A public meeting called by the Friends of the Library of Birmingham on Monday 18th January, at 7 pm in the Council House.
“The Birmingham Library service is in crisis; the Library of Birmingham and the 38 community libraries. Despite their popularity and their place at the heart of the cultural and educational heart of the city, they have faced dramatic cuts and are threatened with more in the future. Libraries can only be run as a public service funded from general taxation; they cannot run at a profit or even break even. They cannot be properly run by untrained volunteers or self service machines. A hub that contains a room full of books is not a library. A ‘mutual’ is not a sustainable solution.
The public consultation over the Council budget this year revealed overwhelming support for these valued institutions, yet huge cuts were made anyway, leading to a hundred staff being lost at the LoB. And now it is proposed to hand of one its floors over to the Brasshouse Centre. Elsewhere, West Heath library has still not been re-built, Bloomsbury library is closed, Kings Norton library has been left for three years with its roof unrepaired and others have only been kept open thanks to tireless local campaigning.
This cultural vandalism has to stop and be reversed. We invite all those interested in protecting an essential part of the city’s fabric to discuss the library service of the future.”
Anne Gallagher – Friends of the Library of Birmingham
Philippa Hands – UNISON
Irene Sheriff – Friends of West Heath Library
Izzy Mohammed – Cultural sector practitioner, public library advocate
Serena Arthur – Young poet laureate
Pupul Chatterjee – Freelance journalist and LoB user
Alan Kurly McGeachie – Poet, in Birmingham and beyond
Download the flyer here;
The government’s Boundary Commission is proposing Birmingham City Council cuts the number of elected councillors by over 15%. If the proposals (which are under “consultation” but which may go through in 2018) go through, the current number of 120 councillors (where there are 3 members for each of the city’s 40 wards) will shrink alarmingly to just 101.
The Labour council in Birmingham is rightly coming under fire for carrying out Tory central government spending cuts which decimate local communities and attack services. However, having fewer councillors is not the answer as it is an attack on local government democracy and representation. Local government is clearly bad now but the proposals for the city, which would mean 53 newly created wards with only ONE councillor and a further 24 wards with a mere two, would mean a further worsening of any basic democratic representation and cannot be divorced from the wider austerity drive and its nasty political agenda.
The great increase in membership of the Labour Party nationally has happened as a result of leader Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies. This may have a positive resonance in the coming period where those now inside Labour seeking a real fight against the cuts can hold the back-sliders in the Labour Party to account and select only councillors who will oppose the austerity drive by all means necessary. That would be real class democracy in action.
At this stage it is not entirely clear how many concessions Corbyn is already making to the dominant right-wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party. However, what is clear is that the working-class communities bearing the brunt of the ideologically driven austerity drive need councillors (be they in the Labour Party or any other organisation pledged to fight) who will stop voting for budget cuts which are wrecking lives.
Letter – anonymous
Out with the old;
In with the new;
A Northfield ward committee was told last year that the boarded-up West Heath library was going to be demolished and the new one built on the current site, by February or March of this year. The lead councillor who reported this said ‘don’t quote me on this date exactly’, so perhaps to do so is a little unfair.
But what is a lot more unfair is that in November of this year, there is still no progress. While the Council was quick to demolish the old one, the years-long wait for a replacement for the decaying pre-fabricated building continues.
So what is going on behind the scenes? Unlike behind the hoardings guarding the old site, there must be something going on behind the Council House walls. And indeed, there are stories and hints a-plenty.
The latest is that Council officers are blocking moves to use the money already-earmarked to build the library on the current site, and instead wish to use it to repair the Kings Norton library (with its damaged roof unrepaired for three years now) and then to re-locate the West Heath library into Oddingley Hall, a mile or so away. They are rumoured to have a view of one-library-per-ward, and Northfield has already got one.
Now, where did this supposed rule of thumb come from? If it was the officers, the question has to be asked – who is running the council, the elected politicians or the civil servants? Sir Humphrey Appleby would give a reassuring smile, but we are less fortunate. And anyway, as Oddingley Hall is in Kings Norton, that would give this ward two libraries.
Except that it might not. A community centre with a big room full of books is not a library, quite apart from the lack of proper funding and adequate numbers of qualified staff. And to add to the plot, the ward boundaries might be changing, so it could conceivably place the possible ‘library’ in Oddingley back in Northfield again.
