Lambeth Libraries Campaigner Laura Swaffield addressed the Full Council meeting with the following speech……
The very first speech we made to councillors emphasised that we realised this council had to make cuts. That’s why we were puzzled that the council wanted to waste millions on installing gyms that nobody needed – certainly not the thousands of people in Lambeth who need libraries…
This idea was rushed through at the Cabinet meeting on 12 Oct 2015, with no consultation.But it was obvious to everyone at first glance that it made no sense – least of all financially.
We naively believed the council would think again if we demonstrated that people all over the borough were strongly against it. We did so again and again, but nobody listened.
As we started to find out more,it emerged that the plan only aimed to make less than half the savings required, and would incur a massive extra spend of £4m.
Lambeth’s own assessment showed that the creation of four unstaffed libraries would severely disadvantage all the most vulnerable people in the borough – with people living in the most deprived areas singled out to lose their library.
It also emerged that a much better and simpler plan from the library manager could make the full saving demanded while keeping all 10 libraries running.It had been rejected unseen.
It took a threat of legal action to force the council to look again at the library manager’s plan. It was rejected again in March 2016 – on the grounds that it would not be in place to make the full savings by April 2016. Yet it was clear the council’s plans would not be ready either.
Almost a year later, the gyms plan is still nowhere near in place. No savings have been made at all. Only one “neighbourhood library” has been set up, and it’s not a great success. Two libraries are closed and rotting, with income from tenants lost, still paying all the running costs of a library service plus massive extra costs for security guards.
There’s still no known business plan, no financial workings or market research and only the vaguest idea what these neighbourhood libraries might provide – or how.
Yet the council has become more and more determined to force through the plan at all costs, and has thrown more and more money at it.
Surreally, it has recently emerged that the council says it is unable to explain how the crazy gyms plan was ever thought of… FoI enquirers are being told that there’s no information on this because the officer responsible has departed.
The “Culture2020” plan has been an obvious disaster waiting to happen from the very start. Much damage has been done, much money wasted.
It has been a total PR disaster for the council, with trust lost borough-wide.
Yet the craziest waste is still to come. Carnegie Library is soon to become an unwanted gym, furiously opposed by local people, with wildly contradictory projected costs running into millions.
This farce need never have happened.
Even now the council could save millions, or spend them far more rationally.
The council still blames this expensive shambles on government cuts.
It’s not true. It never was.
NOTE: The council has been trying to close Carnegie Library since 1999. And we all know why. Cabinet papers from 2009 suggested it “would be ideal for sale for a private residential flat conversion”…
libraries being of immeasurable value – addressing inequality – yet costing so very little. Time the council stepped back for a moment to reconsider… Not too late yet…there is a way to stand with the community and save the libraries, fully staffedand professionally run.