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Library friends to protest against ‘shameless vandalism’ of £1.3m council cuts

Library friends to protest against ‘shameless vandalism’ of £1.3m council cuts

🕔27.Feb 2015

Supporters of the Library of Birmingham are planning a mass demonstration outside the Council House on 3 March when Labour city councillors will agree to slash opening hours and sack 100 staff at the new building, reports Paul Dale.

Friends of the Library described the cuts as “shameless vandalism” and undemocratic.

They plan to gather in Victoria Square at 1pm, an hour before the annual city council budget-fixing meeting begins, in what is likely to be a noisy protest.

Council leaders say the library cannot be immune from the £113 million in savings across the board that the local authority has to find in 2015-16 following severe cuts in Government grant.

They also point to a flawed business plan for the Centenary Square library, which opened to international acclaim in September 2013 at a cost of £188 million. Running costs were under estimated by £1 million a year and income over estimated by £1 million, it is claimed.

The building was designed and delivered when the council was under the control of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition between 2004 and 2012. Most of the £188 million had to be borrowed, leaving the council to find £22 million a year in debt repayments and running costs.

A Facebook message by the Friends of Birmingham Library accuses the council of running a “sham” consultation over a plan to cut the library budget by £1.5 million a year and being determined to pursue the savings despite widespread public concern.

The Friends’ message states:

In its summary of responses to the consultation over its budget for 2015-16, the council acknowledges that the total number of submissions on Libraries, Museums, Arts and Heritage was the highest, comprising 50 per cent of the total followed by Adult Social Care on 29 per cent.

Within that high level of submissions, by far the highest level of opposition to the proposed cuts was registered at 78 per cent, when compared to other service areas.

However, once the consultation period was over, and the draft budget produced, it became clear that this overwhelming rejection of the plans of the ruling Labour group had been ignored. The cuts to hours and staff were being pursued, and the budget reduction had only been cut from £1.5 million to £1.3 million.

Several direct questions to the council were asked. There was one regarding the question of charging for certain services, including music. The question was not answered by the cabinet member responsible, and it was then revealed that charges would indeed be made for music.

We are arguing that the consultation has been a sham, and that the views of those who have taken a lot of trouble to make their views felt have been ignored.

It could be countered that the consultation is about how to implement these massive cuts, rather than whether to or not. Indeed, that was the distinct impression at the consultation meetings and on the forms. There was never a none of the above alternative.

This is all being proposed by a party that did not include in its election manifestos in 2012 or 2014 that it would countenance huge cuts to this brand new library or the 39 community libraries. So, we think it is clear that the council has no democratic mandate for these cuts to the library service.

We are therefore fully justified in protesting at this abuse of democracy and the attack on learning and culture at the council budget setting meeting. They lost the argument during the consultation, and have now lost all democratic legitimacy.

Birmingham’s group of opposition Conservative councillors say they would keep the library open seven days a week and protect all 39 of the city’s community libraries. An alternative Tory budget to be put to Tuesday’s council meeting would scrap Labour’s £1.3 million cut to the Library of Birmingham.

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