Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Welsh Minister announces extra £150,000 for tackling child poverty through cultural institutions

Speaking in the National Assembly for Wales yesterday (5 February 2013) the Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage, Huw Lewis AM, pledged an additional £150,000 to help museums, libraries and archives in Wales adopt and enhance initiatives to help eradicate child poverty. This additional funding is earmarked for work that will widen access and participation, providing a step-change in increased participation in museums, archives and libraries by the poorest families in Wales. Museums, archives and libraries open minds and open doors to previously closed areas of society.We must work to preserve library services in these very difficult financial times, but that we should simultaneously and pro-actively work to ensure that no one is excluded from using these services.

The Minister's statement is available via the attached clip and runs for approximately 30 minutes including questions. Full transcript of the Senedd item will of course be available via the Record of Proceedings.  Below I have tried to summarise key points from the session for wider dissemination.

In brief overview the Minister noted [points in bold emphasised by me]:

  • Museums, archives and libraries (MAL) do play an important role, along with other aspects of Civil Society and the Government in Wales, in working towards the eradication of child poverty. MAL provide gateways to knowledge, lifelong learning and increased understanding. They collectively work to reduce inequalities by being open to all, helping to improve life chances, developing skills and improving quality of life. The sector nurtures aspiration. These results arise not just because of financial resourcing for the sector, but result through the committed attitude of staff and volunteers.
  • Commended the development of Child Poverty strategies by the National Museum for Wales and the National Library for Wales. By working in partnership with Communities First and Families First schemes both organisations have recently involved an additional 600 children and young people.
  • Looking specifically at public libraries the Minister noted that they provide safe, welcoming environments with free access to resources - vital within the context of helping to eradicate child poverty. The Minister drew special attention to:
    • the Incomplete field guide to wellbeing and libraries - recently launched (see this blog entry)
    • improving literacy levels in Wales is central to the national strategy Libraries Inspire, emphasising the importance of sharing books and reading with children
    • multi-agency approaches: delivering Book Start which now reaches 95% of families ; Flying Start now frequently use public libraries as venues for their activities and meetings.
    • investment in children's public library services which can lead to increased number of children's visits to libraries of  an additional 50%.
    • essential work in supporting adults - work that will have implications for eradicating child poverty. For example, assisting with job searches, improving and helping internet use - especially crucial where government services are increasingly only delivered online.
The additional £150k announced yesterday comes on top of the previously identified funding of £2.9M, and is specifically earmarked for work that will widen access and participation, working towards a step-change in increased participation in MAL by the poorest families. In this way MAL can enrich the lives of the poorest children and help them out of poverty. 

Museums, archives and libraries open minds and open doors to previously closed off areas of society.          Huw Lewis 5/2/13

Questions in the Chamber broadly supported and welcomed this statement, but there were some concerns and challenges:

  • How will success be measured? How will this extra funding be directed - overcoming transport barriers, on broadband internet? Not directly answered by the Minister, but he noted:
    •  the increasing thirst for accessing Welsh Culture, noting the free entry policy for national museum sites, and increasing availability of online access. 
    • where investment has been made in children's library services then 50% increase in usage is seen. Wales is the only part of the UK where we still continue to see increasing numbers of public library visits.
  • Given current public sector budget cuts how can we ensure viable public libraries, given the tendency to cut cultural services before other things? In response, the Minister said:
    • In Wales cultural budgets certainly aren't the first targets for cuts. The Minister noted the situation in England where there is almost daily news of significant cuts to libraries, including reports of mass closures. The Minister is determined that this will not happen in Wales. Yes, these are times for imagination and investment; solutions such as co-location may work well.
    •  his commitment to the public library service in Wales, again re-iterating that all powers will be used, and measures taken in order to ensure "comprehensive public library services" as required by the Museums and Public Libraries Act 1964.
  • There was concern and doubt whether this additional money would need to be spent within the current financial year. If so, this may only give a couple of months for expenditure to occur.
  • Jenny Rathbone AM (Cardiff Central) noted the recently announced cuts in Cardiff Public Libraries of £22M, but that no library will close. Libraries will be open on 5 days per week including Saturdays, instead of 6 days. The importance of story times, rhyme time, language and play sessions in deprived areas was noted, especially given that books aren't a central feature in many homes in of the poorest families. But how will the money be targeted?
    • The Minister noted that the emphasis must not be on just preserving library services in very difficult financial times. The additional funding announced demonstrates the Welsh Government's desire to embark on an historic shift of who benefits from cultural organisations. We need to be pro-active in ensuring that no one is excluded.

Welsh Government published the related news story on 7th February 2013


  1. Comprehensive rapid blog again. I'll do one linking to yours...!

  2. I particularly liked the ministers comments about it being important not to just "preserve" libraries and was interested to here him encouraging libraries to be apostles of culture and not just guardians of knowledge.