Sutton Coldfield Town Council commits funds but fails to provide cross-party negotiators
Both faces of Sutton Coldfield Town Council were on show at the meeting held on Tuesday 24th January when an amended motion was approved to support the fight to keep a library service in the town centre.
The original motion to commit up to £150,000 of funding towards helping ensure a future for the library was proposed by Cllr Liz Parry (Ind. Sutton Vesey) and passed with an amendment from Cllr Keith Ward (Con. Sutton Trinity) that three Town Councillors should hold negotiations with Birmingham City Council – the three being Cllr Ewan Mackey (Con. Sutton Trinity), Cllr David Pears (Con. Sutton Trinity) and Cllr Simon Ward (Con. Sutton Four Oaks)
However, two further amendments were rejected by the Conservative majority council. Cllr Rob Pocock (Lab. Sutton Vesey) put forward an amendment that the team of negotiators should include cross-party representation while Cllr Maria Hewett (Con. Sutton Trinity) proposed that The Library Lobby should have representation in the negotiations.
There was some dismay by local campaigners that both these two amendments were defeated and the lack of a cross-party team is both frustrating and bewildering when there was an opportunity for the Council to confound it’s critics that it is Tory run.
In response to there not being a place in the negotiations for The Library Lobby, Cllr Ewan Mackey said today:
“The situation…is you don’t have non Councillors on negotiating groups such as this as there could then be an issue surrounding any discussion of commercially confidential information, where non-members are not bound by the same rules as Councillors. Because of this it would be more usual for the Councillors to have discussions and then consult the community groups. Any final decision on the allocation of Council money would, of course, need to go to full Council and be made in open session.
“We have been pleased to work with the Library Lobby over the months as a community focused campaign to save our library has been built. Together we have had joint meetings with the Labour leaders from Birmingham Council, as well as talking to outside bodies such as the Arts Council to find alternative forms of funding for our library. We will continue to work closely with Zoe & Library Lobby in every way that we can. Yesterday’s amendment allows for Royal Sutton Coldfield’s Library’s long term future to be agreed through constructive negotiations. I feel that we are a step closer to saving this vital community service”
Member of The Library Lobby, Zoe Toft said:
“It’s been enormously hard work to get to this stage, but I’m very pleased that the Town Council have shown that – by voting to commit a substantial amount of funds – they are truly committed to a town centre library.
“I have to commend Cllr Liz Parry for her energy and thoughtfulness in putting her original motion to the council. If she had not put the wheels in motion I have no reason to believe that the party in power on the council would have acted to support using Town Council money; despite working as closely and transparently as possible with the Conservative councillors at no point did they ever give me an indication that they themselves would put a motion to the council requesting a funding commitment. To now have a financial commitment from the Town Council is a great success for everyone.
“This does not mean, however, that our library is saved. Friday 27th January sees the deadline for counterproposals to be put to Birmingham City Council. The Library Lobby will be submitting a proposal drawing on all the input we have received from members of the public about facilities they’d like to see in an enhanced library, a proposal we believe is not only viable now that the Town Council money is on the table, but also very exciting and imaginative.
“February 14th is the day we’ll find out if our proposal (or any other submitted) is enough for Birmingham City Council to change their position on the proposed closure of Sutton Coldfield Library. Then the really hard work begins. We hope that February 14th becomes a day of celebration for the Sutton Coldfield library and librarians and all that they stand for, and that everyone in Sutton Coldfield is able to use that day to be inspired to get involved in creating the best library in all of greater Birmingham.
“There’s lots to feel positive and optimistic about. There is also quite a lot to feel hugely frustrated about. ‘Residents views should be at the heart of every decision’. This was a statement made by one of the councillors at last night’s meeting. It happened to be in reference to another issue facing the Town Council, but it was met with all round hearty murmurings of agreement. Yet when it came to the debate about the library motion, suddenly councillors were quite happy (yet again cf the playground debate) to exclude local campaigners and community groups. Cllr Hewett broke ranks with her Conservative peers to propose an amendment which would have seen a formal role for The Library Lobby, but she was rebutted by her party. It is not at all clear to members of The Library Lobby why the group most enthusiastically and seriously involved so far in working on a counterproposal to put to Birmingham city council have been formally excluded from the process. This is a huge disappointment and concern – what does it say about the political process we’ve tried to engage constructively in?”
Fellow The Library Lobby member, Jonny Mayner commented:
“Councillor Keith Ward’s amendment did not alter the substance of the motion insofar as the Town Council’s financial commitment was concerned. It does however throw the way forward into uncertain and opaque territory. Three councillors from a single political party are now mandated by Town Council to hold closed meetings with Birmingham City Council Deputy Leader Ian Ward. Since Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, no indication has been given by Town Council or the Town Council’s Library Working Group as to what that means for the Town Council’s compliance with deadline of Friday 27th January for formal responses to City Council’s closure proposal, despite The Library Lobby having worked extremely hard on a response.
“Personally I thought that Councillor Pocock’s amendment was a good idea; to ensure that any Town Council delegation meeting with Deputy Leader Ian Ward enjoyed more cross-party representation. Those discussions might benefit from a wider representation and I’m not convinced by the arguments and explanations offered by those who voted down the amendment. Nor were the public who were present. I think “shame” and “disgrace” were the words most residents were shouting as the amendment was voted down. The same thing happened at The Library Lobby’s demonstration in December. When councillors politicise this issue, they get booed.
“Councillor Hewett’s amendment was a welcome surprise. We would be happy to play some role in ensuring that all of the feedback that our supporters and the wider community have provided is represented in an open and non-political manner. That door was opened and then promptly shut to us by Town Council on Tuesday night.
“The deadline for formal responses to Birmingham City Council’s proposal is Friday 27th January. While the commitment of funds from Town Council is extremely welcome, the net result of the various amendments accepted and rejected is that things will proceed behind closed doors, with little transparency or community engagement. It is for that reason that The Library Lobby will be submitting its own response to Birmingham City Council’s consultation by the deadline of Friday 27th January. This response comprises a detailed critique of City Council’s case for closing the library, and a positive proposal outlining at least one way in which the Town Council’s financial contribution can be used to support and enhance the current library offering in the Town Centre, with Birmingham City Council also pulling its weight and providing the first class library service that a town centre of this size deserves. By submitting this formal response to the consultation, Town and City Councillors can then have their meetings armed with some idea of what the community within and around the town centre in Sutton Coldfield would like to see happen.”
Cllr Pocock said:
“A massive result tonight, and all credit to the Library Lobby for putting together a united, community led and non-party-political campaign. This Town Council has risen to the occasion, and for the first time put serious cash on the table, which will put pressure on Birmingham to respond in like vein. None if this could have happened without the formidable enterprise that the Library Lobby has shown, and the backing of Sutton’s social and print media. It’s a shame that things were soured at the end by the majority political group excluding the Library Lobby and other party groups from the meeting with Birmingham, but hey that’s politics. All eyes should be on the main prize – our Town Council has now showing what it can do, and I have a growing optimism that this is a campaign we are all going to win!”
With Cllr Paul Long adding:
“Library cuts are a national problem and Birmingham has not been exempt from this. Without the efforts of the Library Lobby, we wouldn’t have this opportunity to save the library. We would have preferred it if the Conservative councillors had included the Library Lobby in the discussions with Birmingham’s deputy leader, but the important thing is that they accepted independent councillor Liz Parry’s proposal to reserve £150,000 and there is now a possible way forward.”
To keep up-to-date with The Library Lobby visit their website at thelibrarylobby.org.uk