CROYDON IN CRISIS: The battle has begun to save the borough’s libraries, under threat because of the council’s financial collapse.
GENE BRODIE reports from yesterday’s well-attended protest in South Norwood
More than 100 residents, including many parents with youngsters in tow, turned out in South Norwood yesterday to protest against proposed cuts to the borough’s libraries, which include the absurd situation where the council doesn’t have the money to open a brand new library built by its budget-busting builders, Brick by Brick, on Station Road.
Perhaps more absurd still was that the protesters were joined on the pavement outside the unopened library by South Norwood ward councillor Patsy Cummings, who told the assembled public that she would do everything she can to fight the library closures.
This was considered by some to be absurd because for the past three years, as the council’s debts and financial crisis mounted, Cummings has been the deputy cabinet member for… finance.
But there’s an election coming up – next May, for the London Assembly – and Cummings is the Labour candidate.
The new building is supposed to replace the not-so-old South Norwood Library building on Lawrence Road. That remains, for now, and covid precautions permitting, notionally in service.
The council, with a £66million hole in its budget in part caused by coronavirus emergency spending this year, does not have the cash to pay to complete the build of the new building, and is proposing to run a consultation on the closure – or “cost-neutral” operation, which probably means replacing professional library staff with volunteers – of South Norwood and four other of the borough’s 13 public libraries: Broad Green, Bradmore Green, Sanderstead and Shirley.
South Norwood’s library serves two neighbouring wards: Cummings’ South Norwood ward, where the other councillors are Clive Fraser (the chief whip of the Town Hall Labour group) and Jane Avis (also a member of the council cabinet during the period that brought about the financial crisis).
Next door is Woodside ward, where the Labour councillors are Hamida Ali, the old-new leader of the council, plus Tony Newman, her discredited predecessor who resigned just as the shit started hitting the fan in October, and his best mate, the widely-loathed Paul Scott.
Unlike Cummings, none of the other five councillors dared show their faces at the library protest. “They must be hiding in their bunkers,” remarked on protester.
In Newman’s case, that might be a golf bunker. This week, as another 130 council staff began consultations over being made redundant because of the council’s financial crisis, Newman had booked himself in to play a post-lockdown round of golf at the £1,500-a-year Shirley Park golf club. Which must have been nice for him.
One demonstrator at the South Norwood protest had brought along a pamphlets that Newman and his leafleting cult of third-rate local politicians had pushed through his letter box not so long ago.
The Labour publication carried a solemn pledge to oppose all library closures. It’s not so long ago that the Conservatives, when they were in control of Croydon Town Hall, had proposed closing six libraries. Now Labour’s incompetence under Newman seems likely to do the Tories’ damage for them.
The 15-minute static rally outside the unopened library building was deemed by the Metropolitan Police to be such a mass gathering that they authorised half a day’s overtime for six officers. The biggest “incident” that the police had to cope with was a couple of Saturday shoppers brawling over a sourdough loaf at the nearby Clocktower Market.
In its first week, a Save South Norwood Library campaign petition has already raised nearly 2,500 signatures. “We are positive, strong and determined that our community will not be deprived of a library,” one of the protesters said.
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