Don’t mess with our library

Seems the Friends of Bath Library are ‘angry and disappointed’ that B&NES – they argue – seems to have ‘u-turned’ on their promise to protect library services.

That’s according to a press release l have received from this group – an organisation formed in 2019 to protect Bath Central Library at the Podium as an Asset of Community Value.

But, says the release:

‘The Council are planning to move several services from the One Stop Shop on Manvers Street to Bath Central Library without either the appropriate planning permission or any public consolation. 

The Council seeking to cut £126k a year from B&NES library budget over the next two years. 

The Council have backtracked on their promises to invest in and refurbish Bath Central Library.

Bath Central Library

The release explains that ‘five years ago Bath residents protested in their thousands to stop Bath’s Central Library being downsized and relocated to Lewis House and then further protested to prevent the relocation of One Stop Shop services into Bath’s Central Library.

The case was made clearly then by residents and backed by Liberal Democrat councillors: Bath deserves an exemplary and stand-alone city library. Public consolation also revealed that the public were not supportive of council services being relocated into the library. 

It has only recently come to the attention of Friends of Bath Library that Bath&NES council intends to begin to move council services from the One Stop Shop at Lewis House into the library as they seek to cut £126k from the library budget over the next two years. There was no public consultation on this change to our library services, and residents had to ask several times for a meeting to seek clarity on this matter. This all happened in the past two weeks.’

But say the Friends:

“We want to help the administration keep its promises. The Liberal Democrats were so vocal about protecting our libraries during the run up to the last election and were as adamant as we were that merging Bath Central Library with the council’s One Stop Shop was a nonstarter. So we have been surprised and disappointed that they seem to be u-turning on this and it feels a bit like Groundhog Day to be having the same debate.” 

Gill Kirk, member of Friends of Bath Library added:

“DCMS guidance is crystal clear that prior to any co-location of council services in the library; the public should be consulted ‘at an early and formative stage in the process.’ This simply has not happened in this case. Signage has already gone up in Bath Central Library reflecting the space’s new focus on council services and positions for customer service assistants to work in the library have already been advertised.” 

Mary English, a member of Friends of Bath Library said:

“We would like to know why has the Council has disregarded legal advice provided by Save Bath Library in 2018 (which the Liberal Democrats then agreed with and supported) which stated that putting One Stop Shop services into the Central Library would necessitate planning permission for a change of use?”

Dionne Pemberton, a member of Friends of Bath Library commented:

“We understand the pressures on local councils to manage reduced budgets. But public libraries are not only hugely important and inspiring community spaces, they are also incredible value for money, costing Bath and North Somerset residents, per head, just a few pounds a year. In times of austerity they are a front-line service that becomes even more key to our most vulnerable residents. We should be investing in libraries not depleting them.”

Vishaka Robinson, member of Friends of Bath Library concluded:

“Now is not the time to be reducing library services especially in our purpose-built very popular public library in The Podium. What we should be doing is: investing in stock after years of cutbacks, more promotion of hireable spaces, increased provision for growing numbers of housebound, but still, very keen, readers, alongside recruiting dedicated library-oriented staff. These in my view, are just some of the areas needing more investment, and we certainly should not be compromising by moving services provided by the well-located One Stop Shop into the library. Libraries are as crucial and relevant today as much as ever and provide long-term benefit for culture and for peoples’ well-being. Andy Halliday, Former manager Bath Central Library and member of Friends of Bath Library

Bath Central Library

I approached B&NES for comment and was given the following:

Councillor Dine Romero, cabinet member for Children and Young People, Communities and Culture, said: “We are wholly committed to a flourishing library service and to a thriving Bath Central Library. 
“While the council’s budget proposals include a reduction in customer services spending of £125,000 over the next two years, we’ll deliver this through efficiencies and this will not have a negative impact on library provision at Bath Central Library. 

“In fact, we’re improving the library. We’ve installed new lighting and laid new carpet and a fuller refurbishment will take place in 2022/23. We are considering some additional services to residents from the library, where this makes sense and complements the core library provision. The advice we’ve received indicates that the proposals are not a material change to library use and would therefore not require planning consent. 

“We really want to work with the Friends of Bath Library on improvements. We’ll also be undertaking a user survey soon to find out people’s views.”