The April public forum- not much evidence of progress

A library public forum was held at Tate South Lambeth Library on April 12th. This is the face-to-face meeting of library managers and local people, held every three months, where the library’s plans are set out and its performance is held up to scrutiny by the general public.

Major questions- raised at previous sessions of the forum – were again put to the library management panel. Little progress was reported.

Who was there?

The forum was chaired by Jack Hopkins, Oval Councillor. O’Neill Williams, Customer and Quality Service Manager at Lambeth Libraries, represented senior management.  Maria Kwofie, the newly appointed manager of TSL Library (as from late March), represented local management.

Eleven members of the local community made up the audience, five of them from the committee of Friends of TSL while another three were volunteers who provide services at TSL.

What did the public want to know?

The principal questions raised by the public at this forum were:

1. When will work begin on the – delayed – 2013/14 capital spending programme (£107,000)?

2. What is the progress on setting up a system for engaging local volunteers to support library activities?

3. Have the rates been set for hiring library space by community and commercial organisations?

4. Has it yet been settled who is responsible (Lambeth or Thames Water) for clearing the blockage in the drains that has kept the public lavatory out of service for over three years?

5. When can we expect to see the delivery of the 12 items that are being funded by Section 106 money?

6. What is the justification for spending almost half the total Lambeth libraries budget (45% in 2012/13) on “service support costs” – the charge that goes back to the central administration – when the average of 16 London library authorities is only 24%?

What were the answers?

Going down this list, we learned:

1. At the last forum we were given a list of planned building improvements on which work was scheduled for the period up to June this year. But there has been no sign of any start up so far. The management panel could not give us information as to when spending on building improvements will begin, but promised to pursue the matter.

2. The panel was not aware of any movement on setting up a volunteer recruitment and management system.

3. The forum’s understanding was that hiring rates for TSL would be set with reference to offers by other local facilities, but the panel could not tell us what these will be.

4. It has been settled that Lambeth Living (the agency working for Lambeth Council) is responsible for resolving the lavatory drainage problem. Action is now being discussed.

5. At the last forum we were told that the Section 106 funded items would be bought within 6 to 8 weeks. Only one (the reader/scanner) has been acquired. Apparently the purchase of 40 chairs has been delayed while a different model is sought. The panel could not tell us the state of play on the 10 other items.

6. This was not a question that  a panel of library managers could answer- the decision is one by Lambeth Council administration. However Councillor Hopkins undertook to pursue the issue.

Our conclusion

These answers were not very encouraging, since they indicated that very little has been done to put into effect the policies and actions outlined at the January forum.

However the forum was acutely aware that the panel had not been brought up to date by the library service on the various issues raised at the last forum. (In part this reflects the absence – through illness – for some weeks now of the head of the library service, who had attended previous sessions.) So the two management representatives were in no position to give the updates sought. But both showed a readiness to pursue the questions raised.

And the local councillor is to take up the question of a central charge which cuts into the availability of funds for frontline services.

So Friends are hopeful that – at the next forum, scheduled for July 12th – there will be progress to report

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