Author Joanne Harris calls for more investment in libraries and the arts

Author Joanne Harris has urged the Government to invest more money in libraries and the arts, declaring: “We have a literacy problem in this country.”

Ms Harris, author of Chocolat, spoke out after receiving an OBE for services to literature from the Prince of Wales at a Windsor Castle investiture on Tuesday.

After the ceremony, she praised William and the Queen Consort for championing causes that promote literacy in the UK, but called on the Government to do more.

Reflecting on her investiture, Ms Harris told the PA news agency: “It’s great. It’s so nice to see the arts honoured because the arts need all the attention they can get at the moment.

“It’s really good to see a focus on literacy and the world of literature.”

On meeting William, she added: “He’s very engaged, he’s very engaging.

“He’s interested in literacy and child literacy particularly.

“He was speaking to me about the Queen’s Reading Room, for which I did an episode.”

Investitures at Windsor Castle
Joanne Harris receives her OBE from the Prince of Wales (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Literature lover Camilla set up her own Reading Room online book club and is a passionate advocate of encouraging children to read.

Ms Harris added: “But it is very good to see a focus on literacy from people with influence because we have a literacy problem in this country.

“One in 10 people are functionally illiterate and there’s less and less funding going to the arts and to libraries and to education and children’s librarians are disappearing from schools.

“It’s nice to see the royal family taking an interest in this, an active interest, and trying to effect change.

“It’s very good to see that enthusiasm.”

In a plea to the Government, she said: “It would be good to see money put into libraries, libraries reinstated, school libraries given the kind of attention that they need.

“It would be nice to see a general investment in culture and the arts.

“It would be good to see engagement there from the Government, unfortunately we don’t have a great deal of it at the moment, but the arts are a tremendous force for good in all kinds of ways, not just personally in terms of personal enrichment but also actually they make millions of pounds for the country.”

Ms Harris also called for a “democratisation” of things such as theatre and opera, adding: “This drift away from culture, this belief that culture is for the elite, is completely nonsensical but it’s a narrative which has been driven by the current Government. It would be nice to see some people speaking out against that.”

It comes after novelist Anthony Horowitz, who has written more than 40 books including the Alex Rider teenage spy series, called for a library in every school after he picked up a CBE in November.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want all children to have the opportunity to read widely both in and out of school.

“The curriculum places a great focus on reading and requires pupils to study a range of books, poems and plays, helping to improve literacy standards and encourage children to read for pleasure.

“We are investing an extra £2 billion into our schools next year and the year after.

“This funding can be used by schools on resources such as library provision and means that school funding will be the highest real-terms spending on schools in history, totalling £58.8 billion by 2024/25.”