 million through SLIC to help them to stay open and support their communities, particularly in areas of deprivation.”

Culture minister Jenny Gilruth said: “We hope that through this new fund the power of libraries to inform, educate, entertain and inspire can be unlocked again as part of the recovery from the COVID pandemic. We are aware that while many have returned, Scotland’s library services are currently operating below their pre-pandemic levels.

“The reasons for these closures are varied, complex and sometimes challenging – however we want to see as many libraries re-open as possible, and this fund will help the public library sector bounce back from a challenging time.”

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