No, minister! or, a tale of two libraries.

2 Nov
Out with the old;
West Heath Library and Hawkesley Community Centre 003
In with the new;
West, Heath, Kings Norton and Oddingley 002
Delays and frustrations. Rumours and speculation. The saga of West Heath library continues.
 A Northfield ward committee was told last year that the boarded-up West Heath library was going to be demolished and the new one built on the current site, by February or March of this year. The lead councillor who reported this said ‘don’t quote me on this date exactly’, so perhaps to do so is a little unfair.
 But what is a lot more unfair is that in November of this year, there is still no progress. While the Council was quick to demolish the old one, the years-long wait for a replacement for the decaying pre-fabricated building continues.
 So what is going on behind the scenes? Unlike behind the hoardings guarding the old site, there must be something going on behind the Council House walls. And indeed, there are stories and hints a-plenty.
 The latest is that Council officers are blocking moves to use the money already-earmarked to build the library on the current site, and instead wish to use it to repair the Kings Norton library (with its damaged roof unrepaired for three years now) and then to re-locate the West Heath library into Oddingley Hall, a mile or so away. They are rumoured to have a view of one-library-per-ward, and Northfield has already got one.
 Now, where did this supposed rule of thumb come from? If it was the officers, the question has to be asked – who is running the council, the elected politicians or the civil servants? Sir Humphrey Appleby would give a reassuring smile, but we are less fortunate. And anyway, as Oddingley Hall is in Kings Norton, that would give this ward two libraries.
 Except that it might not. A community centre with a big room full of books is not a library, quite apart from the lack of proper funding and adequate numbers of qualified staff. And to add to the plot, the ward boundaries might be changing, so it could conceivably place the possible ‘library’ in Oddingley back in Northfield again.
 A cynic would be tempted to say that shoe-horning a library into a community centre is a neat way of saving money; financial priorities taking precedent over educational and cultural ones as usual. But remember, the Council has form on this; look what it is trying to do with the Library of Birmingham – shoe-horning the Brasshouse Centre into its first floor.
   As everyone knows, the main plot is the austerity drive. The vicious onslaught on Birmingham City finances by first the coalition government and now the Tory one, is what is driving all of this. It is to the credit of local Tory Councillors that they originally found the money to re-develop West Heath library, but at the same time their party was in power nationally, and slashing the cash needed for such very services.
 Labour councillors in this area might be busting a gut to get what people in the deprived West Heath area need and deserve, but they, alongside all their other Labour colleagues in the Council Chamber, voted for the cuts budget that led to problems like this occurring in the first place.
 And now the finger is apparently being pointed at the Council officers.
  While the elusive buck is passed around, the residents of West Heath, accustomed to having a valuable resource, one that was on their doorstep, and despite its crumbling façade one that provided a bit of joy, learning and culture to their area, sit and wait.
 Is it so difficult to spend the money already allocated to re-build the West Heath library on its current site, to repair the Kings Norton library roof, to have an appropriate number of properly paid and qualified staff, and to have the ability for these libraries to buy a decent selection of new books?
 Is it really so difficult for local citizens to know exactly what is being done with their money and to the service which they have been promised for so many years?
 If anyone can rise above the rumours and say exactly what is going on, the comment box below is available.

Bob Whitehead

West, Heath, Kings Norton and Oddingley 010

Kings Norton library

Oddingley Hall

Oddingley Hall

A view on the Jeremy Corbyn campaign

23 Aug




28 Jul
Here is an open letter from a city sheltered housing tenant to a council support manager about the unbearable effect of budget cuts (or,  from a ‘stakeholder’ to a support manager about the regrettable but necessary effect of ‘budget savings’, to use today’s spin-soaked jargon!)

Support Manager
Support Services for Older People
Birmingham City Council
3rd Floor
1 Lancaster Circus
B2 4RP
20th July 2015
Dear Support Manager,

As a result of cuts to services a support officer only attends Fleetwood House Sheltered Housing Scheme on Mondays and Wednesdays rather than Monday to Friday. I have discovered by chance that there will be no support officer covering the Scheme at all this coming Wednesday (22 July) where I am not aware any written document exists to explain the situation to the service users you surely have a duty of care towards.

I am strongly in favour of support officers being able to take their legal annual leave entitlement but this 22 July absence strongly suggests even more cuts to services may be on their way and that cuts and shortages to remaining support services mean there are clearly not even sufficient support officers to cover the city’s Sheltered Schemes at the current time.

I also understand tenants at Fleetwood House who had their support officer visits on Wednesdays have been asked to switch their visit day to Monday. Furthermore, whilst a support officer may be at Fleetwood House on future Wednesdays I am led to believe this will only be for administration work where they could be called to cover another scheme at any time.

I am a very concerned service user and I seek clarification re the above as people can simply not bear any more cuts to support services. Why is this new Wednesday arrangement being brought in if it is not to pave the way for a further reduction in support officer presence?

I request a reply at your earliest convenience. Thank you.

