Lambeth approves ‘omni-shambles’ libraries closure plan

Protestors from Upper Norwood Library at last night's Lambeth Council meeting. They were among the lucky ones not to be locked out

Protestors from Upper Norwood Library at last night’s Lambeth Council meeting. They were among the lucky ones not to be locked out

How democracy works in south London, Part 94…

STEP 1: Lambeth’s “co-operative” council issues a consultation, cleverly entitled Vision 2020 (geddit?), outlining how the Labour-run Town Halls wants to implement the government’s austerity agenda by making deep cuts to its spending on cultural provision, including libraries and parks.

STEP 2: The public responds unfavourably to the proposals, which include two library closures, the site of which is to be sold and the proceeds used to help to fund the remaining facilities, including Upper Norwood Joint Library.

STEP 3: Some months later, Lambeth Council produces a second draft of the proposals, which completely ignore the outcome of its own consultation and now include the closure of five libraries, four of which are to be handed over to the private sector, three of them turned into gyms. None of this was mentioned in the original consultation. After more than 100 years of running Upper Norwood Library jointly with Croydon, Lambeth belatedly announces it will unilaterally withdraw its support.

STEP 4: Council re-arranges its cabinet meeting for a school hall in Streatham, so that more of the public can attend the cabinet meeting where the revised plans are to be “discussed”. Despite there being space available in the hall, dozens of ordinary Lambeth and Croydon residents are locked out of this public meeting.

STEP 5: Despite the obvious opposition to its revised scheme, Labour-run Lambeth’s council cabinet approves its own plans for the closure of half its public libraries.

Ah, well. That’s Progress for you…

Last night at Dunraven School in Streatham, there were angry scenes and noisy protests as dozens were barred from entering the school hall, on the seemingly spurious grounds they did not have tickets for this public meeting, despite empty seats within the hall.

The cabinet approved the scheme to halve its statutory provision of library services, which will see existing libraries at Carnegie, Minet, Waterloo, Upper Norwood, and either Tate South or Durning “decommissioned”.

Dozens of the public were denied access to the Lambeth meeting last night and locked out of the school hall

Dozens of the public were locked out of the school hall and denied access to the Lambeth meeting last night

This means a statutory provision will be replaced with a “neighbourhood service” that will include Wifi, computers, study space, and reduced book stock. Books will be borrowed in a self-service system. Staff will visit but not be permanently stationed there.

The management of the Upper Norwood Joint Library building is to be transferred to the Upper Norwood Library Trust via Croydon Council. Lambeth is proposing to provide £50,000 of funding in a deal where Croydon will also provide £50,000 for its 19,000 residents who are served by the library.

Robert Gibson, the spokesman for the Upper Norwood Library Campaign, said: “Lambeth is planning to rob large swathes of its borough of statutory provision of library services. Its proposals are an illogical omni-shambles lacking in coherence and vision which won’t deliver the £1 million savings it is seeking to achieve.

Apt: the pupil's picture in Dunraven School hall, above members of Lambeth Council's cabinet, somes up the mood of the body of the hall last night

Apt: the pupil’s picture in Dunraven School hall, above members of Lambeth Council’s cabinet, somes up the mood of the body of the hall last night

“Instead, Lambeth could have looked to the model used in Southwark which has protected its library service. Or indeed if had wanted to pioneer a radical solution could have worked with staff on proposals which would have seen all 10 libraries move to a staff-led trust boosted by charitable exemption of business rates.

“Instead it has cobbled together a strange unaccountable and unaccounted hotch-potch approach shrouded by toxic spin and a lack of transparency.”

At the meeting last night, Gibson delivered a speech on behalf of Upper Norwood Library, in which he said: “I worked long and hard as a co-chair of the Upper Norwood Library Trust. Like many I was hopeful that a takeover of the governance of the Upper Norwood Joint Library would stop it being a political football.

“But it was always envisioned that the Trust would preside over a properly funded, professionally staffed library. Middle-ranking Lambeth comms people earn more than what Lambeth is proposing to offer the Trust in terms of funding a library service for the people of Crystal Palace.

“This is not only a betrayal of the amazing library staff set to be junked, it totally disrespects the hard work of the Trust, whose budgets and business plans have been ignored.

“The only thing that is clear that the current proposals should be ripped up. It is clear they are going to prove exceptionally costly in terms of legal challenges, officer time, employment tribunals and in damage to Lambeth Council’s reputation and its ballot box success. It is highlighting an increasing sense of alienation between those governing in Brixton Town Hall and the governed across the borough. But it’s not too late to get back on track. Lambeth can and should do so much better.”

Gibson also described the council’s proposals as “bullshit”.

His speech received a standing ovation.

Gibson was joined by Labour MP for Dulwich and West Norwood Helen Hayes, who spoke in defence of the two libraries in her constituency, Upper Norwood and Carnegie. She described the joint funding proposals from Croydon and Lambeth for Upper Norwood Joint Library as “a race to the bottom”.

MP Helen Hayes:

MP Helen Hayes: opposes library closures

Why is any of this relevant in Croydon? Why does it matter?

Well, apart from the fact that Upper Norwood Joint Library now appears to be more dependent than ever on Croydon Council for funding, having survived threats to its existence from the previous Tory administration in this borough, the cuts being implemented in Lambeth could soon be an issue here, too.

At the same time that Lambeth was having its heated meeting over libraries, elsewhere in London, in Barnet, library closures were also being angrily debated. Cuts in local authority grants by the millions are being handed down from the Tory Government, with councils being expected to take the political pain of implementing them.

Unless, of course, some councils stand up to Westminster, or manage to develop some means of maintaining services in the face of the Tory onslaught against the public sector. And it is fair to say that turning libraries into gyms probably isn’t the answer, whatever the question might have been.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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