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Tuesday, 24th Feb 2015 by Green Group

Library Closures: What would you cut instead?

Green Group of Councillor’s Statement

The announcement of the review of the library service suggests up to 7 branches face closure.  This review of the service is brought about, in part, by cuts necessitated in last week’s ‘austerity’ budget.

Green Councillor, Charlie Bolton says:

"I am sure many people will be upset at the possibility of these closures. Libraries have been a part of the lives of many of us, and I am aware many people – quite rightly - have a huge amount of affection for them.  I am equally sure that people living near libraries threatened with closure will campaign to keep them open and I applaud them for doing so.

However, I would like to challenge those councillors seeking to make political capital out of these closures.   If you are a Conservative, not only has your party of government cut a huge proportion of the finances of local government, but you have also signalled your intention to cut a further £25billion from public expenditure if you remain in power.   Liberal Democrats have played their full part in the coalition and signalled their intention to recommend £16 billion of further cuts.   The Labour Party, in Bristol,  voted for £83 million of cuts to Bristol’s budget a year ago, and Ed Miliband tells us they will continue to cut if in government.   These cuts are putting local councillors in a quandary:  what would you cut instead?"

Greens point out that libraries have a social utility that goes far beyond the mere lending of books. They act as a place for people to have social interaction, a space for quiet and to offer facilities – particularly computing facilities - for those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them   Greens intend to study the proposals in detail before making a final appraisal of the proposals.

Submission by Bristol Green Party to the Libraries for the Future consultation

As users and potential users of Bristol's libraries we have these proposals and priorities:

  • We recognise that libraries are a much loved and much needed local service - the Green Party does not willingly accept the Government cuts to the council that are reducing the libraries budget; one of the best ways to protect and support our city Libraries services is for parties in government to end the transfer of resources away from local government under the guise of austerity. The Green Group is also looking for other ways to avoid budget cuts to this service.
  • The network of branch libraries is a vital access point to books, council services and web access for many people - one priority is to provide and maintain local branches at convenient locations where people can reach our services. Some branch libraries may best be relocated to make them more accessible and fit for the future. This needs to be budgeted for in the council's coming spending plans - with no branch closed until a potential replacement service is fully discussed with the community and alternatives are ready.
  • Branches must be protected from cuts not just on the basis of the loudest protests but on the basis of the greatest need.
  • Underused locations should be subject of a much more determined exercise to find potential users, trial new activities (using any one-off transition funds first), and attract new initiatives that could extend their hours, support new uses. The need for services should take account of multiple social deprivation across the city with such neighbourhoods prioritised.
  • Local services including books, web access, trained library staff and toilets are a priority; support for research and finding trusted information, whether for study or hobby, or to deal with institutions and personal needs, is a key service that must not be compromised. Many other activities and facilities are also available and these need to be publicised effectively.
  • Services in the Central Library are a magnet for a great many users. There is also an opportunity to showcase local branches there as many users may not know what is available nearer them or what activities go on. As a well-used community asset we maintain that the building needs to be retained as it is rather than divided and transferred to a school. Any plans to replace the central library with a modern facility must be developed on the basis that this does not damage the branch network in terms of finance, resources and custom.
  • Any change to the management of the service, eg to a social enterprise model, must be on the basis that the integrity of the whole service is protected. Any local innovations and variations that meets local needs better should still remain part of the complete branch network integrated into technology and standards of the core, free offer. Volunteering can not be a substitute for trained staff.
  • Non users can be attracted to expand the reach of the service. These could be local branch, central or web users. Access to other council facilities and services is a priority eg contact points with libraries; careers services or youth facilities co-located with libraries; a health centre alongside a library; a senior citizens club sharing space with a library; a local trader basing their cafe in a library on a revenue-sharing basis. Opportunities for community facilities and centres to share library buildings and space should be explored, eg in Avonmouth. Making libraries community hubs will strengthen them.
  • Our top priority is to make sure those needing branch services still have them and that branches are located among other convenient, attractive, welcoming, and helpful council services and other facilities. Relocated or new branches must be designed to be where the majority of potential users can access them.
  • Refreshments and other services that generate revenue for the libraries service should be developed in conjunction with users, not auctioned off to the highest bidder from outside. Any revenue earning options must not damage other local traders but be developed in conjunction with the community to ensure they meet local needs. A corporate contract should be seen as a last resort not a first option, so that local businesses can be given opportunities with due weight to the additional benefits this can bring to the community.
  • The web offering from Libraries West needs to be promoted and integrated so that users can order and collect via branches more readily. This could be combined with ‘click and collect’ facilities for other e-commerce sites to attract their customers to visit libraries eg for parcels.
  • Quiet and noisy uses need to be accommodated so that families, those seeking peace or studying or job search, and others can share buildings.
  • Community users and potential community users, from local groups to societies, clubs, artists, entertainers and others can all be accommodated in some places and times if the facilities are reviewed. We'd like to see libraries attract many new users from all sections and cultures in the city. This development is likely to bring much diversity to the local ‘offer.’

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