27th February 2014
Ms Lesley Poulton
District Service Integration Head
Ladywood District Office
Summerfield Community Centre
Winson Green Road
Birmingham B18 4EJ
Dear Ms Poulton,
Response to the consultation on the proposed Ladywood District Budget for 2014-15
The proposals relating to the Community library service contained in Ladywood Budget proposals for 2014-15 and 2015-16 include the closure of two local libraries and contribute toward a massive 40% budget cut in library spend over the period 2012-13 to 2015-16. (2012-13 £694,000 actual spend on libraries in Ladywood; 2015-16 £422,000 proposed spend)
They mark a permanent loss of libraries and library resources to a District which is defined by a high level of multiple deprivation including a higher rate of literacy need.(p24) ladywood-draft-1.
Ladywood, one of the most deprived Districts in Birmingham, is facing some of the most significant cuts to community library services compared to Districts such as Edgbaston and Hall Green which are making none. These District proposals bring into question the claim that Council resources should be ‘prioritised to Community Libraries in areas with literacy deficit and greatest deprivation’.
The proposed cuts to library services are also counter to the declared Council policy aim of creating socially inclusive communities as set out in the recent Inclusive communities Green Paper. The effect of the proposed closure of established community libraries and the impact of ever diminishing library resources in Ladywood District will rather lead to:
Decline in Community Life and community engagement
Decrease in Social Capital
Reduction in Well being
These cuts are a false economy and they will adversely affect not just community life but also negatively impact upon individual well being and the economic opportunities of people living in Ladywood.
There is no evidence of any intended mitigation of the effects of these library cuts on those in greatest literacy need and deprivation contained in these proposals.
The focus of our concern is on how the District has consulted upon these budget proposals and we outline our concerns below:
1. Public consultation on Ladywood District Budget proposals
a. The Ladywood District budget proposals for 2014-15 relating to the Community Libraries consist of six sentences within a short three page document. The only rationale presented is the intention to rationalise the District property portfolio as the basis for closing Spring Hill Library and not renewing the lease and closing Aston library.
b. The nature of public consultation was defined by Lord Woolf MR in R v North and East Devon HA ex p Coughlan  EWCA Civ 1871, where he set out three essential features:
to be proper, consultation must be undertaken at a time when proposals are still at a formative stage;
it must include sufficient reasons for particular proposals to allow those consulted to give intelligent consideration and an intelligent response; and
the product must be conscientiously taken into account when the ultimate decision is taken.”
c. The Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham questions the very limited information provided in support of the Ladywood District budget proposal’s, and the cuts to the community library service in particular, and whether the District has provided adequate and sufficient reasons that would enable intelligent consideration and intelligent response by members of the public.
d. To illustrate this point we would ask upon what basis has it been decided to keep open Small Heath library and to close Aston Library? The proposal document doesn’t tell us. How can we comment if we are not provided with the reasons behind these proposals.
2. District proposals in a statutory and Council-wide context
a. The City council has a statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all those who want to use it. It is by no means clear how Ladywood District has exercised that duty in regard to its proposals for Community libraries in the District as part of providing a city wide and comprehensive library service.
b. Further the Ladywood District Committee should demonstrate how it has considered its duty to provide a comprehensive service in both it’s proposals for Ladywood and in the relation of its proposals to those of the other Districts (and Directorate’s) and vice versa.
3. The Public consultation on the BCC Budget 2014-15
a. The City Council has published the summary of the responses to its public consultation on its Budget proposals for 2014-15. It includes the following points in regard to 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…
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.
Support for the New Library was expressed but there was concern that community libraries are suffering.
(Taken from BCC Final report on Budget Consultation 2014+. 29th January 2014. CSK Strategies Ltd)994748Final_Report_on_Budget_2014+_03_02_14__Consultation
b. Our question is how far has Ladywood District Committee considered and been informed by the outcome of this consultation particularly in regard to the message that people do see a central and important role for the Council in ‘place making’ and supporting libraries in maintaining the social fabric?
