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Further cuts to Library of Birmingham funding ‘inevitable’ warns council leader

Further cuts to Library of Birmingham funding ‘inevitable’ warns council leader

🕔12.Feb 2015

Reduced funding for the Library of Birmingham is inevitable over the next two years unless a benefactor can be found help pay the new building’s running costs, the leader of Birmingham City Council has warned. 

Sir Albert Bore said the council’s dire financial position – total budget savings of about £250 million have to be identified by 2017-18 on top of £113 million this year – meant the library could not be given special protection.

He rejected a suggestion that a £1.3 million cut in the library’s budget for 2015-16, leading to opening hours being reduced from 73 to 40 a week and the loss of about 90 jobs, would cause reputational damage to Birmingham.

Although £1.3 million was a very small amount against the total savings the council has to find it would be wrong to single out the library for special consideration, Sir Albert argued.

He added: “Next year and the year after we will have to take even more money out. The budget we have available will cover little more than statutory care services and waste collection.

“This is the scenario we are facing. There are real cuts being made and the Library of Birmingham is one of them. It will be the same again next year and the year after.

“We have to protect care services and a number of other statutory services.”

He raised the prospect of the business community and the private sector helping to fund the library, although plans set out five years ago to raise money through philanthropic contributions came to nothing.

Labour council leaders say they were stunned when on regaining power in 2012 they quickly discovered the business case for the library did not add up. Running costs had been under-estimated by £1 million a year and income over-estimated by £1 million a year.

Sir Albert has until now resisted publicly laying the blame at the former Tory-Liberal Democrat administration which planned and built the library between 2004 and 2012 at a cost to the public purse of £188 million. But he said: “I do wonder who was advising them?”

Last week, Lord Whitby told the Birmingham Mail he was “saddened” by the cuts and described it as a “tragedy”. He remarked: “What sort of message does that send out to the wider world?”

A combination of unfortunate circumstances dealt a fatal blow to the library’s finances.

The project was to have been largely paid for by selling council land but the credit crunch and recession starting in 2008 saw land values plummeting and resulted in the local authority borrowing most of the money needed for construction costs – leaving a £1M a month bill for debt repayment.

Sir Albert said he did not want to “rake over what happened 10 years ago” but insisted Labour’s plan to build the new library at Eastside would have been financially sustainable because Government regeneration grants were available.

An initial proposal to cut £1.5 million from the library budget for 2015-16 was scaled back marginally by Sir Albert following public opposition. The required saving is now £1.3 million.

The change of heart will give some protection to children’s reading, music and the archives service.

However, at 40 hours a week the Library of Birmingham’s opening hours are believed to be the shortest of any major city library in England.

Sir Albert said: “The library remains open and we have put some more money in to deal with the archiving issues.

“This is about balance. It is inevitable there will be further cuts in the budget, but what do we take out?”

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