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How you could save the local library by joining Sir Albert’s army of citizen volunteers

How you could save the local library by joining Sir Albert’s army of citizen volunteers

🕔06.Nov 2013

A ‘citizens’ army’ of volunteers will be recruited to run a range of Birmingham city council services threatened with closure by the unprecedented public sector spending squeeze.

The council says it has no choice but to ask “ordinary people” to step forward and take responsibility for a range of functions including community libraries, parks, youth clubs and clearing snow from pavements.

Buildings, including sports and community centres, will be disposed of by the local authority and handed to community groups under the local government asset transfer rules.

Libraries are likely to move from existing buildings to be co-located with other services such as museums and children’s centres.

Sir Albert Bore, the council leader, is under pressure to identify £550 million in savings by 2017-18 and is demanding a “culture change” in which volunteers will give their time for free and take charge of running local services.

He gave examples of other councils that Birmingham may copy, including Hillingdon where a library houses a Starbucks coffee shop, and Luton library which receives commission on all books sold through Amazon.

Sir Albert (Lab Ladywood) told a media briefing he was now resigned to pushing forward with stage three of his service review savings plans – closing down many of the council’s non-statutory services unless other ways could be found of running them.

He said: “I am putting out a clear message that the city council will welcome proposals from the community to take over assets or run services. We are acknowledging that community groups can often deliver services more meaningfully than the council and at a lower cost.”

He admitted he had no idea how much money could be saved through transferring services to volunteers, but added: “This is not just about money, it is about keeping services open that we might otherwise have to close down.”

The council leader rejected claims that insufficient capacity exists among the voluntary and third sectors to take over any more than a tiny proportion of public services, although he acknowledged the general public assumption that the council automatically delivers services would have to be overcome.

Sir Albert said: “We must give people more of an opportunity to make a bigger contribution to the city. Part of that is allowing community and voluntary groups to take over some local facilities and services.

“There is a wealth of existing community activity in Birmingham, which we will be celebrating and a lot of pent up enthusiasm in our communities.

“Many people want to take more control of their local neighbourhood and facilities and make more of a contribution to the city. In the past we have undervalued this and not made an effort to encourage and support it. From today this culture will change.

Our message to community and voluntary groups is that we welcome your proposals to take over services and assets. We welcome any initiatives of proposals that can make a greater contribution to helping us through this crisis.”

Deputy council leader Ian Ward said: “This is a call to arms. We are saying to the people of Birmingham ‘this is your city and your services and if we are to protect these services we all have to pitch in together’. The strongest must help the weakest.”

A budget consultation paper setting out which services the council aims to discontinue, and where savings will be made, is due to be published at the beginning of December. The document will identify “further considerable staff losses”.

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