Sutton Coldfield campaigners call for Town Council funding to help save the library
Members of the campaign group The Library Lobby are asking Sutton Coldfield Town Council to “put its money where its mouth is” and commit funds to ensure the survival of a town centre library.
With only a week left to submit counter proposals to Birmingham City Council’s plan to shut Sutton Coldfield library, members of the resident’s campaign group are looking to the Town Council to honour the its motion “to take a leading role” in supporting the preservation of a library in central Sutton Coldfield at their November meeting.
Members of the group are critical that whilst a working party was set up following the motion this has only met once, with a second meeting planned for today, Thursday 19th January. This is despite frequent and considerable support from The Library Lobby in providing information, analysis and avenues to explore. Lobby member, Zoe Toft has met with Birmingham City Council on several occasions in comparison.
“Without funding from an external source, Sutton Coldfield library WILL close. BCC’s proposals are either for complete closure, or at best a very low level library (a Tier 4 library), which most people of Sutton Coldfield wouldn’t even recognise as a library (for example it would not be able to loan books and make use of the wider Birmingham library catalogue). Tier 4 libraries can potentially receive a one-off grant from BCC for £20,000, but no more. This is how stark the financial situation is.
“The Library Lobby, as an informal group of residents, isn’t a constituted organisation – and as such are not in a position to apply for funding. They have no resources of their own. All other community groups across Birmingham who are engaged in trying to save library provision in their local community have backing from formal groups. As no such formal group has stepped forward here in Sutton Coldfield, the Library Lobby feels it is now time for the Town Council to step in and take control of the situation.”
Jonny Mayner of The Library Lobby said:
“While a small number of Councillors have been constructive and helpful, we feel not enough progress has been made. We need a viable and attractive proposal backed by the Town Council within days – the harsh deadline is January 27.
“In the December Town Council meeting it became clear that the Town Council has funds at its disposal: it has a surplus of £308,000 for the year 2016-17, and currently almost £200,000 unallocated out of its 2017/18 budget.
“While putting some of this money in a reserves fund is perhaps prudent, the library situation is precisely the sort of emergency situation that reserve funds are established for.”
Jenny Wilkinson of the Library Lobby added:
“As a Sutton Coldfield resident I’m happy to pay that little bit extra to fund the Town Council; but I want to see them do something useful with the money.
“Some may argue that spending Town Council money on a library would be double taxation, but the fact of the matter is that Birmingham City Council believe they will be meeting their statutory requirement to provide a comprehensive library service in wider Sutton Coldfield; under their proposals they will be spending about 8% of their library budget on about 8% of Birmingham’s population i.e. the population of Sutton Coldfield.
“Unless the Town Council decide to take costly and uncertain legal action against Birmingham City Council, their lack of action will be perceived as tacit acceptance of Birmingham City Council’s analysis of provision.
“With City Council allocating no budget for Sutton town library, the argument for double taxation falls away; the Town Council would not be paying for a library that would otherwise be paid for by Birmingham City Council. Rather, it would be helping finance a library that would otherwise simply not exist. In any event, there are ways that Town Council could spend money on the library issue that would help City Council keep the library open, while providing additional value to the community.”
Referring to the vacant floor space above the library that once held the District offices and Register Office, Library Lobby member Melissa Jones said:
“One solution would be for the Town Council to rent out the floor above the library. Birmingham City Council could ring-fence that money and return it to the library budget, and the Town Council would use this space over the coming year to do many of the activities they have already gone on the record as saying they want to see happen in Sutton Coldfield – setting up spaces to support local start-up businesses, running local history exhibitions, and supporting a wide range of activities in – effectively – a community hub. These activities would all support the core principles of the Town Council and represent added-value over and above the City Council’s continued operation of the library. We will be arguing that the Town Council should apply for the Trinity Ward innovation fund to finance a paid member of staff to run this space, ensuring it gets utilized for and by everyone in Sutton Coldfield.
Even if the library remaining in the Red Rose Centre is only a temporary solution, this does at least allow time for a sustainable long term solution to be worked up.”
Apart from putting pressure on Sutton Coldfield Town Council to pick up the date stamp and act with urgency and commitment, the Library Lobby is urging all residents of Sutton Coldfield to add their voice to the debate. The four most useful things residents can do are:
- Respond to the consultation document on the Be Heard website; The Library Lobby would particularly encourage anyone who has additional needs and who would not be able to get to an alternative library (ie Mere Green, Boldmere or Walmey) to respond via the Be Heard website;
- Encourage their children or children they know to complete the child-friendly consultation document, available at thelibrarylobby.org.uk/2017/01/17/let-the-children-have-their-say/ This is a Birmingham City Council document but they have agreed that we can share it on the Library Lobby website to facilitate as many children as possible sharing their voice in the consultation process;
- Attend the full Sutton Coldfield Town Council meeting on Tuesday 24th January and ask questions during the public question time about the concrete actions the Town Council is taking regarding the library. Full details of the meeting can be found at www.suttoncoldfieldtowncouncil.gov.uk/Full_Council_4287.aspx ; and
- Contact their Town Councillors and ask them to do whatever is necessary to save the library.
For more about The Library Lobby visit: thelibrarylobby.org.uk or check out the Facebook Group at www.facebook.com/groups/1006227906167320