15 April 2005

Irelandclick.com

Belvoir Library is set to close

Exclusive
by Victoria McMahon

Despite claims by the South Eastern Board that no decision has been made on the future of Belvoir Library an internal memo leaked to the South Belfast News has confirmed that the service, in the already under-resourced estate, is to be axed as part of widespread cutbacks

According to an internal memo obtained by the SBN, circulated to NIPSA staff involved in discussions with the Board, Belvoir branch is amongst four other libraries named on a list and it was warned, "there may be others."

Tullycarnet, Braniel, Gilnahirk and Dunmurry were the other library branches named in the memo.

Despite receiving a 7 per cent rise in their budget for the forthcoming year from DCAL (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure) the South Eastern Board has estimated a shortfall of £430,000. It is understood the cash will be found by closing the five libraries named.

The memo detailed that following meetings between Nipsa Branch 518 committee reps and senior management of the Board, "It is intended there will be branch closures as part of an internal review undertaken by Library senior management."

As news of the decision spread infuriated Belvoir residents have been meeting to discuss what action can be taken.

"Belvoir is easy pickings," said Brian Dunwoody, Secretary of the area’s Community Association. "The local community will be fighting this tooth and nail. The general impression is very black for the library and we will not be waiting for the Board to make their decision public in June. This is a real blow to the heart of the community here."

Mr Dunwoody said he is calling for face-to-face meetings between the Board and local people to put their views across in the hope of reversing the decision.

"I don’t think they have thought about this decision at all. It’s no use saying for us to go to the nearest library up the road if Belvoir closes because there is no direct transport to it. How can children and pensioners get to it?” he asked.

Beth Porter, Chief Librarian for the South Eastern Board confirmed that despite the increase in the Board’s budget there would be a cash shortfall. She said she could not confirm which libraries would be closing. She confirmed the Board is not able to sustain all 25 libraries on their budget, as £430,000 must be found for stock.

"We [the Board] have nothing on paper. NISPA have drawn their own conclusions on the matter."

She added, "But we can’t sustain everything as it is now."
Ms Porter said the increase in their budget had been ‘wiped out’ by increased staffing costs.

"We need to find about £430,000 for the stock budget. The effect on staff budgets is inevitable and will have some effect on our ability to keep all libraries open," she confirmed. “We are faced with difficult decisions. No matter what way you look at it, it comes back to the number of libraries. We are in a very grave position."

The Nipsa memo reaffirms the situation as it also states "relocation of staff in branches and library headquarters is inevitable".

Belvoir resident Gordon Davis said, "To keep the library opened would cost buttons. The whole estate here uses it. I was there five, 10 minutes ago and it was filled with a lot of pensioners. School kids come in after school and here the story telling it is always bunged with kids."

According to the Belvoir resident the facilities at the library helped him get on to the ‘Bridge to Employment’ programme and he is hopeful for employment in the future. “It would be such a loss," he said.

South Belfast MLA Esmond Birnie said, "It’s a bad decision and I hope it can be reconsidered."

The UUP candidate for Balmoral added, "One in five adults are functionally illiterate in Northern Ireland and that’s just at the moment. Obviously shutting libraries near communities with various degrees of social deprivation is going in the wrong direction.

"One of the strengths of Belvoir Library is that it has a high usage by the people in the area so it seems perverse that they are closing a library in an area that uses and needs its services."

According to the UUP MLA staff at Belvoir library have been warned their positions are under threat.

Journalist:: Staff Reporter

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