By Alan Clawley.
Of all the services provided by Birmingham City Council why is a new public library singled out for special treatment and extra spending at a time when we are told drastic cuts to essential front-line services are necessary? Who is the target of the Colman Getty marketing exercise (Birmingham Post 5 April) and what exactly are they being persuaded to ‘buy’ either literally or in a manner of speaking?
Surely not the 5,000 people who visit the Central Library each day and who do so without advertising or sales promotions. Is the council worried that their current ‘customers’ may not like the new library with its open plan, panoramic windows and basement childrens’ area. Doesn’t the council realise that once their customers have lost the Library they know and love they will have no option but to transfer their loyalty to the new one? They will won’t they?
Perhaps the target is the additional 5,000 people a day that the council hopes will flock to the new library from all over the world. Who exactly are these people and why should they bother when they have their own public libraries? Is there some fantastic ‘attraction’ that the council has up its sleeve like the ‘Filmotheque’, or interactive displays of the kind that now fill West Brom’s ‘The Public’, or those in our own Thinktank? They certainly couldn’t get many into the miniscule Shakespeare Library that will be perched on the roof on a metal cylinder. Perhaps the council hopes to attract emigrant Brummies back to their home city to trace their roots in the Family History Centre. No doubt they will be charged a hefty fee for the privilege but will break up their day’s study drinking and eating in the new franchised food outlets. But given what little we know about the contents of the new library this scenario is hardly credible.
There is another target audience, one much beloved and wooed by the Leader of the council Mike Whitby and his former chief advisor Clive Dutton. They are the private property investors in the oil-rich states of the Middle East.
Speaking on Midlands Today in April 2009 at the launch of the plans for the new library, Mr Dutton gave the game away when he said, “In a recession this [new library] is a big confidence-builder to attract further investment. This will benefit everyone in Birmingham”.
Since then Whitby has flown to the Middle East several times and has attended the international property developers fair in Cannes, known as MIPIM, where he recently boasted that the new library and the New Street Gateway are real proof that Birmingham is an OK place in which to invest large sums of money on new buildings. He really means ‘Paradise Circus’ where he now feels he has a green light for redevelopment – having got the government to issue a certificate of immunity from listing on the Central Library.
If he is successful we can expect to see some major office buildings in the centre of Birmingham that are owned and controlled by Middle Eastern investment organisations.
This has moral, economic and social implications for the city. The city council will depend on oil money for its physical development whilst claiming to be reducing carbon emissions and becoming the greenest city in the world. The council will be taking money that has been made in societies that may be undemocratic, discriminatory, or which are politically unstable. We will never be told who the real marketing targets are but rich businessmen in the Middle East seem to be the most likely ones.