A council decision that threatens the future of the century-old Upper Norwood Library by withdrawing the majority of the library’s funding will hit a road block this week, after Croydon’s Labour councillors called for a special Town Hall meeting to discuss the issue this Friday.
The Conservative-run council wants to reduce its grant to Upper Norwood Library, which is jointly run with Lambeth Council, from £200,000 to just £75,000 from April next year. Lambeth Council has committed £175,000 to the library budget next year.
The funding decision by Croydon Council – which claims it has no plans to close any of its public libraries – followed a consultation with the local community which showed overwhelming support, 89 per cent of responses, for keeping Upper Norwood Library open.
“This gives the Tory council a vital chance to listen to local people and think again about their plans to slash the funding and the service,” said Timothy Godfrey, Croydon Labour’s spokesman on culture, libraries and sport, explaining the move to send the decision to scrutiny.
“This meeting is a chance for the ruling Tory council to prove that they govern for the whole of Croydon, and don’t treat the north-east of the borough differently to the south or east. If this library was in Coulsdon and funded with Surrey Council, you can bet your last dollar that they would not be pushing this cut through.”
The meeting – from 6.30pm at the Town Hall – will enable councillors on the Tory-majority scrutiny committee to hear representations and refer the decision back to the cabinet, with recommendations.
A key request in the scrutiny “call in” has been a request that the committee be provided with up-to-date financial breakdown of the £8.8 million annual budget of Croydon’s culture department.
Under the Conservatives, Croydon has closed the David Lean Cinema; stopped the borough’s mobile library; axed the annual music festival and Mela in Lloyd Park; and withdrawn grant aid from the privately run Warehouse Theatre, forcing it into administration.
According to Godfrey, having cut virtually the whole of the council’s arts provision and dispensed with almost all its staff, half of Croydon’s arts budget is unaccounted for.
Labour is looking to get Upper Norwood to be managed by a local community co-operative library trust. “This would enable the council to engage with local people in the direction and priorities of the Library, but safeguard the professional librarians’ terms and conditions of service,” Godfrey said.
“Librarians don’t have gold-plated salaries. A newly qualified, chartered librarian earns just £23,500 a year. That compares to top salaries at Croydon Council of more than £200,000 a year.
“Transparency on how the Council spends taxpayer money is vital. The Tories are great at cutting the front line, but very poor at taking out contract costs and expensive senior management. Labour has committed to being an open and transparent council if we win the council elections in 2014. This is an early test of the Tory view on transparency.”
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