(c) Chris Riddell
Research by local people under the new “People’s Audit” legislation* is starting to uncover the real story behind Lambeth council’s bizarre scheme to gut four of its 10 libraries and spend millions installing gyms in some of the buildings.
It raises very serious questions about the council’s deal with GLL (Greenwich Leisure Ltd) , the company secretly chosen to run the unwanted gyms.
FULL REPORT Peoples Audit libraries chapter FINAL
On October 2, 2015, the scheme was presented as a done deal to horrified locals – who had not been informed, let alone consulted. It was rushed through Cabinet in days.
On 1 April 2016, campaigners began a 10-day occupation of the doomed Carnegie Library in Herne Hill, Lambeth.
Local people queued to demonstrate their support.
Media interest was intense.
Lambeth council was condemned worldwide.
But it ploughed on regardless.
A year later, work is due to start within days on the listed Carnegie building.
Public opposition is as intense as ever.
SERIOUS NEW QUESTIONS
The People’s Audit team – a group of local people working unpaid in their own time – have spent months trying to uncover the truth behind the secret negotiations between the council and GLL.
The answers have been tardy, evasive, confused and sometimes mutually contradictory.
And they have raised further questions that the council must answer.
All highly relevant for the one in 3 Lambeth residents who (try to) use the borough’s libraries.
- why did the council reject chance after chance to save all its 10 libraries?
- when did Lambeth start negotiating its secret deal with GLL?
- why is the council refusing to answer FoI enquiries about this?
- who really benefits?
- what did GLL offer in exchange for the gyms money and the renewal of its contract to run Lambeth’s leisure centres?
- why did GLL agree to reduce its leisure services fees by around one-third, with a c.£7m reduction from the total £20m contract?
- why was some of this money not diverted to the libraries – which, despite decades of under-funding, were one of only two services in the country to show strong increases on all measures – visits, loans and memberships?
- as the gyms are highly unlikely to be viable, is the real plan to close and sell the buildings when they fail?
- Above all – why was an efficient, low-cost, much-needed library service thrown to the wolves, while millions will go to fund yuppie gyms that nobody wants?
The council pleads poverty – although:
- its gym plan aimed to achieve less than half the savings demanded
- it also required up to £4m to instal and support unwanted gyms
- the closure of Minet & Carnegie libraries saved nothing (rates, utilities, staff costs etc are still paid), while racking up tens of thousands for security guards
- nothing has been done to either library, so the closures were unnecessary as well as expensive
- the council turned down a plan to maintain all its10 libraries while making the full saving required.
The council also claims that it will maintain “libraries” in the four gutted buildings – but these will be far smaller and almost entirely unstaffed. The council’s own equality impact assessment states: “It is not possible to mitigate the impact of the unstaffed neighbourhood libraries on groups of vulnerable people who rely on staff in their local library for support.”
The Defend the 10 campaign** was formed to keep full service in all10 libraries.This is entirely feasible under a plan by library managers that was rejected because (thanks to the council’s own delays) it could not be fully implemented by April 2016.
A year later, the council’s gym plan is nowhere near being implemented.
Defend the 10 says:
“There’s still no known business plan for the gyms, no financial workings or market research and only the vaguest idea what the ‘neighbourhood libraries’ might provide – or how.
Yet the council has become more and more determined to force through the plan at all costs, and has thrown more and more money at it.
“Surreally, it has recently emerged that the council says it is unable to explain how the crazy gyms plan was ever thought of… FoI enquirers are being told that there’s no information on this because the officer responsible has departed.
“The ‘Culture2020’ plan has been an obvious disaster waiting to happen from the very start. Much damage has been done, much money wasted.
“Yet the craziest waste is still to come. Carnegie Library is soon to become an unwanted gym, furiously opposed by local people, with wildly contradictory projected costs running into millions.
“This farce need never have happened.
Even now the council could save millions, or spend them far more rationally
“The council still blames this expensive shambles on government cuts.
It’s not true. It never was.”
From Laura Swaffield of Defend the 10 Campaign: http://defendthe10-lambeth.org.uk
Working through the Local Audit & Accountability Act and Freedom of Information Act, the Peoples Audit enables local people to investigate councils’ accounts ensure local councils spend money wisely and can account for that expenditure. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org