AFTER widespread community anger and a concerted campaign by local councils and local library boards, the Baillieu Government effectively backed down last week on its threatened cut to library funding.
Minister for Local Government Jeanette Powell announced that the government would inject $6.5 million over the next three years into Victorian libraries as well as initiate a comprehensive review into the state’s library services.
It would appear, however, that while the battle might be over the war has just begun.
“We are taking this as a sign that the minister is prepared to negotiate in good faith, but there’s an awfully long way to go,” said the chair of the West Gippsland Regional Library Corporation Board and Bass Coast Shire Councillor Gareth Barlow.
He said the WGRL Board was happy that the threatened cut had been reversed “but that doesn’t address the primary problem, which is the continued reduction in the government’s share of recurrent library funding”.
Cr Barlow slammed the steady depletion of the state government contribution to local library funding over the years, from 50 per cent in 1980 (and 75 per cent even earlier) to less than 19 per cent now.
“This is a blatant example of government cost shifting,” he said.
MAV WELCOMES GOVT ANNOUNCEMENT
The Municipal Association of Victoria was more positive. It issued a statement saying that it welcomed the Victorian Government’s acknowledgement that public libraries are a vital community service that deserves protection and fairer funding.
Cr Bill McArthur, MAV President, said the outpouring of community passion for local libraries in recent weeks and the constructive and speedy response by Minister Powell had resulted in an improvement in recurrent funding while fairer long-term funding arrangements are developed.
“It’s vital that we protect the ongoing provision of diverse library services and programs that are so valued by Victorian communities and this outcome brings us one step closer,” he said. “While the improvement in this year’s funding will not meet the full expectation of councils, from next year we will see more substantial progress in the State’s recurrent funding commitment.
“Importantly, the review to be undertaken by a bipartisan Libraries Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) will include local government representation, and offers light at the end of the tunnel for councils who have been tipping in extra funding each year to offset reducing State contributions.”
Following negotiations with the MAV, the Victorian Government has agreed:
For this current year, to restore the funding difference for libraries that received less than their 2010-11 allocation. This includes upfront payments, but no indexation.
For next year, to provide an additional $3.1 million in recurrent funding for public libraries. This reverses two years of funding cuts and includes indexation.
To continue indexation in 2013-14, notwithstanding other funding improvements that may result from the MAC review, which will deliver a report in advance of the 2013-14 State Budget.
Cr McArthur said sustainable funding was critical and any future agreement from 2013-14 would be contingent upon councils, as the primary funder of public libraries, agreeing to the proposed funding deal.
“We’ll continue to seek the establishment of a formal funding partnership agreement to be signed with the MAV, similar to agreements already operating in other areas of joint responsibility, such as maternal and child health.
“At a minimum, we’d expect to see a better base allocation of recurrent State funding that recognises the role of modern libraries, plus annual indexation that ensures grants increase in line with population and core library costs such as wages, books and technology.
“As a result of the Minister’s welcome commitments, the MAV will be urging councils to sign a new two-year funding agreement to be sent out by the Department, and to participate in the libraries review in good faith,” he said.
Cr Barlow, however, dismissed the MAC Review as a waste of time and money, saying it would take two years and cost $100,000 to come up with information that was already readily available.
“That information is already available, as the minister knows, and she could deliver it right now,” he said. “It’s just a way of stalling a decision and doesn’t satisfy us in any way.”