It’s Not About Cuts!

Lambeth council still insists that government cuts force it to close libraries and replace them with gyms. This is not true, and has never been true. Even now, despite all the council’s delays, saving all 10 libraries would cost LESS than destroying them. And if the capital it plans to waste were diverted to the culture endowment fund, there would be even more revenue to run a full service.

Here are the facts, in detail.

Head of libraries Susanna Barnes’s original plan would have saved the full £800,000, from year 1. There was ample time to implement it, if work had begun when her proposal was submitted in April 2015. LBL officers, however, did not even ask to see the fully worked up business plan she offered, and commenced their negotiations with GLL in secret, revealing them only in the Cabinet papers on October 2, giving no time to examine them.

The ‘plan’ rushed through by Cabinet on Oct 12 saved much, much less than £800k. And various monies listed in the consultation document that could have gone to libraries had been spirited away. As of April 2016, a business plan for GLL has still not been made available. An FoI answer dated October 28 2015 stated clearly that no such plan existed. Repeated requests have failed to obtain any further details.

According to the current culture2020/GLL plan agreed by Cabinet, for 2016-17 a total of £3,607,000 revenue will be used via various streams to deliver the service which currently costs £3,796,000 and which on 1st April was proposed to be reduced to £2,996,000. These figures are subject to an £89,000 uplift for the recent pay award. This is an actual saving of £189,000 from the annual budget provided to deliver these services, rather than the £800,000 proposed in the consultation documents. £180,000 of this spend are funds from the endowment fund, allocated to as yet unspecified community groups.

Saving to library budget

After the recommendation from the Overview & Scrutiny Committee to consider Susanna Barnes’s plan, she produced a new plan within the budget agreed on Oct 12. It still saves just as much short-term as the GLL plan (ie than £800,000), and saves more in the longer term. It also, of course, does not require a huge £3m+ capital spend on gyms, or the planned £1m revenue over two years to support the gyms. To this must now be added the unknown, but substantial cost, of excavating the Carnegie Library basement to accommodate a gym. The capital could be diverted to the culture endowment fund, which a community/staff mutual (but not the council) could use as revenue to run libraries. Susanna Barnes’s new plan would still deliver the full £800k cut by 2018-19. But the culture2020 plan says nothing as to how it could do the same.

In addition, it has not costed in expensive moves that arise from closing libraries and installing gyms. For instance, making over the whole Carnegie building to a trust, necessitates  providing considerable alternative space for the library service stock support facilities and home visiting service (with three parking spaces) now in the Carnegie. Five or six security guards are now installed 24/7 at the Carnegie, and the same at the Minet, which would not be needed were they open. One guard 24/7 costs £10,000 per month, so this is costing £100-120,000 a month – far more than it would cost to maintain the libraries. Again, this has never been costed in, so it must be taken from revenue to run social services or similar.