Express & Star

Future of Birmingham's libraries sparks row as campaigners pledge action

A public consultation on the future of Birmingham’s libraries has sparked a row as campaigns heat up across the city.


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Birmingham City Council’s (BCC) financial crisis sent shockwaves across the city last month as a council tax rise and unprecedented wave of cuts to local services were given the green light.

Both the anxiety and anger felt by many residents in the city can be seen particularly clearly in the ongoing battle over the future of Birmingham’s libraries.

Campaigners have continued their efforts to ‘save’ their local libraries after a public consultation launched earlier this month provided a glimpse of how the Labour-run 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 adds 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.

However, leader of the conservatives at the council, Robert Alden, has recently questioned whether the library consultation was being run in good faith.

“This has already been met with anger and disappointment from residents concerned it is little more than a tick-box exercise,” he claimed at a council meeting this month.

He went on to suggest there had been a number of reported issues, including a lack of notice for online events.

“Libraries are the heart of our local communities,” Councillor Alden continued. “They often provide valuable services for elderly and young people alike.”

Council leader John Cotton hit back in response: “Let's be really clear – no decision has been taken, this is a consultation that’s being undertaken in good faith.

“Clearly there has been an issue with the early stage of that consultation which the cabinet member has taken steps to address.”

“I would encourage all members and indeed all citizens to participate in that consultation so we can find a way forward together,” he added.

Asked why steps were not taken to notify ward councillors and communities in good time of the consultation programme, cabinet member Saima Suleman responded: “There were some online consultations that were registered last week which I believe councillors were not informed of.

“I’m informed there was some miscommunication – I do believe an email has gone out to all members from officers explaining how that happened and issuing an apology.

“Those sessions have been rebooked,” she added. “An email has gone out to councillors with all the dates of the consultations, both online and in person.”

Amid this row over the consultation, battle lines have truly been drawn as campaigners across Birmingham continue to fight on.

Over in Hall Green, residents gathered once again on Saturday for a ‘read-in’ at the local library – following similar events elsewhere in the city.

The demonstration was attended by over 100 people, spanning all ages and backgrounds, as well as authors and renowned woodcarver Graham Jones.

Meanwhile Brummie legend and historian Professor Carl Chinn spoke out and delivered a stirring call to action at a public meeting held earlier this month.

“The overwhelming turnout at both events is a testament to the deep bond our community shares with Hall Green Library,” said organiser Rukhsana Malik from Save Hall Green Library Campaign.

“Together, with the support of dedicated individuals like Professor Carl Chinn and Graham Jones, we will ensure that our library remains a beacon of knowledge, inspiration, and community spirit for generations to come.”

Elsewhere in the city, campaigners are set to hold a ‘Library Awareness Walk’ next month on Saturday, May 11.

A post by Saving Stirchey Library reads: “The walk will begin in Selly Oak, stop off at Stirchley, and finish in Druids Heath.

“There will be arts activities for all to get involved with along the way, including a banner-making workshop, a poetry-walk-maps workshop and readings and performances.”

Previously discussing Birmingham’s libraries, council leader John Cotton said: “We can be in a position where we 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 there have already been some “really good examples” of partnership working around libraries – including his own library in Glebe Farm, Tile Cross.

“That’s the kind of dialogue we’ll be having with partners and communities in the coming weeks,” he continued. “I’m really keen to see the ideas that come forward from that.

“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.”

A spokesperson for the council added earlier this year: “While we must operate within budget constraints, we are committed to preserving access to vital library resources and services to meet both current and future resident needs.”

The public consultation launched this month says that the option of ‘doing nothing’ and retaining 35 library buildings could lead to greater staff cuts to make the agreed budget savings.

“In real terms there are currently 27 libraries in operation across the city not 35 with current staff shortages and building closures,” it continued.

Report by LDR Alexander Brock