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£1.5m Library of Birmingham cuts could be scaled back under partnership deal

£1.5m Library of Birmingham cuts could be scaled back under partnership deal

🕔06.Jan 2015

Plans to slash opening hours and remove 100 jobs at the Library of Birmingham could be scaled back under a dramatic rescue plan being considered by the city council.

In a glimmer of hope for the Centenary Square building it’s emerged that council leaders are talking to the British Library about a partnership deal which could go some way to finding the £1.5 million the local authority says it has to cut from the LoB budget in 2015-16.

Penny Holbrook, cabinet member for skills, learning and culture is working on developing a bid for the Library of Birmingham to become a regional centre for the British Library.

The proposal, being championed across the wider academic and cultural community by West Midlands Lord-Lieutenant Paul Sabapathy, could help counter the impact of cuts to opening hours and services, which were announced in the council’s draft budget, Cllr Holbrook claimed.

She told a full council meeting: “When we announced the proposed cuts, I said we were doing this with a heavy heart.

“But as with any possible cut, we will leave no stone unturned to find alternative ways forward. We will do whatever it takes to save services if possible.

“With that in mind, we now have an interesting idea which could ensure we continue to have a flagship library service the city can be proud of.

“The Library of Birmingham already has a glowing reputation. Being linked to the British Library would add further weight to this on the international stage.

“But we have to be clear that if this plan ultimately proves to be unworkable, we will have to continue with the proposed cuts to ensure our budget balances and that essential services such as children’s safeguarding are given the funding they need.”

It is far from clear whether the British Library partnership will come off, or the extent to which a deal could provide additional funding or perhaps staffing for the Library of Birmingham.

And Cllr Holbrook made it clear in answers to questions at the council meeting that, despite a fast-growing anti-cuts campaign, she would not back down over the library unless an alternative source of funding could be found.

Opened in September 2013 and hailed as a landmark civic building, the Library of Birmingham quickly ran into financial difficulties and plans to find sponsors came to nothing.

Cllr Holbrook was challenged during the public question session at the council meeting to scrap the “high-handed and cavalier” cuts to the library budget which could see the building closed at weekends.

She sought to lay the blame at the Government for “unfair” cuts to Birmingham council grant which left the local authority having to find a further £70 million in budget savings in 2015-16. The council had to prioritise children’s social services and could not avoid cutting the library budget, she said.

But she added: “No matter how much you may want to protect the Library of Birmingham, and I do want to protect the library as much as I can, it is just not an option in terms of the scale of the challenge we face.”

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