Birmingham campaigners make urgent demand to council over 'lifeline' service

Campaigners in Birmingham city centre
-Credit: (Image: Birmingham Loves Libraries)

Campaigners deeply concerned about the future of Birmingham’s libraries have made an urgent demand to the city council. The financial crisis at the council, and the huge wave of cuts to local services which followed, has triggered dismay and anxiety across the city this year.

But many residents are determined to fight back and campaigns, petitions and protests have been organised over the fate of Birmingham's libraries in particular. Against this backdrop, Birmingham Loves Libraries has published an open letter this month demanding that all cuts and asset sales should be paused.

They say this should be in order for an “independent public interest and value for money assessments to take place”. The letter warned: “Devastating measures are being imposed over a short timescale.”

READ MORE: Birmingham schoolgirl’s emotional plea as pressure mounts over vital city service

The campaign group went on to argue that there are “viable alternatives” to the cuts being imposed, such as extending the timeframe. “Our libraries are lifelines and we cannot afford to lose them,” they added.

This recent letter comes as a young schoolgirl made an emotional plea over the future of the city’s libraries during a recent council meeting.

“Can you guarantee that the plans proposed will not change the service offered to us, in terms of professionalism, safeguarding, expertise, friendliness and community cohesion,” she continued. “Why is it necessary to change at all what works so well?”

Cabinet member Saima Suleman responded during the meeting by saying: “We’re working really hard to ensure that everyone gets a say about the future of our library service by asking people from across the city, including young people, what they think". She went on to stress that no decisions will be made until after the consultation process has been completed.

Council leader John Cotton during March's budget meeting
Council leader John Cotton during March's budget meeting -Credit:Nick Wilkinson/Birmingham Live

Meanwhile council leader John Cotton said earlier this year that they can be in a position where they can “protect and continue to deliver a library network” across the city. “Some of this will have to be done in slightly different ways,” he said.

He continued there have already been some “really good examples” of partnership working around libraries and that they will be engaging with partners and communities. “We’ve got to rebuild the financial stability of the council because if we don’t do that, we won’t be able to continue to provide the kind of decent, basic services that people in this city need and rely on,” he added.

A spokesperson for the council added: “The review of our library services aims to achieve greater efficiency and value for money, and the continuing provision of a library service.”

What does the public consultation say?

The public consultation, launched this year, gives Brummies an idea of how the council could move away from its current 35 community libraries to a ‘mixed delivery model’. This could secure “25-building-based library services” - though the consultation acknowledges that that figure may change.

This proposed model, put forward as the recommended option in the consultation, could include 'community library hubs', as well as community groups running library services. The option of ‘doing nothing’ and retaining 35 library buildings could lead to greater staff cuts to make the agreed budget savings, the public consultation also says.

“In real terms there are currently 27 libraries in operation across the city, not 35 with current staff shortages and building closures,” it continued. Birmingham City Council had to make an array of cuts to local services this year due to Birmingham-specific issues, such as an equal pay fiasco and the disastrous implementation of a new IT and finance system, as well as the rising demand for services and funding cuts.

Cllr Cotton previously slammed the Conservative government and argued many councils face a perfect storm of smaller budgets and higher costs while Tory politicians, such as Rishi Sunak, have highlighted the mistakes made by the Labour council administration.

Keep up to date with all the latest politics news with our politics newsletter. You can sign up for free here to get stories delivered straight to your inbox to read at a time convenient to you.

  • See our top stories and avoid ads by downloading our app to your phone or tablet