Conservative Leader Councillor Mark Weston has attacked the Mayor’s plan to radically cut the number of branch libraries in the city.
Bristol currently has 27 sites but the future of many of these was thrown into doubt earlier this year when it was proposed to reduce the amount of existing library buildings and redesign the Service in order to save £1.4 million.
At the budget-fixing meeting in February, Conservatives moved an amendment - defeated by Labour councillors – which would have protected this year’s funding reduction in libraries (£300k) by spending less on the Council’s PR machine and getting rid of its Brussels Office.
Now, the Council has announced the beginning of a new twelve-week public consultation entitled ‘Your Neighbourhood: Consultation on changes to local services’, which includes libraries amongst other controversial budget-saving measures like axing school crossing patrols and closing street toilets.
Under a new library service, the city is divided into three geographical sectors (North West; East; and South) with each containing one Area Library and two local offshoots. Including the Central Library, this will leave only ten council-run libraries.
Cllr Weston (Con, Henbury & Brentry) said: “The proposals relating to the city’s libraries are devastating. If implemented in full, they would see the closure of most of the branch network.
“This act will have a terrible impact on library-users and those of us who believe these branches play a vital role and function as community hubs in today’s society.
“Labour seem to have entirely ruled out keeping the sites open through the use of supervised volunteers. We should be looking at redesigning the service, not decimating it.
“I find such an approach baffling as this model has been used very successfully in other parts of the country such as Buckinghamshire and even nearby BANES.
“The Mayor's cull will hurt areas – like Westbury-on-Trym – whose communities are very supportive of their local library.
“Equally, the loss of Shirehampton Library would be a terrible blow to an already disadvantaged part of the city.
“In each of the three options laid out before us, the public is being asked to make an almost impossible choice between which of their local libraries they want to see lost.
“Frankly, I am shocked at the lack of imagination contained in these proposals, which senior officers have been working on since the implementation of the last review in April 2016.
“Conservative Members will be fully engaged in this latest consultation and shall be encouraging local people to make their feelings known about this disgraceful dismantling of a much-loved, important and still relevant public institution.”