Library campaigners slam council cuts proposals
Library campaigners and authors have slammed a council’s proposals to make up to £479,000 cuts to public libraries in this year’s budget.
Cardiff Council launched a budget consultation which warned services could be cut and charges increased as the council looked to find £30.5m to balance the books in 2024/25.
Inflation, demand pressures, and expected pay increases for teachers and other public sector workers, mean the council’s budget for delivering day-to-day services like education, social care, refuse collection, parks and libraries is set to cost £56m more next year than it will this year.
Welsh Government’s recently announced 4.1% grant uplift for Cardiff – less than half of what the council received for the current year’s budget – will bring in an additional £25.5m, leaving a budget gap of £30.5m
However, campaigners warn that if drastic cuts to public libraries go ahead, it could lead to library closures in the future.
Proposals include slashing library opening times, closing some libraries on Saturday’s, more unpaid volunteers to discharge roles previously done by paid trained staff and ending provision of physical copies of newspapers and magazines.
Adam Johannes from Cardiff People’s Assembly said: “If Cardiff Council’s proposals of almost half-a-million pounds worth of library cuts go through, our city library service will be devastated.
“Closing any library on a Saturday is catastrophic as it is a family day when children come in to browse and build the library and reading habit that may last a lifetime.
“It’s the classic technique: Opening hours are cut, the service is run down, use falls as residents find their local library is not open when they want and does not have what they want, this is then used as an excuse to close libraries.
“If libraries are invested in, not cut, they remain one of most used, most loved, most popular public services. Any cuts to libraries will be robustly fought.”
In 2018/19 almost around a quarter of Cardiff City’s population borrowed an item from a city library.
Peter Finch, Cardiff writer and poet, best known for the ‘Real Cardiff’ series, and former Chief Executive of Literature Wales says Cardiff’s library services are being targeted.
He said: “Libraries are again in the firing line. Rather than step back from the hanging gardens of Churchill Way, any number of road junction realignments or the vanity projects looming at the soon to be demolished County Hall in the Bay, Cardiff Council are again targeting the library service.
“To save cash we will be offered a rich mix of opening hours reductions, abandonment of Saturday – the busiest day’s service, no more hard copies of newspapers and magazines and, the pièce de résistance, full time professional staff replaced with willing part time volunteers.
“No one physically suffers if you gradually move into a world without books. Screens are ubiquitous. Books on shelves are no longer an absolute necessity. The reading of fiction, of poetry, of the things that make up the heart of our culture can be let drift.
“Reading and the concentration, enlightenment, cultural empowerment and wonder that accompanies it will go the way of neckties, horse transport and open-fire heating.”
Most of the council’s current £804m annual budget – around 70% – goes on paying for schools and social services. Each 1% council tax rise brings in around £1.7m.
Cabinet Member for Finance, Performance and Modernisation at Cardiff Council, Cllr Chris Weaver, said: “The settlement increase we have received from Welsh Government is a huge cut on the previous year, the reduction sees us almost £30m worse off.
“We know Cardiff is not alone in this regard. There is a public sector funding crisis across the UK which is hitting all elements of society. It will mean cuts to services that people rely on and increases in charges at a time when the whole country is facing a cost-of-living crisis.
“We have to balance the books and doing so after a decade of austerity, which saw council services hammered, and then dealing with the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis which followed, means there are some really tough choices ahead. This budget consultation will be the most important one we have ever done.
“Services people rely on and have come to expect will have to change or go, and charges will have to increase if we are to maintain many others. I urge Cardiff residents to take part in this consultation.
“We need you to tell us which services matter to you most. We will do everything we can to protect schools, social care, and frontline services like youth services – but there are difficult choices we face to protect these vital services, and Councils are at the stage where some services could disappear for good.”
Cardiff Council will vote on the budget on Thursday 7 March.
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