Yours Sincerely

Sheltered Housing Tenant

Protest against ban on free speech and street life

23 Jun
Busking 001
A singing protest (with amplification) took place in the city centre yesterday evening. It began with a musical procession up New St, and ended with unamplified and amplified singing, poetry and speeches outside of the Council House. Without the use of amplification, only those very close to the performer or speaker could here exactly what was being sung about or broadcast.
And this is the point. All the warm words in the Council consultation document about how it is not an attack on free speech come to nothing in the reality of trying to make the voices of ordinary citizens heard. The very successful protest about the massive attacks on the library service of 13th June would have been far less successful if the words of the poets, writers and speakers had not been amplified.
And don’t forget that this ban will not apply to commercial concerns. The pro-business priorities of the Labour Council are made clear once again.
When the subject was aired on the Adrian Goldberg show not so long ago, the proposal to ban amplification got a complete roasting. So it is important that this view is reflected in the official consultation. It was supposed to end yesterday, but has been extended by a week. Could this be because their consultation is coming up with the wrong answer and more time is needed to marshal more support for the ban, one is tempted to ask?
If you have not added your voice to the consultation yet, please go to 006
Mind you, if they take as much notice of their consultation over this as they did to the consultation over the cuts to the Library of Birmingham, a certain amount of cynicism would be justified.
Nevertheless, please have your say anyway. This attempt to make the city centre an exclusive area for wealthy shoppers, a playground for the kind of people the Council is trying to attract with its support for luxury development, means pushing out ordinary citizens, especially the poor.
‘Social cleansing’ is happening in many cities these days, particularly in London. Don’t let it happen here in Birmingham. 

Bob WhiteheadBusking 008





Save the city libraries and the city center!

14 Jun
Library of birmingham demo and rally 13th June 001
Despite the rain, about one hundred people demonstrated up New Street yesterday afternoon, and about 150 attended the long rally outside of the Council House. Poets, writers and many speakers voiced their opposition to the cultural vandalism of the city council.
Both events were organised by the Friends of the Library of Birmingham, and both were demanding that the recent massive cuts to the Library of Birmingham and the Community Libraries be reversed.
This represents an escalation of the level of campaigning from the static rally outside of the LoB on February 7th. It was necessary as the Council ignored its own consultation over the 2015 budget, which showed massive support for the library service, way above all other areas of service. The council ploughed ahead with the cuts regardless.
What was the response of the Labour-run Council to yesterday’s well-advertised protests?
Firstly, the council house doors were locked, when a simple friendly gesture could have been made to allow the rally to take place inside, away from the rain.
Library of birmingham demo and rally 13th June 003
Secondly, not one Labour Councillor turned up to the rally or demonstration to give support.
When councillors wring their hands and say ‘our hands are tied, there is nothing we can do’, yesterday’s events, and the no-show by any councillors, especially from Labour, spoke volumes.
There is a lot they can do; organise rallies and demonstrations against government cuts, protest and vote against cuts to services in the Council chamber, or at least lead a fight against austerity within the Labour Group.
Yet all we have is silence; the resistance is left to voluntary groups, such as the FoLoB to do all the work instead. And now there is even a proposal from the Labour Council to shut such people up; the intention is to ban amplification by protest groups, entertainers and religious groups in the city centre (but not commercial advertisers of course!)
Is there any further evidence needed that the Labour council has gone over to austerity and the neo-liberal agenda hook, line and sinker?
Are there no Councillors who will break from this in some shape or form? Are they all going to accept that the city centre is only a place for rich shoppers, a playground for those with money, a bleak landscape of concrete, glass and steel, devoid of life, education and culture?

Library of birmingham demo and rally 13th June 004

Owen Jones has just started a debate, “What is the point of the Labour Party?” We could well ask a similar question about the Labour Council. They have meekly lain down in the face of government cuts. Are they now going to do the same in the face of the pro-business Kerslake and West Midlands Combined Authority’s onslaught on services and local democracy?
It would be nice to think otherwise, but it is unlikely many people will be holding their breath. In the absence of any semblance of opposition, it is the city council that should be served with an Anti Social Behaviour Order, not the city center’s street life.
All power to the elbow of the Friends of the Library of Birmingham and similar groups.

Library of birmingham demo and rally 13th June 008

Library of birmingham demo and rally 13th June 007

Demonstrate on June 13th

26 May
Here is the calling note from the Friends of the Library of Birmingham.


Demonstration poster_page_001

Demonstration text_page_001

Demonstrate for the Library of Birmingham (and the wider library service)

19 May
 The Friends of the Library of Birmingham has decided to call a demonstration on Saturday June 13th. It will be to oppose the drastic cuts to the LoB in terms of its opening hours, staff cuts and restrictions on the services it has been offering. It will assemble at the Waterstones book shop at the bottom of New Street at 12 noon and then march up New Street for a rally at the Council House at 1pm.

Lob occupation 016

 The “Friends” group has decided to take this course of action for several reasons.
 Firstly, the consultation exercise over the 2015 Council budget showed massive support for the LoB, far and away more than for any other area of service (50% of all respondents, compared to 29% for adult social services, and a massive 78% rejecting any cut to this one-and-a-half-year-old library). The results of the consultation were ignored and the cuts went through.
 Secondly, the “Friends” are very alarmed, as are the many LoB users, at the results of this year’s cuts;
  • A massive reduction of hours – closed on Sundays, no admission before 11 am in the week, no late nights.
  • No new books to be bought; no business and IT advice; limited access to study space and PCs.
  • No community outreach: no story times for children; no schools events or holiday activities.
  • 90 staff to be made redundant.
  • Limited access to the internationally important City and photography archives and special collections, including the Vanley Burke Archive.
 Thirdly, even greater cuts are planned for next year. The question has to be asked; will the LoB even be viable with another savaging of its budget? Will we be faced with the loss of this major cultural centre (and tourist attraction!) which cost £189 to build? It would be the ultimate absurdity; paying £12 million per year for 40 years to finance a library which no-one could use!
 The Friends of the Library of Birmingham is calling upon all library users, whether from the LoB or community libraries, all trades unionists who wish to oppose the huge job losses, and all concerned citizens, to unite at this demonstration on June 13th.

Bob Whitehead


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