Moving a library from a dedicated building to two rooms of a museum offers “opportunities” to develop its work, according to the councillor charged with leading culture in Sunderland.
Cabinet member John Kelly, portfolio holder for safer city and culture on Sunderland City Council, believes bringing together teams through the potential closure of the central library in Fawcett Street and the shift to Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens could be key in expanding what is on offer.
But he and fellow Labour members have stressed no decision has been made about the proposal, which has been put forward to save the department £250,000 a year.
However, claims have also been made no costs will be recouped, and will be “robbing John to pay Louise” with suggestions from Tory councillors the Fawcett Street building will house children’s services, a section overseen by Councillor Louise Farthing.
The discussions came as Tory councillors moved a motion calling on all members to be involved in consultation on the proposal which follows on from the closure of nine branch libraries in the wake of Government cuts three years ago.
Labour members highlighted everyone was welcome to complete a survey on the future of library services, and said councillors were welcome to attend meetings where the matter will be discussed.
The residents who have elected us to represent them would be horrified that such a decision would not be made by councillors deciding with a vote.Councillor Peter Wood
Councillor Peter Wood, leader of the Tory group, said he understood the review was necessary because of the reduction in council budget and fall in lending numbers, noting a reduction in the rate of borrowing by 37% from the central library during the last five years.
However, he later added: “We heard at the economic and scrutiny meeting the decision about moving the central library to the museum was an operational decision and doesn’t need to go to cabinet and doesn’t need to come here before it is approved.
“The residents who have elected us to represent them would be horrified that such a decision would not be made by councillors deciding with a vote.”
Coun Kelly explained the cost per visit to the library is £4, with the expense of lending a book £9.
He said: “Going forward, this will really upgrade the Museum and Winter Garden and library services again.
“There are lots of opportunities I see and our staff, who are fantastic, are looking forward to the challenge and working with their colleagues at the museum service and looking at the opportunity to expand their work.”
Coun Wood also said there were concerns about the impact on Sunderland’s 2021 City of Culture bid, with Coun Kelly stating Darren Henley, chief executive of Arts Council England and Culture Minister Matt Hancock had just earlier today praised the city’s arts.
The work of the Friends of Sunderland Museum was also highlighted by all parties for its fundraising and support.
It was said efforts will be made to find space for its gatherings, as well as other groups hosted by the museum, if the move is made and the rooms are lost to the library.
A further motion by Liberal Democrat Niall Hodson, which said residents should be asked on their views and be subject to a councillor vote, was halted part way through after Labour members said the discussion would rescind the similar motion and cause a set back on future debate.
Before that point, Coun Hodson said as someone who has worked in the field of outreach work on art and history, he was worried any changes could impact on such projects.
The proposal to close the Fawcett Street library could also see the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art moved to a space in the National Glass Centre.