A cynic would be tempted to say that shoe-horning a library into a community centre is a neat way of saving money; financial priorities taking precedent over educational and cultural ones as usual. But remember, the Council has form on this; look what it is trying to do with the Library of Birmingham – shoe-horning the Brasshouse Centre into its first floor.
As everyone knows, the main plot is the austerity drive. The vicious onslaught on Birmingham City finances by first the coalition government and now the Tory one, is what is driving all of this. It is to the credit of local Tory Councillors that they originally found the money to re-develop West Heath library, but at the same time their party was in power nationally, and slashing the cash needed for such very services.
Labour councillors in this area might be busting a gut to get what people in the deprived West Heath area need and deserve, but they, alongside all their other Labour colleagues in the Council Chamber, voted for the cuts budget that led to problems like this occurring in the first place.
And now the finger is apparently being pointed at the Council officers.
While the elusive buck is passed around, the residents of West Heath, accustomed to having a valuable resource, one that was on their doorstep, and despite its crumbling façade one that provided a bit of joy, learning and culture to their area, sit and wait.
Is it so difficult to spend the money already allocated to re-build the West Heath library on its current site, to repair the Kings Norton library roof, to have an appropriate number of properly paid and qualified staff, and to have the ability for these libraries to buy a decent selection of new books?
Is it really so difficult for local citizens to know exactly what is being done with their money and to the service which they have been promised for so many years?
If anyone can rise above the rumours and say exactly what is going on, the comment box below is available.
Here is an open letter from a city sheltered housing tenant to a council support manager about the unbearable effect of budget cuts (or, from a ‘stakeholder’ to a support manager about the regrettable but necessary effect of ‘budget savings’, to use today’s spin-soaked jargon!)
Support Services for Older People
Birmingham City Council
1 Lancaster Circus
20th July 2015
Dear Support Manager,
As a result of cuts to services a support officer only attends Fleetwood House Sheltered Housing Scheme on Mondays and Wednesdays rather than Monday to Friday. I have discovered by chance that there will be no support officer covering the Scheme at all this coming Wednesday (22 July) where I am not aware any written document exists to explain the situation to the service users you surely have a duty of care towards.
I am strongly in favour of support officers being able to take their legal annual leave entitlement but this 22 July absence strongly suggests even more cuts to services may be on their way and that cuts and shortages to remaining support services mean there are clearly not even sufficient support officers to cover the city’s Sheltered Schemes at the current time.
I also understand tenants at Fleetwood House who had their support officer visits on Wednesdays have been asked to switch their visit day to Monday. Furthermore, whilst a support officer may be at Fleetwood House on future Wednesdays I am led to believe this will only be for administration work where they could be called to cover another scheme at any time.
I am a very concerned service user and I seek clarification re the above as people can simply not bear any more cuts to support services. Why is this new Wednesday arrangement being brought in if it is not to pave the way for a further reduction in support officer presence?
I request a reply at your earliest convenience. Thank you.
Sheltered Housing Tenant
A singing protest (with amplification) took place in the city centre yesterday evening. It began with a musical procession up New St, and ended with unamplified and amplified singing, poetry and speeches outside of the Council House. Without the use of amplification, only those very close to the performer or speaker could here exactly what was being sung about or broadcast.
And this is the point. All the warm words in the Council consultation document about how it is not an attack on free speech come to nothing in the reality of trying to make the voices of ordinary citizens heard. The very successful protest about the massive attacks on the library service of 13th June would have been far less successful if the words of the poets, writers and speakers had not been amplified.
And don’t forget that this ban will not apply to commercial concerns. The pro-business priorities of the Labour Council are made clear once again.
When the subject was aired on the Adrian Goldberg show not so long ago, the proposal to ban amplification got a complete roasting. So it is important that this view is reflected in the official consultation. It was supposed to end yesterday, but has been extended by a week. Could this be because their consultation is coming up with the wrong answer and more time is needed to marshal more support for the ban, one is tempted to ask?
If you have not added your voice to the consultation yet, please go to
Mind you, if they take as much notice of their consultation over this as they did to the consultation over the cuts to the Library of Birmingham, a certain amount of cynicism would be justified.
Nevertheless, please have your say anyway. This attempt to make the city centre an exclusive area for wealthy shoppers, a playground for the kind of people the Council is trying to attract with its support for luxury development, means pushing out ordinary citizens, especially the poor.
‘Social cleansing’ is happening in many cities these days, particularly in London. Don’t let it happen here in Birmingham.