July 2018: Your Local MP

June 29 2018

Libraries are so important as hubs for communities

IT IS great news that the Mayor, Marvin Rees, and his deputy, Asher Craig, have announced that they have managed to secure funding to save all of Bristol’s libraries. Libraries are such an important part of our local communities. A good library is much more than just a place where you can borrow books. They provide an invaluable educational resource for children and young people, inspiring them to read from an early age. They can be important social spaces hosting a range of activities from playgroups to councillor surgeries. For people who don’t own a computer. A local library is empowering, giving free internet access where they can read emails or apply for jobs.

No one wanted any library to close. But the council faced a near-impossible financial situation, with central Government slashing its funding by 40 per cent over recent years, compounded by the financial mismanagement of George Ferguson’s administration. Simply setting a legal budget was a challenge for the Council and every service that wasn’t legally required was at risk.

Given this financial pressure, our Mayor and his council had no option but to explore a number of options for making savings. But this was coupled with intensive work on trying to find alternatives solutions, which would keep the libraries open: working with local community groups, exploring new sources of funding, and being open to all suggestions. And, as part of this, looking at how we could improve and expand library services, so that our libraries become true community hubs, equipped for the digital age.

Local councillors and I have worked closely with community groups during this process, and there has been a real willingness to engage and to work together to support our libraries. I’ve been particularly touched by the letters I’ve seen from local children, telling us how much their library means to them.

Marvin and Asher have always been ready to listen to me when I’ve called up with yet another proposal, and I know they’ve been working flat out on this issue. It’s a credit to Marvin and colleagues, including his other deputy Mayor, Craig Cheney who has the finance brief, that their political will and astute financial management means that they are now able to confirm that Bristol’s libraries have been saved.

The work will continue on some of the suggestions put forward during this process, so that we can improve library services across east Bristol and broaden the role of libraries as community hubs. I will also continue arguing in Westminster for an end to austerity, and for investment in local government, which delivers so many of our essential public services.