Birmingham’s Library Cutbacks

Josh Allen

Birmingham City Council has unveiled its proposed budget cuts for 2015-16, including substantial reductions to funding for the Library of Birmingham, the £189 million project that opened in September 2013 and within a year was facing a financial black hole. Weekly opening hours are to be cut from 73 to 40, and around 100 of the 188 staff will lose their jobs.

Including repayments on the loans taken out to build it, the library costs £22 million a year to run: more than the city's entire Economic Development, Planning and Conservation Department. The rest of the city's library service – 39 community branch libraries – is currently funded to the tune of £6 million a year. Opening hours are already restricted; from next April several libraries will close altogether.

The Kerslake Review of the Council’s ‘governance and organisational capabilities’ was also released last week. Among much else, it criticised the council’s focus on the city centre at the expense of ‘outer areas’: the library is a particularly egregious example.

Next year the council will have to operate with £206 million less in central government funding. Albert Bore, the council's Labour leader, has been warning since his party took power from a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in 2012 that ‘the council will soon have to discontinue entire services’ in order to meet statutory obligations in such areas as adult social care and children's services.

The budget proposals include plans to ‘reduce funding for services to people with physical and sensory disabilities by 50 per cent’; ‘stop funding for the remaining children’s play services’; ‘reduce the amount of maintenance we do on flood risk assets’; ‘withdraw subsidies from all community events except the Lord Mayor’s Show’; reduce football and cricket pitch provision by 20 per cent; stop funding the voluntary sector advice service; and reduce staff numbers across the board – according to the Birmingham Post, ‘1100 fulltime-equivalent jobs will go... with thousands more expected in future years.’