This is a key message stands in relation to the District proposal’s to close Spring Hill and Aston libraries which are key community places and resources.
4. Inclusive Communities Green Paper methodology
a. The City Council undertook a series of Service Reviews and the Inclusive Communities Green Paper which encompasses the Community Library service was published in the Autumn 2013. It set out a strategic framework for reviewing service priorities in relation to local need by the District Committee’s to ensure some consistency across the city.
b. According to the Green Paper:
District Committees will be asked to follow the criteria and methodology set out in the review to provide recommended priorities for services devolved to District Committees, but within adjusted budget allocations that reflect the need and priority outcomes of each district, within the defined timescales.
Refer to priority outcomes for each service area
Assess current service delivery against priority outcomes and whether the current delivery model is fit-for-purpose (e.g. universal or targeted, building based, outreach or web enabled, etc.)
Redistribute resources to match need (away from historic allocations)
Identify a citywide framework for market subvention (e.g. Sports and Leisure framework) or social market subvention (e.g. co-production through volunteering/community asset transfer)
District Committees undertake appraisal of their services to determine primary, secondary priority and tertiary services
District Committees make recommendations.
The outcomes for the Library service were identified to be:
Improved literacy and learning opportunities
Welfare and employment advice needs addressed
c. We can see no evidence of a systematic application of the proposed Green paper methodology to the Community Library proposals for Ladywood District. This will be considered below in some detail.
d. Given the presence of key members of the Council leadership on the District Committee and that it is a Labour controlled committee we want to know why it has not been consistent in applying the policy of the Council to the District library proposals.
5. Basis of Ladywood budget proposals
a. The Ladywood Budget proposals to close Aston and Spring Hill Library appear under the heading that states ‘the District building portfolio will be rationalised and focus placed on one main multi service hub in each area.’
This seems to be combined with unwritten criteria of rationalising libraries in Ladywood upon basis that all local residents will live within a mile of a library. Any overlapping provision will be regarded as duplication and be the basis of rationalisation. There is no written statement of the adequacy of the criteria of one-mile radius upon which to comment.
b. These Library proposals appear to be resource led and not needs informed and to follow only one of the principles set out in the Inclusive Communities Green Paper.
c. There are important library resources other than the physical buildings, and although these appear in the budget headings no rationale has been provided as to how these other library resources will be re-allocated across the District in future financial years as the basis for public consultation.
d. The starting point of the Green Paper approach should be the identification of priority outcomes for the Community Library service in Ladywood. The priority outcomes for library outcomes in Ladywood are not provided in the Budget consultation papers and do not appear to inform the budget proposals.
e. There is no documentary evidence that the Council has drawn on its own demographic data and/or other information about local needs as the basis to close libraries and cut the resources available in the Community library budget for the District.
f. A further stage in the Green Paper methodology is the appraisal of existing services against the priority outcomes and in regard to local need. From the paucity of the available information we would ask you what assessment or appraisal has taken place of community library services in Ladywood?
g. Additionally without an identification and consideration of need in Ladywood there is a question as to whether the District has fulfilled it’s responsibilities under the Equalities Act in its consideration of these proposals:
The Act requires that every public authority must, in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to “remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by people who share a relevant protected characteristic” where the disadvantage is connected to that characteristic, to the need to “meet the needs of people who share a relevant protected characteristic” where those needs are different from the needs of people who do not share the characteristic, and to the need to “encourage people who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such people is disproportionately low”.
h. An Equality impact assessment of the Ladywood Budget proposals has not been publicly provided as part of the consultation process.
In conclusion, we hold that the District consultation process is fundamentally flawed and District budget process is at variance to the stated policy of the Council as set out in the Inclusive Communities Green Paper. The consultation proposals do not provide adequate and sufficient reasons that would enable intelligent consideration and intelligent response by members of the public.
Our primary objection is that Ladywood District should not be making any cuts to library services having regard to the needs of the people of the District and the stated intention of the Labour Group of protecting the most vulnerable citizens.
We look forward to your reply on these points.
Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham