Lambeth Council rejects the proposal that would save all Lambeth’s libraries

Photos from Library Demo March 2016While Tate South Lambeth Library has been reprieved – the only one out of the five libraries under threat of closure – Lambeth Council has rejected a proposal that would have saved all ten Lambeth libraries. This was a proposal, developed by the head of libraries, Susanna Barnes, for a staff/community mutual trust which would have run all ten on the budget set by Lambeth for just five. This was possible because of the savings and funding opportunities generated by its charitable status and the flexibility in spending choices arising from its independence.

The Council seeks to justify its decision-

Councillor Jane Edbrooke , the Council cabinet member responsible for libraries, gave the following grounds for the rejection, from the assessment by a panel appointed by the Council:

First, the proposal could not be implemented within the time frame set in the Culture 2020 document approved by cabinet last October – ie as from April 2016).

The panel had concluded that “a minimum of 12 months would be needed before we’d be in any position to potentially take forward the plans”. Councilor Edbrooke expressed disappointment that “given that a very similar proposal was submitted to us over a year ago, this new proposal hadn’t progressed to a fuller and more robust business case that the council could implement with confidence

Second, the panel was not satisfied that the proposal would make the required savings in the libraries budget – ie £800,000 a year within three years.

The assessment claimed that “the plan was not a clear business plan that could deliver the savings required”. (The proposal contained detailed projections for costs and income over a three-year period, meeting the target reduction set by the Council.) Two reasons were presented for this judgment: that the target for income earnings was not justified by the recent record while uncertainties about pension liability and lease arrangements could add to the Council’s budget.

– which the Friends of Lambeth Libraries dispute

Here’s a comment from Laura Swaffield, the chair of Friends of Lambeth Libraries, on the letter sent by Councillor Edbrooke notifying all the libray Friends groups letter (which you can read at http://defendthe10-lambeth.org.uk) and on the detailed assessment (available at http://www.lambeth.gov.uk/sites/default/files/lsp-Assessment-of-Staff-and-Community-Mutual-4-March-2016.pdf)

First, there is constant reference to the time needed for further detailed work on legal, financial (etc) implications. Well, whose fault is that? Lambeth didn’t even look at the original proposal, submitted by Susanna Barnes in April 2015. If it had, there would have been ample time to get it in place and work out the details on pensions etc.

Instead, Lambeth had to be forced to consider the proposal, by relentless popular campaigning and by its own Overview & Scrutiny Committee. It was only in late November last year that Ms Barnes was asked to develop a detailed plan, and given just one month (including Christmas!) to do so.

Moreover the trust model proposed is already well established. There are 30 library trusts running in the UK, and over 20 more in the pipeline. All the groundwork has been done.

Second, despite all the time, funding and officer support given to the Culture 2020 proposal for “healthy living centres” (ie gyms run by Greenwich Leisure Limited with minimal, unstaffed library provision ) to replace the existing library service at three libraries, there is STILL no sign of a business case or any financial projections for a proposal which – presumably –has to make the target savings set in Culture 2020. So why is the Council accepting this plan which would seem to be “not a clear business plan that could deliver the savings required”?

Third, the assessment says: “Proposal not in line with current Cabinet decision.” A reminder – the “current Cabinet decision” provides for just five libraries; the mutual trust proposal was developed with the explicit aim of retaining all ten. In other words – forget about the objections on timing and finance – there was never any prospect of Lambeth accepting the proposal.

Friends of Lambeth Libraries is therefore working on a legal challenge to this decision.

The consequences are dire

The rejection of the mutual trust proposal means that:

  • the doors were shut at Carnegie and Minet on April 1st . The plan is for work to start on installing gyms there, possibly taking to the end of the year, after which a limited library service will begin, in a reduced space and with no on-site library staff ( While the metal gates were closed at Carnegie library, preventing access to the building, the library has been occupied by around 40 local people – multi-age, and multi-ethnic – who have kept some library activities going on the front steps. The occupation has received massive support, throughout the borough, throughout the country and even internationally. Lambeth Council has gone to court to secure a possession order. Watch the press and social media for updates on the situation.)
  • as from May Upper Norwood library will have only an unstaffed self-service facility
  • Waterloo library will close by the end of May, when an unstaffed facility will open at a room in the Oasis School

All in all, a massive reduction in Lambeth’s service to the residents of the borough.

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