Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Update on Mondays Public Consultation meeting

Chaired by Head of Library Services Antonio Rizzo, Head of Community Services Aileen Buckton and with Cllr Chris Best, the audience was disappointed again and again when pressing the panel for information upon which they could base a decision.

There were complaints about the timescale and the lack of printed consultation documents.

One gentleman pointed out ‘the essence of the library is in the written word’. The council is not providing this for the public in the form of a printed information pack. Still, as before, aside from those who visit the council homepage or wander into a library there is no publicity. It was then agreed by panel members more should have been done – two meetings in to this six-week process.

But the main shock of the evening would have been to staff present, who heard several times from Aileen Buckton, and with the assurances of our Head of Service Antonio Rizzo, that community libraries offer a better service than that of their own colleagues seated in the room.

This betrayal cuts deep but there was public support in the room, with several highlighting the loss of intellectual capital through redundancies and one making the point that regardless of £3m, library staff are priceless. Perhaps he had seen Catford library described by TimeOut as “the most helpful librarians I’ve ever met”.

We now need to shout the message loud and clear that community libraries do not and cannot offer an equal service to staff in Lewisham. The accounts from the panel do not accord with our daily experience and the benevolence of those volunteers staffing community libraries is being used to enact cuts we can be sure they do not favour.

Aside from growing union membership there is a growing campaign on Twitter (@SaveLewLibs) and we have enquiries from the press - please encourage the public, friends and family to bombard them with messages of support and concern about these proposals.

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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.