Libraries at risk as council seeks to make more cuts

June 22 2017

BISHOPSTON and Redland libraries could be under threat of closure under the latest proposals by Bristol City Council to save £4.7 million over the next three years.

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BISHOPSTON and Redland libraries could be under threat of closure under the latest proposals by Bristol City Council to save £4.7 million over the next three years.

 The changes, which are all subject to public consultation, could see most of the city’s libraries close, along with the majority of public toilets, while adult social care will be cut along with half of school crossing patrols.

The consultation period runs until September 5, but mayor Marvin Rees made it clear, as he launched the consultation on June 13, that the savings had to be made.

“We still have to balance our budget, and we are working under a national government that is committed to austerity,” Mr Rees said.

 Also part of the consultation are the neighbourhood partnerships – the local meetings which brought residents together with the police, the council and other bodies.

There are plans to replace these with a much cheaper system of local meetings, with the option of distributing some funds towards local causes.

 Mr Rees held out little immediate hope for Bristol to escape the cuts, despite the hung parliament delivered by June 8’s General Election – a result widely seen as a vote against austerity.

Mr Rees said that despite the need for savings, he still wanted a genuine consultation.

“We want to enter into a conversation with Bristol about how we do this. These are initial proposals. They are there for people to review, and to feed back to us on.

“But we are really clear that we do have to balance this budget. It means that if we don’t make a saving in one area, it means we do have to make a saving in another area.

“For every area that’s impacted, there will be a very strong case for why that service is in place. We recognise that, but we do have to have people join with us in making these very difficult decisions.”

There are currently 27 libraries across the city, including the two in the Bishopston Voice area on Gloucester Road and Whiteladies Road. Among the proposals is for 17 of these to close altogether. While Central Library would remain open seven days a week for 54 hours, three Area libraries (one for North West, one for East and one for South) could open Monday to Saturday, staffed at all times, for 47 hours a week. Two Local libraries in each area could then open for 22.5 hours a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Further cost-saving options include card access at certain times when the libraries are unstaffed, with supervision by CCTV only. It is thought £300,000 could be saved in the first year, with savings of up to £1.2m a year by 2020. 

 

Crossing patrols

 

School crossing patrols are also likely to be hit hard under the new proposals. Where there are currently 80 crossing patrols at 56 schools, this figure is likely to be halved to just 37 patrols at 27 schools. The changes are expected to save £90,000 in the current year, with ongoing savings of £65,000 in 2018-19.

The cuts are proposed according to a national benchmark of need called PV Squared, which counts numbers of pedestrians and vehicles. Accidents at the site are also taken into account. But to make the savings, not every school that meets the PV Squared threshold will keep its patrol.

It is unknown how schools in the Bishopston, Redland or Cotham areas will be affected, but mayor Marvin Rees has acknowledged that many parents and teachers are likely to react in anger if their schools are affected.

Adult day services will fail to emerge unscathed as cuts are needed here of £1.2 million by 2020. The Community Links centres that care for 130 people with complex needs will be axed, leaving three drop-in centres for 120 people with learning difficulties who live in the community. The council minibus service which brings people to the centres will also cease, as families and carers will be encouraged to drop people off themselves. The proposed end of council care for people with complex learning disabilities and severe dementia is not “passing the buck”, the council insists. Instead, it is recognition that other bodies might be able to provide the service more cheaply. 

Michelle Farmer, the council’s service director for early intervention and targeted support, said: “We will assess individual need and we will commission the support that they need. The question is, does it need to be the council being the provider, because we have a market of other people.”

 

Toilets

 

Far from spending a penny, the council is seeking to save in the region of £400,000 a year by closing a number of public toilets. There are 36 public toilets and urinals, including those in parks. The plan is to close all 18 public toilets and urinals on streets, while the other 18 toilets in parks remain open – for now.The council admits it has no idea how many people this will affect, but that it simply cannot afford to upgrade the toilets it operates now. The annual toilet budget will drop to just £36,000 a year, and this money will be spent making people aware of other toilets they can use. A Business/Community Toilet scheme could provide cleaner, safer toilets in shops, cafés, pubs, some public 

 

buildings and some voluntary sector buildings, and the council would encourage businesses and others to offer their toilets for free use by the public without the need to buy anything, possibly with the use of small grants.

Lastly, Neighbourhood Partnerships will become a thing of the past. There were 14 of these meeting four times a year, this has already ceased. Each of the city’s 34 wards also had a neighbourhood forum. These meetings brought residents together with their councillors, council officials, police and others to discuss local issues like crime, waste collections and parks, but cutting them has already saved £500,000.

The plan is to replace this system with ‘community meetings’ – at least two in each ward or group of wards every year. With a minimal budget of just £14,000, community groups will have to organise their own meetings. The community projects budget will be set at £275,000 to fund planting, group activities, etc, with funds firmly weighted towards more deprived areas. These proposals will bring a further £500,000 of savings by April 2019.

Councillor Asher Craig, cabinet member for communities and deputy mayor, said local government is being run according to an antiquated model. “This is an opportunity to talk to the people of Bristol about how we can do things differently, much more efficiently, and which meets the needs of people today and not how we did things 40 to 50 years ago.

“There are some harsh prospects here but in many cases we’re supporting outdated, expensive ways of doing things which aren’t really suitable anymore. So whilst there’s definitely a big challenge and many hard choices, there is also a chance to work together on new ways of doing things.”

 

Scrutiny

 

Cotham Lib Dem councillor Anthony Negus said these cuts “would seriously affect every citizen of Bristol now and until they are reversed”. As chair of the Neighbourhood Scrutiny Commission he has called an informal meeting of members to consider their response. 

“The total closure of 17 libraries with six running for a few hours a week and only four still offering a library service appears to be an unnecessarily hard solution,” he said. “Greater flexibility, use of volunteers and an alternative non-municipal system such as mutualisation have delivered better solutions with other authorities but these are not being offered for consultation.  This last-minute proposal to close 17 library buildings was not presented for scrutiny by councillors, despite requests.  This consultation will now not be about a range of options for coping with austerity but instead presents cherry-picked preferences.” 

“Citizens should be entitled to comment,” he added. “And in these tough times all helpful suggestions should be actively considered.”

 Bishopston’s Green councillor, Eleanor Combley – who is Leader of the Green Group on Bristol City Council – also urged as many people as possible to get involved and have their say in response to the council’s Your Neighbourhood consultation.

“The changes proposed are huge, and will affect many people across the city, and it is important that you let the administration know if you are one of them,” she said.

“As Greens we are passionate about quality of life, and the areas being cut here – support for adults with disabilities, school crossing patrols, libraries, public toilets, and local democracy through the Neighbourhood Partnerships – all have a big impact on people’s quality of life."