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Library hit by council budget cuts

Birmingham City Council has announced plans to axe more than 1,000 jobs and reduce opening hours at its flagship £189 million library.

Details of the tough budget decisions facing the local authority came on the day 17-year-old education rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai - who only formally opened the library last year - was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In September 2013, Malala, who survived being shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban, addressed a crowd of well-wishers outside the landmark Library of Birmingham, praising the building as a centre of knowledge, saying "pens and books are the weapons that defeat terrorism".

However, council bosses said today that up to 100 posts would now have to go at the library as part of plans to cut the authority's spending.

The library's weekly opening hours will also be slashed from 73 to 40, in April next year.

Unveiling the Labour-run authority's consultation on its 2015 budget, council leader Sir Albert Bore said the authority needed to make annual savings of £117 million next year.

He detailed how about 100 of the library's 188 staff would lose their jobs, while business, learning, music and archive services will cease, other than counter transactions, if external funding cannot be identified.

The Library of Birmingham houses one of the world's largest Shakespeare-related collections and was shortlisted for this year's Riba Stirling Prize for architecture.

The council's 133-page "White Paper", outlining its budget proposals, also contained plans to withdraw subsidies from community events and festivals, including the city's St Patrick's Day parade.

Live monitoring of CCTV footage from hundreds of council-run cameras around the city would also cease except in emergencies, although images would still be recorded.

Commenting on the plans, Sir Albert said the Library of Birmingham's debt repayments stood at £1 million a month and the authority was undergoing "profound change" in the face of Government funding cuts.

Funding reductions meant the council had already cut to the bone and was now "scraping away" at the bones themselves, Sir Albert claimed, adding: "This is the consequence of (Government) cuts.

"The Government's approach to distributing the cuts means that those authorities with the greatest levels of need are facing the largest percentage cuts.

"Protecting the most vulnerable of our citizens, in particular children, is our top priority and we intend to invest a further £19.9 million in child protection services from next year.

"Whatever our longer term plans, we must by law balance the books. So we have also found it necessary to propose some other reductions in services, and discontinuation of services, which we would not have considered if the cuts had been less steep."

The Library of Birmingham has yearly running costs of around £10 million, as well as annual debt payments of £12 million.

Penny Holbrook, Birmingham Council's Cabinet member for skills, learning and culture, said: "It is with a heavy heart that we go out to consultation on budget cuts for the Library of Birmingham, that could impact on opening hours, staffing numbers and the variety of services offered.

"We are proud of the building and the warm welcome it has received locally, nationally and internationally since opening in September 2013.

"However, the financial position of the library leaves us with no other feasible option but to put forward these proposals.

"It is important the public understand the pressures we face from the costs of building the library."

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