This morning at Wick Road Library I was pleased to announce our plans to keep all libraries open. Despite the reduction in funding from the Conservative government in Westminster and inheriting a shortfall caused by the former Mayor’s overspend, we have found a way to safeguard funds.
My Cabinet in July will receive a report which recommends that the budget saving of £1.4m be withdrawn, meaning all 27 libraries be retained, and explore further options for community led facilities. I am grateful for the work my Deputy Mayor with responsibility for finance Craig Cheney has done to make the report’s recommendations possible, and the work Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Communities Asher Craig has done with community groups to plan for the future of libraries.
I have listened to the results of the consultation and other public forums and I recognise the concerns people have about losing their library service. Working with councillors and local community campaigners, I am proud that the strong financial management of my administration enabled us to reach this position.
I have always believed in the outcomes libraries contribute to in our communities – literacy, digital inclusion and social contact. This has always been a discussion around the best way to support those outcomes and we know the status quo is not the answer.
The library service has grown over time without a strategic plan of operation and continues to operate an out of date structure. We are now taking a strategic approach to Bristol’s libraries so that we can provide a library service that best meets the needs of the whole city for the 21st century.
With the council’s footprint reducing and with many libraries needing investment, we must adapt to ensure we have a sustainable library service people across the city can enjoy.
I hope local groups can take this opportunity to step forward and work with us to trial new ways of delivering library services. With time, libraries have already adapted: beyond free books and information, libraries are increasingly relied upon as social spaces and sources of digital facilities. By working to keep the libraries open, we will have more time to explore community led options and ensure we consider potential changes carefully and in line with the pace of community support and action. Now is the time for everyone to come forward and make sure we continue to build a library service we can all be proud of.