‘A charitable social enterprise for all the community’?

Open Letter to Mark Sesnan, Managing Director of GLL

1st June 2017

Dear Mark Sesnan

Please withdraw from the disastrous scheme to downgrade the Carnegie library and install a GLL/Better gym.

There is still time. Negotiations are dragging on.

The project is many months behind schedule. It is clearly in chaos.

The Carnegie library was thriving, with usage increasing dramatically year by year. It served deprived communities, providing a wide variety of free resources and activities for all ages, with the busiest children’s library in the whole borough.

Its size and facilities are to be drastically reduced and almost all library staffing withdrawn – which the council admits will severely disadvantage all the most vulnerable user groups.

Meanwhile, the proposed fee-charging gym might interest just 10% of adults, and nobody else. Several gym facilities are already available in the immediate area.

The millions to be spent on this useless folly, which local people do not need or want – as they have told you again and again – cannot be justified.

Please take the only rational, ethical decision open to you. Withdraw.

This is why…

FOR GLL, THIS IS A PUBLIC RELATIONS DISASTER

  1. Opposition is now stronger than ever.

If you persist, it will escalate.

  1. GLL is implicated in the council’s arrogant refusal to listen, its inaccurate and misleading publicity and its constant breaking of promises to consult or involve local people.
  2. You yourself have compounded this with your high-handed treatment of the many people who have contacted you direct. They received only evasions – or, often, no reply at all.
  3. The “gyms-in-libraries” idea has been widely ridiculed in the local and national press, while the community’s opposition has received extensive positive cover in the press, radio and TV. This will continue and increase.

IT IS DAMAGING THE LOCAL COMMUNITY

  1. The council’s own physical activity strategy states that no gym is needed in the area.
  2. Survey after survey has shown that a gym is the last thing local people want in the Carnegie building. They want a full-service library.
  3. Public opposition has been demonstrated again and again:

A petition was signed by over 10,000 people. Marches have been attended by 500, 600 and 2,000 people. Demonstrations have filled the whole street.

The building was occupied in April 2016, with wide public and media support.

The planning application had 313 objectors, just five supporters.

The most recent demonstration, on 1 April 2017, attracted 250 local people.

  1. Many people cannot access another library. Nevertheless, the other libraries have been filled beyond capacity, including by some more mobile former Carnegie users, with many turned away for safety reasons. This will continue when the inadequate replacement re-opens in the Carnegie Library.

WHAT FINANCIAL SENSE DOES IT MAKE?  

  1. GLL has never published a business plan, research on potential demand or any financial rationale – despite repeated requests.
  2. The library closure has already wasted huge sums. The Carnegie continues to incur all the costs it did when open: rates, utilities, redeployed staff. PLUS the cost of security (£5,400 per month after an initial panicked reaction that cost thousands more during and after the library occupation).

PLUS the loss of £5,000 per month formerly paid in rent by the businesses evicted with no notice at all. PLUS a growing bill for damage to building and garden caused by neglect. PLUS storage costs for furniture, shelving and books removed from the building.

  1. In addition, c.£700,000 is to be spent excavating the basement, plus an unknown share of c.£1.8m to install a gym there, plus £1m+ revenue to support the gym’s operation.
  2. GLL will pay no rent and will apparently not contribute anything to maintenance. Far from bringing in revenue, it must be subsidised by taxpayers. There is thus no financial benefit at all to the council or the residents. Quite the contrary

THE WHOLE LBL/GLL DEAL IS SUBJECT TO VERY SERIOUS QUESTIONS.

WHAT IMPRESSION DOES IT GIVE OF GLL’s ETHICS?

  1. GLL states that it is “here for the good of the communities we operate in”. The Carnegie debacle is an embarrassing negation of this claim.
  2. The deal was negotiated in total secrecy. It was in an advanced stage by July 2015 – while the council was not even considering a community-supported plan by the Service Manager that was far more viable and would have saved all 10 libraries. This background looks so dubious it has been featured in PRIVATE EYE (attached).
  3. The gyms plan was rushed through in October 2015 with no publicity and no consultation. Promises to inform and involve local people have been consistently broken.
  4. The deal appears to: fail multiple best value requirements in local authority law; involve commissioning new “healthy living centres” with no tendering; alter an existing contract illegally; offer largely unspecified “sponsorship” to the council in exchange for getting hold of library buildings; lock the council into an extended leisure services contract until 2023.

PLEASE WITHDRAW FROM THIS SENSELESS DESTRUCTION OF AN ESSENTIAL COMMUNITY RESOURCE.

Your good name is at stake.

Yours sincerely,

Defend the 10

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