Liberal Democrat councillors are urging Bristol’s Labour Mayor Marvin Rees, to consider their plan to rescue Bristol’s libraries from closure.
Mayor Marvin Rees, who marched against cuts on Saturday, is currently considering responses to his plans for libraries which would see two thirds of libraries permanently closed and opening hours of surviving libraries slashed. The cuts are some of the deepest proposed for any library service in the country.
Liberal Democrats, who oppose the cuts and previously offered financial alternatives, have now come forward with a plan that could save most if not all libraries and still deliver £1 million in savings.
The Liberal Democrat councillors are asking the Mayor to consider establishing a trust or mutual company that could take over the whole library service, bring in private enterprise, grants and sponsorship and work with professional librarians and volunteers. The plan would see savings delivered but not at the expense of branch librarians and would allow the service to create private income streams to offset cuts.
“Library services are under strain as budgets are tightened but a few councils have taken successful steps to secure their libraries for the future” says Lib Dem Councillor Tim Kent who submitted the plan on behalf of the city’s 8 Lib Dem councillors.
“The Mayor has said that he wanted alternative suggestions - well we have provided one. One that will deliver long term savings and protect library services. One that will see at the core a professional library service working with volunteers and private enterprise to deliver library and other services across the city.”
The Liberal Democrats have looked at what Devon, York and Suffolk have done with their library service and through mutualisation of the service into a charitable trust these councils have managed to reduce costs, protect branches and deliver additional income streams to library services.
Within the Lib Dems plan is involving volunteers far more. Statistics from the CIPFA library survey show that Bristol uses volunteers in their libraries far less than other authorities. The Lib Dems propose that a future library service could be led and managed by users, volunteers and staff but mostly staffed by volunteers.
‘’Over the last few weeks hundreds of people have signed our petition to save our local library in Wick Road, from these we have many people willing to regularly donate time to help keep their library open” says Brislington West Cllr Jos Clark.
The Chair of the Scrutiny Commission for Neighbourhoods has strongly called for more work to look at mutualisation or trusts to run Bristol libraries and for support from universities. Liberal Democrats are now officially calling on Mayor Rees to take up the suggestions by Cotham Cllr Anthony Negus.
The Liberal Democrat plan would take 18 months to deliver the new structure for libraries, requiring the Mayor to delay his cuts to the library service for a year. But the new mutual should be able to deliver around £1 million a year in savings to the council’s budget without having to implement a mass closure of branches. Savings would be made through the use of volunteers, reducing costs such as business rates and increasing private income through locating better community and business services at library branches.