On the premise of cost-cutting, our council is about to move the local studies archive into an exhibition space at the Clocktower, thus managing to find a way to spend public money on compromising two aspects of cultural provision at a stroke. Sheer genius.
Local studies, surely, is where people sit at large tables with lots of room for research documents to study in peace and quiet, with a “library” of information on many subjects available nearby? Museums and galleries are places where people wander round talking about what’s on show. The two aren’t compatible.
Yet that is the piece of brilliance that Tim Pollard, likely to be the next leader of Croydon’s Conservative group on the council, has come up with for the local studies service. It all smacks of an after-thought to deal with this aspect of the council’s history archive when it had been omitted from the requirements for privatising the borough’s public libraries.
Here, at great length, is Pollard’s justification:
I wrote to or emailed all the people who contacted me in December/January with an interim update last month, in which I outlined my hopes that my officers would be able to put together a proposal which both gives a secure future to the local Studies Library and enables it to make the saving necessary to help the council balance its budget. I am pleased to say that I have been able to announce that we have been successful in that endeavour and can give more details now on the proposal.
Firstly, a reminder of the history of this proposal: as part of the process of setting a balanced budget for the next financial year, a number of changes were put forward to Croydon’s cabinet before Christmas. This included a reduction in the amount to be spent on the Local Studies Library service. This caused significant concern for the loyal user base of this archive and research service and a I received a lot of correspondence urging me to do everything possible to keep the service intact.
However, whilst the savings target was agreed, it was not possible to immediately announce how that target would be met, as council officers and I were working on a means to do the seemingly impossible: save money AND offer a better service as well.
At the council meeting at the end of January I was finally able to explain exactly how this was to be achieved and, I hope, set the users’ minds at rest. In essence this involves relocating the service to a more accessible location on the ground floor of the central library complex and syncronising the management with that of the museum service. This will enable, in the fullness of time, the opening hours to be not just retained, but potentially increased. I am hoping that, when the integration is complete, we will be able to open Monday to Saturday, instead of the current hours of Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and every second Saturday.
A number of people have asked why we have to make savings in this important area. The savings are necessary because the council’s income is falling sharply at the same time as many costs are rising. About half the council’s income comes from Government grants and this will fall by half (in real terms) over the period 2010-2015. The balance of our income comes from council tax: with this frozen for much of that period, but inflation still eroding the spending power, this portion of our income is also falling in real terms. This means we have to make significant cutbacks to be able to set a balanced budget. Partly because of the recession, and partly because of the effect of a rising population of both older residents and children, expenditure is rising on many social care services which we are required by law to provide. Even if we manage these services ever more efficiently, we still have rising costs and a declining income to deal with. This saving goes a little way towards correcting that and there is really no area of the council’s expenditure which is exempt from having to make savings at this time.
Leaving that on one side – and focusing on this positive outcome – I am really delighted that the proposal I am putting forward will actually improve overall levels of access to the borough’s archives and to our significant art collection.
To this end we are now proposing to move the local studies room from its current location on the 3rd floor of the Central library to the vacant exhibition gallery on the ground floor. Its new location will place it much more at the heart of the Clocktower complex and, I hope, allow it to be discovered by a new generation of users.
The space will be refurbished and this will allow us to fully integrate the Museum and Archive services into one. This will enable our staff to make the best use of their time and expertise when assisting customers, with some of the security and administrative tasks delegated to our excellent corps of volunteers.
Up until now the council’s extensive art collection has not been on permanent display due to the lack of a suitable gallery. Through this proposal we will be able to use the refurbished space to put some of the council’s many works of art onto public display, some for the very first time. These art works will be displayed by rotation to ensure that they are both preserved for posterity and also made more accessible to current residents.
We are also committed to ensuring that temporary art exhibitions can continue. We propose to use the court area of the Clocktower for this and we will be investing in the necessary furniture and fittings to make this possible. Allied to the use of the rooms down the side of the atrium and the entrance lobby to provide services and classes by CALAT, our excellent adult education service, this will see the Clocktower become a thriving centre offering a vibrant arts-based programme of activities once again.
This excellent outcome demonstrates that we can often both save cost AND improve a service, if the right creative thinking goes into the redesign.
I hope that this outcome sets your mind at rest: certainly it has been warmly welcomed by many of the key user groups.
Cllr Tim Pollard
Deputy Leader (Comms) & Cabinet Member for Children, Families & Learning
London Borough of Croydon – Sanderstead Ward
Tel 020 8251 8500
As Pollard’s political opposite number, Timothy Godfrey, outlined on Inside Croydon last week, the gallery at the Clocktower was developed at great expense to offer a secure, modern space for the exhibit of internationally valuable art works – starting with Picasso. These proposals undermine such security, probably making it impossible to host exhibitions such as the Picasso in future.
Pollard’s proposals raise other questions, too:
- How much will the work to adapt the space cost?
- What is the vacated space on the third floor to be used for (and is Laings involved in some manner)?
- What security steps will taken to ensure that the works of art are not stolen?
- And how much additional cost will that present by placing the art works in an unsecure space?
You may want to forward these questions, and more, to Pollard at firstname.lastname@example.org (notice how he prefers not to use the council’s email service – maybe this is a device to avoid FOI requests..?).
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon – 142,300 unique page views, Nov 2012-Jan 2013
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