Thursday, 18 August 2016

Press Release - Council Action to Save Libraries is Overdue


Press release: Council action to save libraries is overdue, say campaigners
 
18 August 2016
For immediate release

Lewisham library lovers will be renewing their efforts to stop council cuts on the afternoon of Saturday 20th August. Demonstrators will meet at 12pm and march from Catford Town Hall to Lewisham Library to protest against the £1 million cut from Lewisham Council’s library budget.

The march is organised by Save Lewisham Libraries, which is calling on Lewisham Council to reverse the cut and reinstate staff at the four libraries currently under threat. The action follows the decision by the council to press ahead with the cut in spite of a public consultation which found that the majority of respondents thought that the cuts should be taken from elsewhere. Save Lewisham Libraries believes that the cut could be easily reversed by using a small percentage of the council’s reserves.

Unless the cut is reversed, Forest Hill, Catford, Torridon Rd and Manor House libraries will lose staff. The council is looking to hand over responsibility for the libraries to community organisations, but the latest programme update shows that these plans aren’t working (1). Where the council can’t find anyone to step in, agency staff with no ties to the community will be brought in – at a greater cost to the council than the experienced staff who are losing their jobs – or staff from other libraries will be asked to step in, leading to substantially reduced opening hours.

Library user and march organiser Ian Crosson said: 
“Despite overwhelming local opposition, the council is pressing ahead with its plans to remove staff from libraries in Hither Green, Forest Hill and Catford. They want volunteers to run the libraries, but we’ve seen borrowing rates plummet where this has happened elsewhere in the borough (2). These plans will bring our libraries dangerously close to being shut down altogether. Volunteer delivered library services simply can’t offer the skilled support, range of materials and safe public space that properly staffed and resourced library branches provide.

“Growing numbers of libraries across London and the UK are being handed over to volunteer groups, and many are in danger of closing their doors for good as a result. In Lewisham we’re sending a clear message that this is not what residents want. Mayor Sir Steve Bullock must now choose whether or not he’ll listen and reverse this damaging cut. We hope he’ll take this opportunity to restore the lifeblood of Lewisham’s communities.”

Saturday’s march follows a demonstration in May, which saw hundreds of local residents march through the borough to show their support for the campaign to save Lewisham’s libraries. The march received widespread media coverage, including by the BBC.

More information about the campaign can be found at http://savelewishamlibraries.blogspot.co.uk/.

Media enquiries:
Rosie Downes, rosanna.downes@gmail.com / @rosannadownes / 07969 664090.

Notes to editors:
1)     The latest programme update from Lewisham Council can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2bdCGLB.
2)
     Borrowing rates in community run libraries in Lewisham declined from 60-90% between 2010 and 2014 - substantially greater declines than borrowing rates in council-run libraries. In Forest Hill Library borrowing fell by just 6% over the same period. Figures can be seen at http://bit.ly/2bn1dyZ

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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.