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Birmingham libraries should be 're-imagined' to survive

New city council leader offers stark warning over the future of city's library service if it is to survive further trimming of local government budgets

Library of Birmingham has endured a turbulent year(Image: RIBA/PA Wire)

Birmingham's council leader has warned the library service will need to be "re-imagined" if it is to survive the next few rounds of local government spending cuts.

Coun John Clancy was challenged over the authority's handling of cuts to the Library of Birmingham which saw its opening hours slashed and about half the staff made redundant.

He was speaking at the public meeting of the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel - the Government-appointed expert group overseeing improvement of the inner workings of the city council.

The panel invited members of the public to quiz the new Labour council leader, chief executive Mark Rogers and other leading councillors on progress made a year after the Kerslake report found deep rooted problems at the city council.

The Friends of the Library of Birmingham group and Birmingham Against The Cuts both called on the council leadership to stand up to the Government over the funding cuts.

But councillor Clancy, who has been leader for just two weeks, responded that, under the partnership deal with the Brasshouse Language Centre, the Library of Birmingham would now have longer opening hours next year.

He said: "We have made some progress in relation to its opening hours. The Library of Birmingham is a real headache. We have to look at it as an asset.

"If we can drive down the spending on the library, then we will have more to spend in local libraries."

But he warned that, even then, as a result of the cuts local libraries would have to "re-imagine themselves" and their spaces and facilities used in different ways.

"I have to realistic, there is a vision for this city but a realistic one," he added.

The meeting also saw a Sutton Coldfield grandmother break down in tears as she spoke of her frustration at being blanked, stonewalled and ignored by social workers dealing with a family case.

The gran wept as she explained social workers had missed appointments and failed to tell her as she waited indoors for them to arrive.

She said people dealing with cases frequently went off sick, meaning there was no continuity of service and staff did not return calls.

Even when she wrote a letter of complaint to the former council leader Sir Albert Bore, she did not even get a reply, the woman told the meeting.

She said: "I did not get a response. Staff were constantly going off sick. Social workers did not get back to me. Management were totally incompetent. The leader did not get back."

Coun Clancy pledged to investigate the issue.

"Some individual officers don't give the level of respect to the citizens that pay their wages," he added.

The leaders were also quizzed over changing attitudes to working with outside partners to provide public services.

Coun Clancy said that, as well as working more closely with the NHS to save £90 million over the next four years from the city's adult social care budget, he was getting out of the Council House and talking to organisations across the city.

"I would be disappointed if we haven't got some big partnership programmes under way before the end of March," he told the panel.

Coun Clancy made all the right noises and was backed by both his deputy Ian Ward, who had been a rival for the council leadership last month, and opposition Conservative and Lib Dem leaders Robert Alden and Paul Tilsley.

The Independent Improvement Panel will be reporting to Local Government Secretary Greg Clark next month on progress made by the authority but it has been appointed to stay in Birmingham at least until March.

Panel chairman John Crabtree finished the meeting saying he hoped the council would show it had turned the corner and the panel would be "redundant as quickly as possible" in the new year.

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