Alan Clawley sat in on the Cabinet meeting today. Here are his recollections and questioning of the Chief Executive after. His comments are in brackets.
Councillor Bore said he liked the vision [he had to as it was identical to his vision for the Eastside project] but what did it mean in practical terms? Where was the detail in the reports? He could not understand how his scheme was not economic but this new one is.
Councillor Hassall said that we needed the new library because we all have mobile phones now and one day we will all have hand-held computers. The Council must give the customers what they want. [I thought he implied either that we didn’t need a Central Library at all, or a bigger one with less books and more space for other things]
Councillor Scrimshaw just wanted everyone to smile. People needed knowledge now.
One Councillor said that both the MAC and the REP might be closed at the same time, and what would be the cost of keeping the REP closed while it is rebuilt? She asked whether the new library will be called the REP-LIBRARY or the LIBRARY-REP.
One councillor said we needed to have a state-of-the-art library.
I was pleased that Councillor Alistair Dow (Chair of Scrutiny) said the Friends of the Central Library deserved answers to its questions. He pointed out that now the new library is being funded from the Council’s own resources [£39 million] the money can also be found to renovate the existing library [a mere £20 million] and that retaining it should be re-considered.
There was some confusion as to the exact amount of floorspace being provided in the new library. At one point Councillor Whitby said that he thought it was 34,500 sq metres but 31,000 sq metres would be adequate anyway. [The cost too appears to have dropped from the first public announcement of £200 million to £193 million].
The Chief Executives’ report was eventually approved without a vote [apparently this is quite normal] but on condition that Scrutiny “have a look at” the concerns expressed by Councillor Bore, and presumably Friends of the Central Library, although Cllr Whitby did not of course name us. [This seems to amount to an informal “call-in” - a partial success for us.]
After, in the corridor, under questioning, the Chief Executive dismissed any influence Scrutiny might have, saying that Cabinet had made its decision and even the full Council could not or would not overturn it.
He said an architect will be selected by the normal procurement process (not as previously stated in the press through an open architectural competition). That would have cost £1million and slowed down the process. Richard Rogers will be free to apply if he sees the advert. He dismissed my suggestion that this will result in the cheapest, not necessarily the best architect being selected.
He said the Council has put aside a revenue budget of £24 million [I recall] to manage the project. This is not just from the Libraries budget but from a “variety of sources”. His argument was that it was “not just a library”. [This reminds me of the way various budgets were raided to fund the ICC. The Library service and other departments are bound to suffer cutbacks in the years ahead to pay for this just as the schools budget was cut for the ICC]