What the public of Birmingham told the Council about Public Libraries
Each council has a statutory duty to consult with the public in making and setting its budget. In Birmingham there was a consultation period stretching from December to mid January involving a range of public consultation events and an invitation to individuals made their own responses.
The Council collates the Budget responses and they appear on the City Council website
Here are key excerpts summarising what the public think of their Public libraries:
The new, broad message that emerged in this year’s budget consultation compared with the previous two years therefore appears to be that people do see a central and important role for the Council in ‘place making’ (that is, shaping the ‘look’, environment and facilities of the city) and in building and maintaining the city’s social fabric…
This was reflected in the many comments around libraries, parks and other green issues, and in the support for the Council taking a lead in bringing people together to find ways of preserving services and community amenities.
Libraries …was a big topic in the consultation around the Service Review Green Papers and repeated again during the budget consultation. A campaign has been organised against proposed cuts to home and mobile library service. Support for the New Library was expressed but there was concern that community libraries are suffering.
Libraries are seen by many as an essential part of the community’ social fabric providing, for e.g., literacy support, digital access and advice… When other advice services are cut, more people turn to libraries for that advice. This view was summed up by an attendee at a public meeting who said:“We offer amazing things in local libraries.” He also asked whether Districts were aware of the statutory obligation to provide libraries under the 1964 Library Act.
(Taken from BCC Final report on Budget Consultation 2014+. 29th January 2014. CSK Strategies Ltd) (1)
The purpose of a Budget consultation “serves two distinct purposes:
first, it provides the local authority with the information to enable it to determine the impact of its proposed decisions. So it provides the basis for the authority to take a reasoned and rational decision;
secondly, beyond being merely a fact-finding exercise, it enables the consultees to influence the decision-making process.’ (2)
In assessing the Council’s budget proposals to close four community libraries and to cut the budget for library services in Birmingham by £2.3m we are entitled to ask how have the views of the people of Birmingham been taken into account by the Council?
It appears the Council may have a legal duty to consult but may be not to listen.
(1) Which can be accessed here: http://birmingham.gov.uk/budgetviews
(2) The keys to consultation http://www.localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7887%3Athe-keys-to-consultation&catid=59%3Agovernance-a-risk-articles&Itemid=27