Cllr Kennedy and the opening hours of Balsall Heath library
Readers of my blog will have seen my previous posting about the new opening hours of Kings Heath Library being increased from 39hours to 40hours per week. This decision is part of the Forward Operating Model (FOM) for community libraries which seeks to maintain our libraries whilst dealing with the financial squeeze on Council funds.
My previous blog entry can be seen at http://martinmullaney.blogspot.com/2012/02/opening-hours-of-kings-heath-library-to.html
As explained in that blog entry, Kings Heath, Sparkhill and Hall Green will be maintained at 40hours opening per week, whilst Balsall Heath Library will be reduced to 26hours.
In total 23 libraries will have their opening hours reduced to 26hours per week. Already, I know of two Wards in the city who are setting aside £10k of their community chest to increase their local library opening hours by an additional 8 hours per week.
In Balsall Heath a political row has now opened up, as, quite rightly, the users of Balsall Heath Library are not happy with the reduction in their opening hours.
Councillor Tony Kennedy (Labour Party) who is one of the three Ward Councillors for Sparkbrook Ward in which Balsall Heath Library resides and the Constituency Chair, decided the new opening hours for Balsall Heath Library. However, it appears that he now taken the stance of “I didn’t agree to these hours”.
Just to go back a few steps and explain the process for the selection for which libraries opened with which hours. The selection of the hours was decided at bi-monthly Chairs of Constituency meetings. In Birmingham, the day-to-day operation of community libraries is managed by the 10 constituencies. So in the case of Kings Heath, Balsall Heath, Sparkhill and Hall Green Libraries, these are all managed by Hall Green constituency. Hall Green constituency has a majority of Labour Councillors so it is run by the Labour Party.
The bi-monthly Chairs of Constituency meetings are not public meetings. All ten constituency Chairs attend the meeting with Councillor Anne Underwood of Sutton Coldfield constituency being the Chairman of the Constituency Chairs. At these meetings, the constituencies discuss issues that affect all the constituencies.
The future of Birmingham community libraries was discussed over a number of Chairs of Constituency meetings: 15th September; 20th October; 1st December.
It was at the 1st December meeting that all the Constituency Chairs agreed to the new opening hours for the libraries. The minutes show that Councillor Kennedy was present for the discussion on libraries at both the 20th October and 1st December meetings.
So far, so good – the minutes show that Councillor Tony Kennedy, Chair of Hall Green constituency was at the 1st December meeting to finally agree the new opening hours for Balsall Heath Library.
So what is Councillor Tony Kennedy saying about all this? Well the only public statement we have from him, is a response through Barnard Hobbit on the Facebook group “Moseley Road preservation group” – see https://www.facebook.com/groups/29538522486/ where Barnard says the following:
I have been contacted directly from Tony Kennedy Sparkbrook Councillor and chair of Sparkbrook Constituency.
Below is what he told me in that conversation
He states that as the "Chairs of Constituency Meeting" is not a decision making body no voting takes place and that items are only Noted, he also says he was only at the start of that meeting as he had to leave to go to the Sparkbrook Ward Committee Meeting that was on the same evening.
He left before the item on Libraries had been discussed but he had made it clear before leaving that he opposed the proposed cuts as outlined in the documents from the Executive and a better way should be found to make savings other than the method used in this formula.
He deputes that he ever agreed to any of these proposals.
To be fair to Councillor Kennedy, we have to take the word of Barnard Hobbit that the above statement is a correct recollection.
If this is a correct recollection, then an examination of the minutes and a check on the dates of Sparkbrook Ward Committee completely disputes the above version of events.
The Sparkbrook Ward Committee did not occur on 15th September, 20th October or 1st December. The minutes clearly show Councillor Kennedy contributing to the discussion on libraries at the 20th October and 1st December meeting. The minutes do not show him at any point disagreeing with the proposed new opening times and finally the minutes for 1st December meeting show all Constituency Chairs agreeing to the proposed new opening hours.
It would be good if Councillor Kennedy made a public announcement accepting that he made the decision to reduce the hours of Balsall Heath Library and that he, along with the two other Labour Councillors for Sparkbrook Ward, was now going to set aside £10k of Community Chest to increase their library opening hours.