How long is the “future”?
How reliable is a “guarantee”?
We only ask because it is barely a year since Steve Reed OBE, the MP for Lambeth South, got together with Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council, to sign what they portentously called “The Upper Norwood Library Declaration” (with a title like that, you’d think they were about to announce “Peace in our time”, or that Reed might have said that he could feel the hand on history on his shoulder…).
They produced website reports and all sorts to boast about it.
After less than nine months, that “future” that Reed and Newman “guaranteed” for Upper Norwood Library is looking very short-term indeed. Lambeth Council – of which Reed used to be the leader – is axing half its library service, including cutting its funding to Upper Norwood by 60 per cent. And if Lambeth does that, then for some reason Croydon Council feels it must do the same.
Tony and Steve – they sound like a branch of a trendy hairdressers – got together in June to sign their declaration, with Reed writing at the time, “The library will now open for five days a week…” that has yet to happen, because of the continuing uncertainty over funding, “…after receiving a funding boost of almost £50,000 for this year. The library’s funding was slashed by Croydon’s former Tory council which also tried to sell off the building in an attempt to force the much-loved local service to close.” Which is all true.
And it is also very similar to what Lambeth and Croydon’s Labour-run councils are doing now, with the possibility of selling off the property if the Trust, set-up to run the library, does not subserviently accept the new terms presented to them last month.
Croydon Labour also produced this video, when “saving” Upper Norwood Library was a vote-winning campaign issue. In the background are the three Labour councillors for Upper Norwood: John Wentworth, Alisa Flemming and Pat Ryan. Wentworth is now Steve Reed’s election agent; Flemming is the council cabinet member for education; and Ryan is the Labour group’s chief whip on the council.
Save the Library campaigners have told Inside Croydon that since Lambeth Council dropped its funding bombshell, none of their Croydon ward councillors have returned calls or replied to urgent emails about the library’s plight.
The library campaigners don’t have the option of lobbying the councillors in Lambeth’s Gipsy Hill ward with any prospect of support, either, since one of them is Matthew Bennett, an influential cabinet member at Brixton Town Hall whose day job is as the parliamentary “head of office” to Steve Reed OBE.
Here at Inside Croydon Towers, we rather prefer Alan Bennett’s take on libraries, and Englishness, to that of Councillor Bennett, or his boss, Reed, and council leader Newman.
“What I think we are best at in England is… hypocrisy.
“We glory in Shakespeare, yet we close our public libraries.” Listen to Bennett’s monologue in full here.
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