Wednesday, 30 August 2017

To all candidates for Lewisham Mayor: An open letter

How will you reverse the trend of privatisation of Lewisham's public libraries?

The Council's handling of libraries over the last ten years has proved to be a disaster, destroying a well loved service, seeing one of the most severe drops in borrowing numbers across the country. 

The 'Community Library' scheme gave the third sector and business community the assets of our libraries; a complete waste, basically handing over the goods. Our Labour council now routinely boasts about the untrained, unpaid voluntary labour (often exploiting people who really want a good reference) in place of professional and accountable staff as if this is progress. 

Visit our so called community libraries now, you will not find the distinct studious nature of a library or the help you need. They are open buildings with information resources but no librarians. You will see signs begging you to volunteer, books for sale, I.T. equipment out of service never to be repaired, health and safety risks, rooms taken over by for-profit gentrifying 'co-working spaces'. That's if you can catch them when they are open. You can't reserve books, sign up or pay fines, printing is inconsistent, you can’t do much of anything of what a library is really defined by. By dividing the operation of the service you get fundraising and volunteer support that is unequal across the borough, worst where most needed, flying in the face of the ideal of egalitarian library service. It sends a significant message that the productive utility of libraries doesn't matter when actually it is integral and immeasurable: The authors and doctors and workers and readers that couldn’t have come to be without the service are forgotten; the next generation? Denied and lost.

In Lambeth, in the face of a similar scheme a librarian drafted and had costed an alternative saving plan that would have the least impact on the quality of the service. It was disregarded without due consideration, and in Lewisham the council also dismissed this course as if it doesn’t exist. Other London Labour boroughs under similar financial restraint from punishing Tory cuts have retained their libraries. We need a mayor and council with the political will and the plan to resist the Tory government's robbery, regain and sustain decent educational resources for the people of Lewisham.

As leader you'll need to spearhead this effort, using your position to inspire, to obstinately protest for the common good, opening space for more engagement from community activists and the rest of the public to win political struggles and grow them. The Lewisham hospital campaign proved movements make this difference, but we don't need controlling we need solidarity. Rather than abandon any school, college or service that runs into trouble, we should set an example of supporting them and that way we shall set the precedent that when we fight, when we do everything we can, all for one and one for all, we win. 

You'll need a sense of dignity beyond what the corporate media says about you. This will take sacrifice and compassion. These are desperate times and as mayor, you can't play a passive victim, it is not good enough.

What is your plan for libraries in Lewisham?

Perry Vale Branch Labour Party recently passed a motion requiring “The careful restoration of all Lewisham Libraries, including community libraries to being publicly operated, maintained and staffed by professional librarians who are council employees throughout opening hours.
As Mayor of Lewisham will you support this and work to realise it?

If you don't have a plan, we kindly suggest that you come up with one ASAP, get it looked at by legal experts and your economic and political peers to be prepared for achieving it in power. Then please publish it and campaign on it, give some guarantee that you won’t renege on promises by backing libraries to the hilt now. This way we'll be assured you are a friend and ally of libraries. Otherwise you can't expect our votes or our respect.


Restore Our Library Service

Lewisham's libraries are a well loved and much used service, especially depended on by children.

It is upsetting then, that our libraries have been put through the wringer, and to show for it, issue numbers have fallen more than almost anywhere else in the country in the last five years. Lewisham Council has executed on its misbeggoten decision to cut £1 million from the budget, making most staff redundant whilst outsourcing operations to social enterprises and charities on decades long leases and contracts. And disgustingly, council advances this as an innovative 'opportunity'. It has also been pushing the money under the rug, as outsourced groups who run into cash flow problems are given large council grants, and this is now par for the course.

The Council removed staff from 4 of our libraries in 2016:

Catford, Forest Hill, Manor House and Torridon Road.

Despite the massive public opposition and the first council staff strikes here in decades, they pushed the changes through. This is not forgotten or over. This must be rectified.

Unison was right to believe that the implementation of the scheme would mean:

  • Professional staff will not be available in these libraries
  • Opening times will be reduced
  • If there are not enough volunteers, then libraries will close
  • Library usage and services to the community will be reduced
  • Vulnerable users won’t be able to access library services

They can no longer rightly be called libraries but pale imitations, community centres, thinly veiled property development operations that make a show of meeting a few basic library service functions and relying on volunteers. They stretch the remaining council staff dangerously thin, perhaps popping in to Pepys library once a week to mourn the chaos. Having made these idiotic redundancies so drastically management have had to take on agency staff. They've even trained up at cost new staff, who have handed in their resignation finding the conditions intolerable.

It has left us left three "hub" libraries still very basically council staffed, Lewisham, Deptford Lounge and Downham. Catford often has nobody but the security guards that work in the building, you can't print and can never expect to be able to print, and it is unsafe and unreliable.

In a borough this size it no longer meets our statutory right to a local, accessible, convenient library service.

These hub libraries are under threat of more unsubtle restructures by Bullock and head of the service Anthonio 'they changed my title so I'd have no chance of being sued' Rizzo. We campaign by all our legitimate means, from our right to public assembly, to arguing in surgeries and consultations, to looking into the published books of tender candidates to see what the council turns a blind eye to.

We have perhaps decreased the damange and slowed it down, but council generally has its head in the sand, and the tory government that goes without saying.

In this misinformation, privatisation age libraries are for their users desperately important.

Save Lewisham Libraries urges you to FIGHT FOR LIBRARIES!

Please sign our petition, come to our meetings and developing protests and get involved.