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Library workforce slashed, opening hours cut, as council reveals £72m austerity cuts budget

Library workforce slashed, opening hours cut, as council reveals £72m austerity cuts budget

🕔10.Dec 2014

Birmingham council leaders have announced a £72 million cuts package, with the city’s new library emerging as the highest profile victim of a savage austerity budget.

Opening hours at the Library of Birmingham will be cut and 100 jobs will go, reducing the workforce by more than half.

All events and exhibitions will cease unless they can be externally financed and the library will revert to core services of book lending and running the archives. Business information and employment support advice will cease.

Proposals for the council’s 2015-16 budget were released for public consultation today.

Cuts in spending of £72 million are on top of £37 million of savings already earmarked.

About 1,100 jobs will disappear across all council departments. That figure is expected to rise to more than 7,000 by 2017-18.

More than 4,000 council staff have been put on warning that they are in a pool of employees facing possible redundancy.

Areas where the cuts axe will fall include:

  • Sport and leisure: a fifth of council-run football and cricket pitches and bowling greens to close.
  • Children’s services: a review of early years learning is expected to lead to the closure of a number of children’s centres and youth clubs, saving £5 million.
  • Community services: a review of Birmingham’s 37 community libraries, as well as neighbourhood advice centres is likely to see some buildings close to save £4.2 million.
  • Culture: Birmingham Museums Trust faces a £850,000 cut in its grant. This will mean fewer staff and a reduced number of exhibitions. Major arts organisations such as the Birmingham Royal Ballet, Symphony Hall and the Midland Arts Centre can expect to see their grant slashed from 2016-17 as the council seeks to save £2.6 million.
  • Events: a 28 per cent cut in funding for major events such as athletics is proposed and funding for the St Patrick’s Day parade will be withdrawn.
  • Adult social care: services to people with disabilities to be cut by half, budget for third sector services to be cut by £1.6 million.
  • Bereavement services: higher charges for burials and cremations, reduced maintenance at cemeteries and crematoriums to save £2.3 million.
  • Marketing Birmingham: funding for the council-led promotional vehicle will be cut by £408,000, with priority to be given to attracting inward investment at the expense of services to support tourism.

Council leader Sir Albert Bore laid the blame for the cuts firmly at the door of the Government. Birmingham had been treated unfairly and lost proportionately more grant than councils in wealthier parts of the country, he claimed.

Sir Albert confirmed that the Government is unlikely to agree additional funding for the council.

He said: “These cuts are about scraping away at the bones because all of the flesh has gone.”

The scale of the savings required would have been far higher were it not for some creative accounting by the council. Re-mortgaging the civic debt will realise an additional £58 million next year, while almost £40 million will be taken from reserves to prop up spending on services.

Birmingham council will have to identify savings of £337 million over the next three years to fall into line with the Chancellor’s austerity strategy. It’s expected that the council’s spending power will have been reduced by almost 40 per cent between 2010 and 2017.

Sir Albert said that while most job losses would be spread evenly across departments, the Library of Birmingham would suffer the greatest individual loss.

Opened just over two years ago in a blaze of glory, the Centenary Square Library was regarded by some as the last blast of municipal power against an increasingly threatening backdrop of a squeezed public sector.

The library, planned and built under the council’s Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition between 2004 and 2012, has become a financial millstone around the council’s neck. Almost all of the money required to build the library was borrowed, leaving the council to face debt and interest repayments of £1 million a month.

At the moment some 188 people are employed in the building. Its annual running costs, including debt repayment, amount to £22 million – more than the total amount the council has to spend on economic development.

One hundred jobs will go at the library. Opening will be reduced from 73 hours a week to 40.

Cabinet member Cllr Penny Holbrook said the precise nature of the new hours was yet to be decided but it was likely that the library would close at less busy times.

Cllr Holbrook said: “It is with a heavy heart that we go out to consultation on budget cuts for the Library of Birmingham, that could impact on opening hours, staffing numbers and the variety of services offered.

“We are proud of the building and the warm welcome it has received locally, nationally and internationally since opening in September 2013. However, the financial position of the library leaves us with no other feasible option but to put forward these proposals.”

Closing or selling of council football and cricket pitches as well as bowling greens will be controversial, Cllr Holbrook admitted. But she stressed that Birmingham has ample private sector provision to meet demand.

All of the planned cuts are subject to consultation and a final decision by the council Labour group in February. It is expected that many Labour councillors will fight to keep children’s centres and community libraries open and may force Sir Albert to find cuts elsewhere.

The future of community libraries is certain to be a key battleground. Decisions about closing buildings lie in the hands of Birmingham’s 10 district committees.

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