The chairman of the Upper Norwood Library Trust yesterday told how he wept when the doors to the library were closed for the first time as a result of funding cuts imposed by Croydon Council.
Robert Gibson was speaking to a public gathering outside the building, with the library facing another round of cuts from Croydon and Lambeth councils, who until recently had operated the amenity jointly for more than a century. On this occasion, Gibson and the campaigners had the support of Steve Reed OBE, backing which could yet prove critical to the library’s future.
“We know that Lambeth and Croydon are faced with cuts,” Gibson said. “But it is not hard politics to ignore a community. What is tough is how to deliver what a community wants, and find the funding to support this. This is what we want our local politicians to do. Stand up for Crystal Palace and make things better for the entire community.
“We don’t want pledges of support if that is not backed up with action and funding that supports this sentiment.”
Reed has been the Labour MP for Croydon North since 2012. Before that, he had been the leader of Lambeth Council. Before parliament was dissolved, Reed’s head of office was Matthew Bennett, who remains a councillor for Gipsy Hill ward and a cabinet member on Lambeth Council.
Reed delivered this joint statement with the Upper Norwood Library Campaign:
“The joint funding of the Upper Norwood Library by both Lambeth and Croydon for more than 100 years is a model of cross-borough co-operation that benefits the entire community of Crystal Palace. Residents in Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood have consistently made clear their support for a properly funded, professionally staffed library in public consultations held by both councils.
“We want to see the Upper Norwood Joint Library receive at least the same funding per head of population as equivalent town centre libraries in Croydon and Lambeth, and Croydon to meet their commitment to fully match all funding from Lambeth including the endowment fund.
“Lambeth and Croydon should both continue to recognise the unique status of this library and its role in providing statutory library services for the community it serves across several borough boundaries. We ask Croydon council to restore, in the Council’s constitution, the historic references to the Upper Norwood Library that were removed by the previous Conservative administration when they broke the joint funding agreement.
“We support the community trust that has been formed to take control of the library and help raise much-needed additional funds to support and enhance its professionally staffed library service. We look forward to working with both councils, the Trust and the community to find a way forward that is fair to the entire community of Upper Norwood and Crystal Palace and which guarantees the long-term stable future which the library so desperately needs and the community wants to see.”
The reference to matching the “endowment” will put pressure on Reed’s Labour-lite colleagues at Croydon Town Hall. Croydon Council has – publicly at least – no plans to close or sell-off any libraries. Where it might get a large sum of cash to create an endowment such as Lambeth is promising could become a serious problem.
Lambeth is looking to halve its library service, and is selling off two public libraries – the Minet and at Waterloo. Money from this property sale is to be used to endow what remains of Lambeth’s libraries, including Upper Norwood.
In Croydon, the previous Tory administration conducted a costly and lengthy public consultation which rejected any closures to the borough’s 13 other libraries (Upper Norwood is not listed on the council’s website), and which the then Tory administration used as an excuse to hand over the management of the libraries to a firm of building contractors, John Laing Integrated Services. JLIS have since sold-on their contract to another firm better know for its brickies than its librarians, Carillion.
Because of its status, jointly managed with Lambeth, Upper Norwood library was excluded from the Croydon consultation process and has escaped the ordeal of being managed by Carillion’s cost-cutters. Labour won control of Croydon Council last May promising to restore match-funding of Upper Norwood with Lambeth to enable the library to be open throughout the week. Lambeth’s recent announcement that it would cut its cash provision to Upper Norwood has seen Croydon quick to state that they, too, will reduce funding.
But Upper Norwood, positioned geographically at the confluence of five south London boroughs, benefits from having an active and vocal group of local residents, well-organised after years of having to deal with inappropriate proposals for development in Crystal Palace. And this activism appears to have made the Labour councillors for the ward very twitchy.
“The local councillors are waking up to the fact now that for minimal savings they are losing goodwill,” one resident told Inside Croydon. Pressure is being brought to bear on Lambeth, too, as that Labour-dominated authority tries to ride out criticism of its austerity measures.
Heathfield resident Reed probably has more influence still at Brixton Town Hall than firm friends on Katharine Street, and his intervention – effectively telling Croydon Council that they got it wrong on this budget item – could prove crucial.
In his speech to library supporters yesterday, trust chairman Gibson said, “Consultation after consultation, public meeting after public meeting, the community has spoken loudly and strongly in favour of a properly funded, professionally staffed library that serves all the people of this area.
“Croydon funding has dropped from a previous £170,000 to this year to £120,000 to £50,000 in years two and three. Lambeth’s funding is now the same, but it also offering us funding from a specially created endowment.
“The community has campaigned for a town centre library. Not a community centre with books in it. We’ve already had funding cuts, staff cuts and opening hours cuts. Why should Upper Norwood receive much less funding than other Croydon libraries given that it serves more than 19,000 Croydon residents?
“I literally cried when I was outside the library on the first day that it closed because of the last Croydon Council cuts and I watched a woman with kids, an old man and a black student try the locked door and turn away. I was with the staff of Anerley library at their leaving party when Bromley Council closed it and consoled them as they said their tearful goodbyes.
“I felt we and I could have done more. I’m not going to feel like that again.
“The community will roll up its sleeves and do it by itself if it has to. If politicians don’t want to support us that is their choice. But we and the judgement of history will hold them accountable.
“Crystal Palace has taken some knocks, but as the people gathered today demonstrate our community solidarity means Crystal Palace can roll with the punches. But boy we can also fight for what we believe is right.
“Are we going to fight for proper funding for our library? Hell yeah!”
- Library Trust is shellshocked at Lambeth’s 60% funding cut
- MP Reed ‘guaranteed’ Library’s future for just nine months
- Library campaigners: ‘Broken promises will be on our minds’
- Library closure would be a ‘disaster’ warns Society chairman
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