From the archives: the Derbyshire inquiry

Prior to the Wirral inquiry, there was another, this time in Derbyshire. This summary may be of interest to readers:

The report of a panel of inquiry into Derbyshire Library Service
Alan Newman QC, Ken Hounsome and Max Broome OBE
Derbyshire County Council 1992

Background
Derbyshire faced a cut of 7% due to the capping of its community charge by central government. As part of the response, the council decided on a 13% cut in the library expenditure including the closure of 11 of its 67 libraries, a 45% cut in the general bookfund and a 25% cut in material for children/disabled/ethnic minorities.

The Minister for the Arts said he was minded to hold a local enquiry into Derbyshire. In order to pre-empt this, Derbyshire Council launched its own inquiry.

Notable Conclusions

– “A reduction in the size of the mobile library fleet can only sensibly be delivered after a comprehensive survey and the re-routing of the vehicles which remain” (p.64)

– “The Government’s belief that significant savings can be repeatedly found from efficiency savings is matched only by their belief that budget problems can be overcome by extending charges for services. This is in despite of research finding to the contrary” (p.64). Charges “should never be fixed at levels which create significant barriers to access” (p.65)

– While noting that “comprehensive and efficient” are “elastic concepts”, the panel opted for a benchmark figure of one library for each population centre larger than 3000. “But it is impossible to conclude that the adoption of a higher benchmark figure accounts to a breach of statutory duty”. (p.89)

– “The Report of the Working Party on Standards of Public Library Service suggests that people in urban areas should have to travel no more than one mile to visit a library. This is a widely accepted standard and implies that [urban] libraries should be no more than two miles apart.” (p.77)

– There was a failure of central government in establishing standards and vigorous inspection. (p.90)

– Libraries which served communities of same size or smaller than that served by existing mobile libraries were seen as in need of further study. Those libraries which served larger communities were recommended for recommissioning without delay where the journey time to the substitute library was further than a mile away. (p.90/91)

– Bookfund should be at least £2000 p.a. per thousand population at 1990 prices. (p.92)

– Service Development Plan should be prepared. The plan should set out the standards upon which its decisions are based. (p.93)

– Head of the Library Service should be the same rank as Assistant Chief Education Officer. (p.93)

– Balance between professional and non-professional staff merits further study. (p.94)

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