Library funding slash ignites council protest

By Paul Hemsley

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) said the State Government had initially not revealed the funding cuts until after council budgets were set.

MAV President Bill McArthur said the MAV has urged councils not to sign the State’s funding agreement, as acceptance of the cut could mean a loss of at least $5.7 million in recurrent government funding over the next four years.

Mr McArthur said the state has been retreating from library funding from the 1970s when it was a “50/50 shared cost”.

Councils contributed $126.4 million (74.7 per cent) of recurrent library operating costs, while the State’s was $32.5 million (19.2 per cent) in 2009-10.

“So more and more of the funding is being picked up by local government,” Mr McArthur said.

Mr McArthur said MAV will encourage councils to participate in the ‘Save Our Libraries – Fairer Funding Campaign’.

“We’ve put together a toolkit, we have a working group that’s representative of all the councils and of course everyone will be making a contribution whether it be in kind or in dollars,” he said.

Public Libraries Victoria Network Executive Officer Elizabeth Jackson said the reason for the funding cut is a state government ‘efficiency dividend’.

“They require various state government departments to make a three per cent cut in their expenditure, but libraries in the past have been fenced off, however this government decided that libraries would be required to participate,” Ms Jackson said.

She said the MAV and the libraries have been concerned for some time about the level of state government funding for libraries.

“Over the last 15 years, it’s just gone up a minimal amount each year, not enough to cover the increased cost of running libraries, so local government has had to put in more and more of the costs themselves,” she said.

According to Ms Jackson, funding did not increase at all in 2011 as it was cut by a “fairly small amount”, but there was no notification or consultation so the libraries and councils had assumed they would at least get a CPI increase.

“But when the funding was announced early in July, in fact it was a reduction in funding, and by that time the councils and the libraries had in many cases set their budget with the assumption of a small increase and now have to wear a cut,” Ms Jackson said.

Ms Jackson said the cuts would mean there will be less money for libraries so each council and regional library service would decide how they’re going to manage with less money.

“It may involve having fewer staff, it may mean buying fewer books and resources and then cutting special programs,” she said.

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