Bookish gyms correspondent GENE BRODIE reports on an announcement which has been described as “a betrayal” of Labour voters
Whoever is in the Brains Trust running the Labour Party in south London really needs to authorise some modest expenditure on a wall calendar.Today, Lambeth Council, which purports to be under Labour Party control, announced that on April 30 it is to close four public libraries, including the one at Upper Norwood which it runs jointly with Croydon. The library closures come just one week before Londoners go to the polls to elect a new Mayor and London Assembly. Less than perfect political timing.
A library campaigner in Crystal Palace is warning that the consequences of the closures will continue to impact Labour votes in wards in both boroughs through to the 2018 local elections.
The effects of the closure of the four libraries, effectively implementing the austerity cuts of the Conservative Government, may not have too great an impact on the Assembly Member prospects of Florence Eshalomi, the Lambeth Labour councillor who can expect a hefty 50,000-vote majority in the City Hall seat for Lambeth and Southwark she is inheriting from the retiring Valerie Shawcross.
And with Labour’s Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan enjoying a 6 per cent lead on Tory Zac Goldsmith, a little local library difficulty may not be significant in that election contest.
But if Marina Ahmad had any hopes of getting strong support in Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood to help her efforts to unseat Croydon and Sutton’s Tory AM, Steve O’Connell, she will now have to have a serious re-think.
Like Lambeth, Croydon Council is supposed to be under Labour control. And in Steve Reed OBE, Labour is supposedly represented in the Lambeth South/Croydon North (delete to taste) parliamentary constituency by the former leader of Lambeth Council.
It was only last month that Croydon Council confirmed funding of £85,000 a year for two years for Upper Norwood Library, a figure which is being matched by Lambeth. The amount is suggested as being only around one-third of what might be really necessary to fund the library.Despite Croydon Labour’s repeated promises that there will be no library closures, Tony Newman and his council colleagues have discussed the possibility of making a U-turn on their manifesto commitment and closing libraries, a story originally broken by Inside Croydon and which was referred to at tonight’s Town Hall cabinet meeting.
At tonight’s meeting, Newman and Timothy Godfrey, the Labour cabinet member responsible, both recited the mantra of “no library closures”.
But earlier today, their “co-operative council” colleagues in Lambeth did their dirty work for them, torpedoing another Croydon Labour “ambition”, when they announced that more than a century of running a professionally staffed library on Westow Hill is to come to an end in little more than a month.
According to information issued from Brixton Town Hall today, “Upper Norwood Library and three other Lambeth libraries will become self-service with books and computer access provided by Lambeth Council in buildings run by other organisations.
“Lambeth and Croydon Councils will jointly fund the Upper Norwood Library Trust to run the building as a community hub.
“The library will continue to run as it is until April 30, 2016, when the building will be handed over to the Upper Norwood Library Trust and the library will become self-service.”
Editor’s Note: a “community hub” is not a library. If it was, they’d call it a … library.
Robert Gibson, the chair of the Upper Norwood Library Campaign who describes himself as a Labour Party member, called the announcement a “car crash of a disastrous policy” and said that “anyone who voted Labour in Crystal Palace have all been totally let down”.Gibson said: “Every single library user will feel totally betrayed by Labour. We will do our very utmost to defend our community and our library service and to hold every politician to account who does not side with us.
“We had a unique formula with funding from Lambeth and Croydon for serving cross-borough need for 115 years and now it is being smashed up. We haven’t spent five years of our lives battling Croydon and Lambeth over the library to be happy with a community centre with no library staff or any decent provision of library service.
“I promise you, Labour will feel the impact of its library policy, from Waterloo to Croydon.
“If you really don’t think we aren’t capable of using the media, law and politics for the next two years to elections, you don’t know the people of Crystal Palace or Lambeth.
“I’m seriously considering whether I can still be a member of the Labour Party… Labour is acting like the Tories voting for things they know that are wrong. Trying to say they are not decimating library services because a building is still open but there is no staffed service is utterly dishonest and dangerous.
“To save libraries is a piddling sum, getting a handful of developers to pay into a fund for extra planning gain or to get them to hand over their ground rents would sort this all out. Instead, you are going to create sores all over your constituencies and wards that will only fester.”
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