Library of Birmingham financial black hole

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The new Library of Birmingham is facing short term financial difficulties and the prospect of budget cuts in 2015-16. A report to the Council’s Cabinet October meeting identified a funding shortfall of £700k by the end of this financial year.

The LoB Development Trust is failing to meet its target for raising funds for charitable and commercial sources to support the Libraries budget. This years funding target for the Trust was £1,075m. There are a further unanticipated £300k in the utility costs of running the LoB.

Birmingham’s Libraries are also to be the subject of further cuts and savings in 2015-16 as the City Council seeks to cut £150m from its overall budget. The Council published its Green Paper Responding to the challenge, looking to the future at the end of October, which identifies its priorities and the service areas where cuts will be made.

A further service review of the future operation of the Library of Birmingham was announced which will report before the proposed Council budget is published this December. This review is charged with identifying cuts and savings in the Library of Birmingham and its relationship with community libraries.

Cuts of over £2m were made to Birmingham’s library service this financial year and included proposals to close four Community Libraries. Successful local campaigns have been mounted during 2014 which have staved off the proposed closure of Spring Hill and West Heath Libraries.

Major cuts were also made to community outreach services provided by the LoB in 2014, the Mobile Library Service reduced the number of stops it has made by by one third and the Library Service at Home saw 400 fewer visits to people in their homes.

Campaigners from the Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham have questioned the Council’s original budget saving of £1.35m set for the LoB for 2014-15. A spokesperson for the Libraries campaign said ‘ the budget was agreed without knowing the actual running costs of the new Library or the fundraising potential of the Development Trust. This figure was a ‘leap of faith’ when the Council set the budget in February and can now be seen as an error of judgement.

We would be concerned that any shortfall in funds raised is likely to be met by direct cuts to library services. This saving figure is carried over for the next three years and is a potential black hole which threatens the future sustainability of the LoB. The Council needs to publish its review of the potential for fundraising and the costs of running the LoB.’

The LoB Development Trust was set up as a charitable body to draw in funding for the Library which would not be directly available to the Council. When Library campaigners meet with Cllr Ward, Deputy leader of the Council, in August 2013 he conceded that it was open to question as to how successful the ‘great and the good’ would be in attracting new funding as there were a lot of similar bodies fishing in the same funding pond.

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