Department for Culture, Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street Tel 020 7211 6200
Barbara Follett MP London SW1Y 5DH Fax 020 7211 6249
Minister for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism and www.culture.gov.uk
Minister for the East of England d c m s
Ms Anne Snelgrove MP
House of Commons
SWIA 0AA 4 August 2009
Thank you for your letter of June 26th 2009 asking for my thoughts on the point raised by your constituent, Ms Shirley Burnham, about the consultation conducted by Swindon Borough Council (SBC) on the closure of Old Town Library, Swindon.
As my officials explained to Ms Burnham in their letter of April 21st, if her claims about the quality of the consultation were substantiated this would constitute a procedural rather than a specific statutory duty failure by SBC. The remedy for this is outside the Secretary of State's powers under the Public Libraries and Museums Act.
There are no official national guidelines for local authorities on how to conduct consultation. However, a length of twelve weeks is the agreed best practice outlined by organisations like the Consultation Institute as well as the Code of Practice adhered to by central Government departments. Whilst the Department expects local authorities to keep to this standard, there can be exceptional circumstances where this is not appropriate. SBC is accountable to the community which it serves and Ms Burnham and all Swindon residents are free to express their concerns to their Councillors about the quality of the consultation on their libraries if they wish.
As Ms Burnham knows, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) has worked closely with SBC in recent months. In June 2009 SBC and MLA appointed ERS Research and Consultancy to investigate the Council's Library Service in order to help them develop a business case to meet the immediate challenges and to devise a robust library service strategy. The report concluded that the three threatened libraries in Swindon should remain open pending any long-term strategic decision. It also endorsed proposals that a mobile library service should be provided at Gorse Hill. However the responsibility for public library services in Swindon lies ultimately with the local authority which is accountable to the communities which it serves.
Barbara Follett MP
Parliamentary Under Secretary