Bristol’s libraries looked like they were set for the axe a month ago.
In a trend that has become all-too-commonplace, 17 of 27 libraries were marked for closure before the city’s mayor Marvin Rees u-turned on the cuts that would have saved the council £1.4m of the £108m deficit it needs to claw back by 2023.
Following the change of direction, mayor Rees revealed that the council had received an offer to help out from world-renowned street artist Banksy. Speaking at a Bristol City Council cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Rees responded to “rumours that a philanthropist had stepped forward to help libraries in Bristol”, according to the city’s local democracy reporter.
He confirmed the rumours and said: “It’s just that a very well-known person from Bristol wrote in and asked us the nature of the challenge and to outline what support we need as a city to meet that challenge and that person was Banksy.”
But the relationship remains merely “a conversation” at the moment. A council spokesperson said: “The mayor has had discussions with a number of organisations and individuals, including Banksy, about supporting our libraries to help build a high quality, sustainable service for the city. We’re pleased to be working with many of these people to keep libraries open and are keen to develop those conversations further.”
Lovely of Banksy to do this but he shouldn't have to. Our library services nationwide shouldn't have to rely on the money or services of volunteers. https://t.co/o6wv0kUFHP
— Malorie Blackman (@malorieblackman) July 4, 2018
But should Banksy really be the man stepping in? Not according to best-selling author Malorie Blackman. She tweeted her disagreement: “Lovely of Banksy to do this but he shouldn’t have to. Our library services nationwide shouldn’t have to rely on the money or services of volunteers.”
The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.
And it was a similar response from Bristol lobby group Save Redland Library.
A statement from the group read: “We welcome Banksy’s offer to help fund Bristol libraries. However, this funding cannot go direct to the libraries. It has to go to community or voluntary groups. We have to ask if donations provide a viable and sustainable future for all of our libraries.
“Two weeks ago, the Bristol Mayor announced that his planned savings to the libraries budget would be funded out of reserves. This has now been ratified by cabinet. Though welcome this appears a political ploy.”
In response to a question at Tuesday’s meeting of the Bristol Council Cabinet, Cllr Asher Craig revealed that #Banksy was the mystery philanthropist who had offered to help fund #Bristol’s #Libraries.
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— Save Redland Library (@SaveRedlandLibr) July 4, 2018
But while Banksy’s philanthropic gesture is a generous one, it is also a non-starter, according to Public Library News’ Ian Anstice.
“Banksy would not be allowed to pay to fund a library service because that would be breaking the law,” he said.
“It’s very good of him to offer and he may well have great intentions but it is no way to run a statutory public service because what happens when the money runs out?”
The mysterious street artist has given little clues about his identity let alone the size of his wallet.
“Public library funding typically accounts for one per cent of council budgets but Bristol’s budget is still going to run into the millions,” added Anstice. “Now, I don’t know how rich Banksy is but it isn’t going to be enough.
“We don’t have a rich history of philanthropy in this country and it does exist, but it has been in addition to services instead of running them. The last person to put a huge amount of money into the library service was Mr Carnegie and he gave what would be £6bn in today’s money. So I guess the message is: go big or don’t make the offer.”