Cuts force iconic Library of Birmingham to slash staff and hours

Birmingham City council set to cut 6,000 jobs

Paul Gallagher
Wednesday 10 December 2014 17:34
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An interior view of the new Library of Birmingham at Centenary Square
An interior view of the new Library of Birmingham at Centenary Square

It cost nearly £200m and was described as world class when opened to universal acclaim just over a year ago by Nobel Peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

Yet the iconic Library of Birmingham has now been told to lose 100 staff and reduce its opening hours by almost half as the City council slashes its budget.

The Labour-run authority has to find £117m in savings next year and plans to cut over 1,000 jobs to balance the books, rising to 6,000 by 2018.

Not even the award-winning postmodern library has been spared the axe with more than half its 188 staff facing the sack. Opening hours will also be slashed from 73 to 40 in April next year.

In September 2013, Malala, who survived being shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban, addressed thousands of well-wishers outside the central library in Centenary Square praising the building as a centre of knowledge, saying "pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism".

Now the library's business, learning, music and archive services are also under threat unless external funding is found.

The grim news came on the day the 17-year-old education rights campaigner was awarded the Nobel Peace prize.

Malala Yousafzai at the official opening of the Library of Birmingham last year (Getty)

Council leader Sir Albert Bore blamed Government cuts saying the authority was undergoing "profound change" in the face of austerity measures.

He said funding reductions meant the council had already cut to the bone and was now "scraping away" at the bones themselves.

Sir Albert called the decision to drastically reduce the library's staff and facilities was the toughest decision he has dealt with as he deals with the building's £10m annual running costs and £1m a month debt repayments.

He said: "The Government's approach to distributing the cuts means that those authorities with the greatest levels of need are facing the largest percentage cuts.

"Protecting the most vulnerable of our citizens, in particular children, is our top priority and we intend to invest a further £19.9 million in child protection services from next year.

"Whatever our longer-term plans, we must by law balance the books. So we have also found it necessary to propose some other reductions in services, and discontinuation of services, which we would not have considered if the cuts had been less steep."

The Library of Birmingham houses one of the world's largest Shakespeare-related collections and was shortlisted for this year's Riba Stirling Prize for architecture.

Birmingham City council's 133-page White Paper, outlining its budget proposals, also contained plans to withdraw subsidies from community events and festivals, including the city's St Patrick's Day parade.

Live monitoring of CCTV footage from hundreds of council-run cameras around the city would also cease except in emergencies, although images would still be recorded.

The GMB union said the 6,000 job losses will lead to "drastic reductions to essential services".

Unison regional secretary Ravi Subramanian said the council "was not to blame" for the position in which it found itself. He said the previous administration had failed to deal with the Equal Pay bill and the other major factor was the reduction in Government grant.

He said: "People will be spending Christmas wondering if they have a job to come back to."

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