Negus: Bristol demands better for libraries

In response to the Council's Libraries Strategy, Bristol Liberal Democrats leader Cllr Anthony Negus has made the following statement:

"Bristol Lib Dems welcome the prospect of a Libraries strategy – but despite the title, this is not what Cabinet approved last week.

Instead, there will be conversations with people interested in each of the present library buildings. We heard variously that libraries are to be community-run, maintained as an overall city-led and paid-staff run service (with some exceptions!) There was the talk of trusts, asset transfers and even commercialisation but too little on what libraries should be for. The University of Bristol believes their £80m investment in a new library will pay dividends. The Lib Dems are proud of the four new libraries we created and the role we have played in Scrutiny and in Council to make the Mayor think again about our library service. But last week it was said that there was no guarantee of money to sustain our 27 libraries until 2020, and there was no vision or leadership for a long-term plan beyond that date. 

"My request for at least a minimum delivery standard across the entire system was not answered and the executive member regularly said that libraries should not be seen as buildings. This flags up the concern that they will go virtual (online). Rather than sustain and improve our delivery of this essential service, existing library buildings will be seen instead as a soft touch for asset-stripping or downgrading to something immediately wanted by a local group rather than needed for the long-term by the wider community. One of the Cabinet has made it clear her preference to demolish her local library and replace it with housing.

"Some will see this as a popular proposal and look good on local leaflets but, to use the Mayor’s term for building an arena in Bristol, this would be a vanity project built over the wreckage of a public offering of long-term skills and learning to the community. As anyone who has listened to the Cabinet webcast will know, my intervention highlighted this known political mission and I stick by it. Reversing Austerity should start with a vision for the future and move on to delivering better opportunities for all. Personal growth is the most valuable kind. 

"There are a large number of community buildings provided over many years as a panacea for deprived areas by previous Labour administrations which are now underused or falling into expensive disrepair. The Lib Dems support much of the current administration’s attempts to build new affordable and Council housing alongside private dwellings by agreements with developers. We are also keen to see bold civic enterprise in better use of redundant city-owned assets alongside those of other public bodies. Active library buildings are a long way down this list. If we want to deliver essential housing then we can do this more effectively and in greater numbers elsewhere.

"Bristol Lib Dems have suggested a vision that sustains its library service to be fit for future benefits. We will look imaginatively to modernise, relocate, co-locate and even to accept revenue-earning features. But our sustainable model will not asset-strip Bristol’s vital resources for short-term headlines. Bristol demands better."

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