Revised 11 November with addition at end.
A packed & angry meeting filled about 250 seats at Lilian Baylis School in Kennington attending the ‘called in’ Lambeth Council cuts library plan at the Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday evening 10 November 10.
It was revealed that there is an alternative plan which would achieve the cuts without closing libraries.
Laura Swaffield, Chair of Friends of Lambeth Libraries, has issued the following statement.
This is the now-notorious plan to reduce 5 out of 10 libraries to a fraction of their size, with no staff at all, & – even worse – put fee-charging gyms in 3 of these. This plan is so absurd it was picked up by PRIVATE EYE for ridicule.
This in a borough that is already over-supplied with local gyms – and where proper libraries with staff to help people are badly needed by the many residents who have little money, need help using ICT to claim benefits or seek jobs, have poor literacy, disabilities… as well as the usual small children, schoolkids, young people, old people and black people who make heavy use of local libraries.
Partial victory at least.
We were expecting the usual rubber stamp. Lambeth cllrs are
notoriously bullied into always supporting the party line no matter what. But we got something just a little better….
Cllrs Scott Ainslie (Green) and Tim Briggs (Conservative) patiently pointed out that money is clearly identifiable to keep the library service going, while making all the cuts Lambeth demands.
Libraries portfolio holder Jane Edbrooke and Lambeth officer John Kerridge addressed none of these points, falling back on their now totally discredited excuse that they have no choice because of government cuts. Demonstrably untrue.
It was a pleasure to hear- often – reference to existence of a viable alternative plan by brilliant head of libraries Susanna Barnes, who has already transformed a famously under-funded service into a London leader, with a host of extra services and activities, booming demand and national fame for its unique, ground-breaking facilities for people with sight problems, enabling them to read independently.
Lambeth officers have sat on this plan and done nothing with it – while rushing through a ‘plan’ for leisure company GLL to spend over £1m revenue and £3m capital on the disastrous gyms – for which there is no business case, no market research – not even a basic feasibility study.
Even Lambeth’s cowed committee were interested to know more.
Frustratingly, library campaigners saw them miss by just one vote (5 cllrs vs 4) the option to send the whole thing back to Cabinet for reconsideration.
What they did vote for – remarkably by Lambeth council standards – we did get a decision to ‘make such recommendations to Cabinet as it sees fit’. – with a LONG list of recommendations that cover most of the things that concern us.
Some of the points raised by Scrutiny Committee, which must now be answered:
- what mitigation is planned for the many people disadvantaged by unstaffed ‘neighbourhood libraries’?
- more development work needed on Susanna Barnes’s proposal
- guarantee that ICT access points WITH SUPPORT will be the same or more
- look at alternative plans with ‘much more reflection about what the community wants’
- need to be ‘a bit more robust’ in dealings with GLL – ‘I’m uncomfortable that they seem to be taking the lead in this’, said one committee member
Friends of Lambeth Libraries says: ‘Surely we can work with this and easily show how awful AND FINANCIALLY UNNECESSARY these daft plans are. It is glaringly obvious to anyone prepared to listen. The council can do itself a favour and re-think. Or it can face furious opposition from residents all over the borough, who are marching in their hundreds and signing petitions in their thousands.’
For comment on the Scrutiny Committee meeting on the Upper Norwood Joint Library petition sight see: