Newcastle feels the chill wind that may soon blow Northern Ireland’s way?

Where I live, Newcastle Upon Tyne, there are plans afoot to cull 10 of the 18 libraries. Given that it is the young and elderly who disproportionately depend on them, this is no time to cut such a vital community service.

Libraries help create a sense of community; the public use them if it’s for getting books out to read or for job hunting on the computers provided. Ironically Newcastle is a Labour council.

It’s leader, Nick Forbes, has proven a great pioneer of austerity. He bravely decided to shut half the city’s libraries, close two respite centres for disabled people and slashed every last penny of Council funding to the city’s arts institutes.

He claims he had to do it, because the Government had reduced the council’s funding (even though the city still gets more per household than most areas) and he needed to protect services for vulnerable people.

Labour council had originally proposed a 100% cut to its support for city arts and cultural organisations, cutting its grants to museums by 50% and libraries by 60%.

It has announced an annual fund of £600,000 to support the sector which meant the cuts would be more like 50 per cent, rather than 100 per cent.

Great news. Maybe they can tell us how they did it?

Now, Harriet Harman has halted the plans of the council to slash the art budget by 100% by jumping in.

They include; closing the city pool and relocating users to nearby facilities, keeping the care centres Cheviot View and Castledene open for at least 12 months, and retaining the City Hall.

Five libraries (including Dinnington and Denton Burn), however, remain under threat of closure unless community groups or organisations take them over.

With jobs at risk, this could rise drastically if the country slips back into recession.  We’ve already seen nearby Durham and Northumberland council having agreed the first budget cuts in a serious of cuts.

Some of us wondered though – did he really need to cut 100 per cent of the arts funding and close the libraries? Were the numbers more flexible than he suggested?

Forbes was amazed at our cynicism. Yes, he assured us, such drastic cuts were absolutely necessary. With the budget happening in the next few weeks lets see what the faint is of Newcastle.

I am keenly interested in the way that the first world interacts with the second and third worlds particularly with respect to globalisation, poverty and child labour. I want to see fundamental changes in the relationship and believe that benefits for all can be brought about by international, national or local political processes and engagement – building local capacity and understanding in both the first and third worlds.

I needed to see how the relationship worked in practice so went to Costa Rica to live in a small village and teach local people, child and adults, English. Working in English and rudimentary Spanish improved my confidence and understanding particular as far as the latter was concerned of the local people’s daily existence.

Returning to the UK I knew I wanted to develop my academic understanding of people and local and international politics. My degrees have done this as have my experiences of local practical politics. My volunteering has kept me rooted in the reality of “child need” across the world. I want to participate to make a difference.

  • Professor Yattle

    This is a little over-wrought. You need to be realistic about libraries: they are technically obsolete, at least for their supposed main function. Their real function now is as de facto ‘community centres’ for the middle class. Perhaps a little more honesty on that would help to justify the continued expenditure. After all, it’s the middle class that pay all the taxes.

  • Alanbrooke

    Since neither NE England nor NI earn enough money to pay for their citzens standard of living it’s sort of inevitable that income and expenditure will have to realign. The rest of Europe is faced with the same dilemna.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    10 Belfast libraries were closed two years ago as part of a ‘strategic review’, followed soon after by a further 10 library closures around the rest of the six counties. Our politicians voted in favour of this.

  • Tell me, was there a public consultation element to the story?

    We at have been following library reconfigurations over recent months – lots of ‘less than ideal’ practice taking place, sometimes ending up in expensive and inconclusive Judicial Reviews…

  • George

    Professor Yattle,
    Their real function now is as de facto ‘community centres’ for the middle class.

    I would say it’s the exact opposite (in Dublin anyhow). If you go into the main public library in Dublin’s Ilac centre it is full of poor immigrants and the working class using internet facilities. printing and books that they would otherwise not have access to. Not a middle class punter in sight.

    PS: when is the last time you saw a member of the middle class in a community centre?

  • The Raven

    Professor Yattle, my journeys take me to offices very near a market town library. I am constantly surprised by the breadth and numbers of people using it. Reading clubs flourish. I’ve seen school visits nearly every time I’m there. Books are borrowed. Kids study.

    It’s a sweeping statement to make, but you’d need to have some back-up to it. I concur with what George says; and to where I refer is not within 100 miles of Dublin. Just because *you* don’t happen to use them…

    It’s always the easy targets which get hit first. Perhaps if there were less daily hypochondriacs bunging up GP surgeries, less Saturday night brawl victims cluttering A&E, the MoD wasn’t overstocking on raw materials and consumables, retired teachers weren’t brought in endlessly as subs, and so on and so on, and so on…

    The political classes don’t really appreciate the working classes getting educated, now do they?

  • Red Lion

    Spot on George, libraries in Belfast seem to be well used by immigrant communities in particular the internet facilities. A dander round Belfast Central library would confirm this, though there are also plenty of born and bred Belfast people around. Its a similar story at the Arches library in East Belfast, which also seems to have a healthy number of kids using it.

    When I lived in London I found libraries in poorer boroughs to be well used resources. Camden library was always busy and I suspect that the poor and the homeless used it to keep warm during the day in winter. The same could be said of Haringey library where i remember lots of immigrant communities using valuable resources in their own languages. However up at more affluent Golders Green library I sat in their all day once waiting on a bus and the human traffic was very slight.

    Perhaps there is an argument for expanding or maintaining public libraries in poorer communities, and reducing or making savings in the more affluent areas?? Robbing poorer boroughs of a such a valuable community resources will only reduce social cohesion and further alienate.

    Thanks for writing, rach, good food for thought from Tyneside.

  • DPM84

    Purely anecdotal here, but I would have had cause to be in a number of libraries with excellent facilities in working class areas in the Greater Belfast area at different times of the day and throughout the year.

    They were nearly always deserted. If they are not used well you cannot expect them to stay open, there are alternatives.

  • rach

    This was my first blog and one that is close to me
    I remember going to the local library and reading books and deciding what five i would take home each week

    Libraries are a source of education and also one of community

  • Red Lion

    I remember reading fairly recently that a library somewhere in England that was due for closure was taken over by volunteers completely. I think they got a lot of book donations from the local community.

    I can see running a library on completely voluntary lines to be a goer, if alternate models are required to be considered. Not nice on the redundant staff, but at least the library would stay open.