Access to quality library services is one of the most transformative investments our society could make.
Which is why we’ve been working with Bobby Seagull to launch our ‘Manifesto for Libraries’ calling on the Government to “recognise the opportunity to transform lives across the UK by investing in the future of our libraries.”
Our campaign to encourage all candidates to #VoteLibraries has resulted in messages of solidarity and support from across the political spectrum. So how has this support translated into the Party Manifestos?
Fair funding for Local Government
Labour makes a clear commitment to reinvesting in Councils: “Labour will reverse the Tory decade of austerity for local government and aim to restore council spending powers to 2010 levels over the lifetime of the Parliament.” They also commit to reintroduce library standards – something CILIP has long campaigned for.
The Conservatives point to the funding increase to Councils in the previous Budget (which the LGA pointed out still leaves a £3bn funding gap for local services) but their Manifesto fails to acknowledge the financial pressures on Councils and commits only to ‘essential local services’.
The Green Party do better, acknowledging that the £50bn in cuts to Local Government budgets since 2010 mean that "Councils have been forced to close libraries, sell off public land, abandon meals on wheels for older people & close children’s centres." They pledge to restore £10bn in lost funding and devolve more cash-raising powers to Councils.
The Liberal Democrats similarly make a clear commitment to “end the continual erosion of local government funding and commit to a real increase in local government funding throughout the Parliament”.
Invest in public libraries
We asked the next Government to commit to reinvest in our fantastic public libraries. The Conservatives highlight the £250m investment in civic infrastructure already announced in October, “We have announced the largest cultural capital programme in a century, of £250 million. This will support local libraries and regional museums.”
Unfortunately, £225m of this £250m is already earmarked for non-library uses, leaving a proposed investment of £5m per year for 5 years. While this is welcome, it falls far short of the £250m we estimated the sector needs in the joint CILIP/The Big Issue Case for Support.
Labour ups the ante with a commitment to “invest in the towns and communities neglected for too long, with a £1 billion Cultural Capital Fund to transform libraries, museums and galleries across the country.” While there are legitimate questions about where all this money will come from, this is the first time we’ve seen real recognition of the level of investment needed to revitalise our public libraries.
The other Parties reference the value of libraries as places from which people can access things they need (tools in the case of the Green Party and sanitary products in the case of the Liberal Democrats) but not how these activities will be funded.
Sustainable investment in Further & Higher Education
Labour propose to link FE funding to demand and to invest in post-16 education. They also commit to “end the failed free-market experiment in higher education, abolish tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants.”
The Conservatives Manifesto does refer to ‘world-leading Universities’ but stops short of making an explicit financial commitment to them, other than to “the fastest-ever increase in domestic R&D spending”.
The Green Party look to splash the cash on both HE and FE, including a commitment to raising the funding rate for 16 & 17 year-olds and scrapping tuition fees entirely. Similarly, the Liberal Democrats pledge to increase funding to colleges by £1bn, including refunding their VAT payments.
It is good to see every Party recognise the value of FE and post-16 education. At the same time, it would be good to see the commitment to Universities go further, particularly since they drive the research and innovation that will power our future economy.
Long-term sustainable funding for schools
Labour make a several school funding commitments including a pledge to replace Ofsted with a ‘new body focused on school improvement’. The Conservatives similarly make schools and education a key pillar of their Manifesto, committing “£14 billion over three years to increase funding for every primary and every secondary school pupil in the country.”
Both the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats include schools and education policy as key elements of their Manifesto. The Greens commit to “relieve the financial squeeze on schools after years of education cuts, by increasing funding by at least £4 billion per year”.
The Liberal Democrats promise to “reverse cuts to school funding, allowing schools to employ an extra 20,000 teachers and reduce class sizes, restoring them to 2015 levels per pupil with an emergency cash injection.”
It seems all Parties are keen to see reinvestment in schools. The challenge for us will be to ensure that any windfall for schools translates into reinvestment in school libraries and librarians (or access to an SLS).
Grow the Library & Knowledge workforce in healthcare
NHS funding has been a battleground in the 2019 General Election, The Conservative Party’s efforts to position itself as “the Party of the NHS” are unlikely to convince a sceptical public, although they do propose an additional ‘£34bn increase in NHS funding by the end of this Parliament’. We will wait and see if this materialises.
Along with the commitment to increasing staff numbers, it will be important to ensure that some of this investment goes to build library, knowledge and information capability across healthcare.
Labour offers a similar level of reinvestment over the lifetime of the next Parliament (4.3% a year on average), but with a strong commitment to opposing the ‘privatisation of the NHS’. As with the Conservatives ‘People Plan’, it is good to see Labour acknowledging the fact that the NHS is the people who work there, including their fantastic Library and Knowledge Service staff.
Similarly, the Green Party commit to a 4.5% year-on-year spending increase in the NHS and a strong opposition to privatisation. Liberal Democrat commitments on health and social care total £17bn over the 5 years of the next Parliament, part-funded through a 1p increment on basic Income Tax.
What does it all mean?
Although often referred to as the ‘Brexit Election’, General Election 2019 is shaping up to be a battle between two radically different economic propositions.
On the one hand, Labour’s ‘tax the rich’ splurge would enable a dramatic reinvestment into public services including libraries but may risk a run on the bank as UK investors take their money elsewhere. On the other, the Conservatives vision of ‘unleashing Britain’s potential’ post-Brexit largely ignores the potential economic shock following a no-deal exit from the European Union.
The strongest recognition of the value of public libraries certainly comes through from Labour. When it comes to the NHS and healthcare, the Parties are surprisingly similar economically and so if these pledges are kept, any outcome is likely to mean an improvement in the circumstances of people working in health.
If these commitments are implemented, there’s a lot to be hopeful about. If, on the other hand, these commitments turn out to be meaningless electioneering, then we face another very challenging 5 years.
Be sure to help us hold the next Government to account by donating to Vote Libraries
Please share this article to help spread the word on how the party manifestos are likely to impact the library and information sectors.