Our libraries and bookish gyms correspondent, GENE BRODIE, reports that there’s a sense of “glass half-empty” over Croydon’s grant for Upper Norwood Library
A row has broken out between trustees and library campaigners over Croydon Council’s £85,000 per year, two-year funding grant for Upper Norwood Joint Library, with activists dismissing the Labour-run council’s plans as “shoddy” and accusing them of trying to steer the public amenity towards a volunteer model of operation which has repeatedly been rejected by residents.
Managed and funded together with Lambeth Council for more than a century, the Westow Hill library’s future has been uncertain for several years, and Lambeth’s decision to hand over the amenity’s operation to the Upper Norwood Library Trust implied a withdrawal of professional librarian services.
Lambeth had originally allocated just £60,000 per year towards Upper Norwood’s running costs. This was increased to £85,000 for each of two years in December. But even with Croydon’s grant, which is guaranteed through to 2018, this is thought to be insufficient to maintain the part-time librarian jobs which currently see the library offer a wide range of activities. Croydon’s announcement also appears to open the way for Upper Norwood Library to begin a policy of charging for activities and services which had previously been delivered free of charge.
A council press release, issued last night, just hours before the a Town Hall meeting (almost) discussed the 2016-2017 Council Tax settlement, announced that, “The Upper Norwood Library Trust is set to be able to deliver a full range of community activities in the future, thanks, in large part, to a Croydon Council grant of £85,000 for the next two years.”
While Lambeth has outraged its residents and library campaigners by proposals to sell-off library buildings and to hand-over other libraries to leisure operators for them to use as “bookish gyms” – described as an “omnishambles” – the settlement being delivered upon Upper Norwood by Croydon’s Labour-run council appears to give a green light to the effective privatisation of the library service in Crystal Palace.
Upper Norwood Library Trust will, Croydon Council states, “be creating a new and exciting community learning hub and offering a number of services such as parenting classes, homework clubs, supported reading programmes, a local history club, digital-inclusion courses, a money-advice service, a job club, and a citizens’ advice access point”. It remains unclear whether any of these services will be offered free-of-charge.
“We are delighted that Croydon Council, along with Lambeth Council, is supporting the Upper Norwood Library Trust to deliver a range of community services with the much-loved Upper Norwood Library service at the heart of the activities,” was how Bryher Scudamore, a member of the Trust, greeted the council’s rubber-stamping of the Trust’s proposals.
But on social media, Robert Gibson, who was chairman of the Trust until he resigned last September unhappy with what might be described as its “direction of travel”, questioned the proposals, saying he felt “underwhelmed” by what was on offer.
“I wish the Trust the very best and will help with their endeavours, but I will also continue to campaign for proper funding for professional staff and believe Upper Norwood should retain a town centre library offering a statutory provision of library service,” Gibson said.
“This is just shoddy and breaks a lot of promises as it pushes the Trust towards a volunteer community centre model which our community has repeatedly rejected.
“Unless Lambeth adopt the alternative proposal of its head of libraries, Susannah Barnes, which would provide professional staff in Upper Norwood Library, this level of funding from Lambeth and Croydon will inevitably mean a reduction in the provision of service and staffing.
“It implies that even this little level of funding will be reduced after two years.”
Last week, Timothy Godfrey, the Croydon Council cabinet member responsible for the borough’s library service, told Inside Croydon, “We aren’t closing any libraries.”
From which, we drew the conclusion that Croydon may soon be getting its own version of “bookish gyms”. The Upper Norwood settlement appears to confirm that.
Our report last week was based on discussions which Labour councillors had held at their policy “away day” in Eastbourne last autumn, when they were asked to consider whether to break their 2014 manifesto commitment not to close any libraries. A majority, including Labour’s “strong” leader Tony Newman, voted to say that they are prepared bin the manifesto promise on libraries.
According to the tally of the voting seen by Inside Croydon, Upper Norwood’s two football-watching councillors, John Wentworth and Pat Ryan, both cast votes on the library policy discussion, one in favour of keeping the party’s promise to the public, the other prepared to abandon it. We’ll leave Inside Croydon‘s loyal reader to guess which was which…
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