A last-minute reprieve for the Library of Birmingham archives service – under threat from council cuts – has been welcomed by the photographer who led the fight to save it.
Paul Hill was among a group of the Midlands’ most influential photographers who campaigned against savage cuts to the landmark Library of Birmingham.
But this week the council’s Labour leadership announced the archive services would be the main beneficiary after it agreed to put £200,000 more than it had earlier indicated back into the Library of Birmingham budget.
But it will still press ahead with a £1.3 million cut to the library’s £10 million revenue budget which will see opening hours slashed from 73 to 40 per week and about 90 staff made redundant – despite widespread protests and petitions.
But the council was warned that to downgrade the valued archive service would harm the city’s reputation and its status as a designated national photography collection – as well as put off future donors.
Among those to lobby for protection for the service was a group of prominent nationally recognised photographers who have donated personal archives to Birmingham on the basis they would be looked after, regularly exhibited and made available to the public. They were led by former Birmingham Post photographer Mr Hill, who raised a petition signed by more than 3,000 people.
He said: “This is good news. It is a victory for common sense. There was a good case, we had a lot of support, and someone listened. It means that the jobs of the specialist archive staff, who are people I greatly respect, are safe.”
But he added that there is still widespread disappointment at the rest of the cuts to the library, including its opening hours.
It means that the times when Birmingham’s iconic library will be open are shorter than its counterparts in every other major city, including Liverpool and Manchester.
The cuts in evening and weekend opening times will also have an impact on events like the annual Birmingham Literature Festival , which takes place in the library every autumn.
Festival programmes director Sare Beadle said: “We use the library’s 290-seat theatre space for a multitude of literature and creative writing activities, as well as various other smaller spaces around the building.
“If the reduction in hours and staff means we can’t get in there, or can’t afford to use it if they are forced to raise their prices, it will have an impact on our work.
“Writers who rely on the library as a free place to work and meet will find themselves looking elsewhere, too – we know that anecdotally a lot of people use the open space and café facilities as an office away from home, benefiting from late opening.”
Meanwhile, the Friends of the Library of Birmingham, who staged a protest against the cuts last weekend, said the council was willfully ignoring public opinion over the issue.
Spokesman Jolyon Jones said: “The Labour Group has chosen to ignore the expressed views of the people of Birmingham on this matter. This is undemocratic and unfair.”
He warned the cuts in staff and access to the facility would deny opportunities to many and harm Birmingham’s reputation and that the campaigns would continue.
The council’s cabinet member for culture Penny Holbrook said, following the budget announcement, that hoped for link ups with the British Library and other potential sponsors, backers and funders which would protect library jobs and services, are still at the negotiating stage and not likely to come through in time to make an impact on the 2015/16 budget.