New prime minister Liz Truss should abolish “the last remaining tax on reading”, ensure schools have funding for author visits and invest in libraries, according to authors and publishing organisations.
Truss officially became the UK’s new prime minister yesterday after meeting the Queen at Balmoral.
Michelle Donelan has been named as Truss’s secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport. Nadine Dorries, who was appointed as culture secretary by former prime minister Boris Johnson, was offered the chance to stay in the role but decided to resign and return to the backbenches.
With the cost-of-living crisis taking hold, the publishing industry hopes Truss and her government will bring in a range of measures to ensure people from all backgrounds are able to access books easily.
Dan Conway, CEO of the trade organization the Publishers Association, said “top of the list is scrapping audiobook VAT”, which he described as the “last remaining tax on reading”.
“The government took the very welcome step of zero-rating other digital publications including ebooks in 2020 and has repeatedly acknowledged that reading and knowledge should not be taxed,” he continued. “Audiobooks are the fastest growing format, they’re accessible and appeal to readers who may not engage with other kinds of books. Getting rid of this final anomaly would be the right thing to do.”
Conway last week wrote to Truss and her fellow leadership candidate Rishi Sunak, asking them to commit to a number of pledges “to secure the ongoing economic, cultural and social contribution of the UK’s world-leading publishing industry”.
Libraries also need to be high on the agenda for the government, according to Joseph Coelho, current Waterstones children’s laureate.
“School libraries provide essential access to books especially for those children who may not have books at home,” he said. Coelho had seen first-hand how public libraries, which he described as “magical spaces”, can “bring communities together, allowing opportunities for growth and learning”, he explained.
“I would like to see libraries being valued and given the support they need both publicly and within the school environment,” he continued.
Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, the UK’s library and information association, said Truss needed to “invest in a UK-wide program of building new libraries and redeveloping existing library branches to meet the current and future needs of communities everywhere”.
“Libraries drive reading, literacy and digital skills, boost local economic recovery and have a powerful impact on education, health and employment,” he said. “What better way to help the UK bounce back and build a better future than by building life-changing libraries on every high street?”
Children’s author Tony Bradman, who is chair of the board at the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), said the government needed to support visits by authors to schools in order to create “the next generation of readers”.
“School visits are incredibly valuable for getting young people more involved with reading, and they are vital for authors to get in touch with their readers,” he said. “When these visits were not possible during the pandemic it wrecked the livelihood of many children’s authors.
“We hope in a cost-of-living crisis, schools won’t have to consider scrapping these visits as doing so would leave both children and children’s authors worse off. We hope the prime minister’s government can ensure schools have funding for book visits.”
Barbara Hayes, deputy CEO of ALCS, who described the “creative sector [as] one of the UK’s great success stories”, said she wanted to see a focus on bookshops, which are “vital to readers and writers alike”.
“We ask for significant reforms to protect the sustainability of our high streets as a whole in the face of online competition, to ensure that small local businesses such as bookshops can continue to thrive,” she added.
James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, wants Truss and her government to introduce an online sales tax, which could then be used to lower business rates on retail shops.
“This will keep more shops open, supporting local communities with jobs where they are most needed, and also lowering prices in these shops,” he said. “To ignore online sales and only tax physical shops is both unfair and highly regressive in its impacts.”