Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Manor House Library Protest

A campaign stall was set up outside Manor House Library last Saturday to protest against the outsourcing of services and the forthcoming decision by Mayor and Cabinet as to its future.

The decision to hand the library over to a private company will most likely be approved next Wednesday. The company will be benefiting from what belongs the people of Lewisham, making a profit, while paying the Council a peppercorn rent. Meanwhile, our library service is downgraded.

Below you will find a letter sent from The Users and Friends of Manor House Library to the Mayor weeks ago outlining their concerns. They have yet to receive a reply. Perhaps he is too busy fending questions from the public and media regarding the rather dodgy Millwall housing development...

Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham                                              24th January 2017
Mayor’s Office, 
Civic Suite,
Lewisham Town Hall, Catford,
London SE6 4RU

Dear Mayor Bullock,

Thank you for your letter dated 11th January 2017 relating to Council budgets, Council funding, Income & Spend and Central Government’s spending assessment.  We appreciate the gravity of the overall situation.
However, in relation to the Library & Information Service, downsizing to a “preferred model” system of “Community Libraries” we have to ask where is the value for money and where is the provision of a decent Service?
 We know this is not what Lewisham’s public library customers are experiencing.
The Interim Management provision for Manor House Library has flagged up a regular occurrence of machinery breakdown – yesterday, a fault arose with the heating boiler such that the Children’s Centre in the basement was unable to heat the space.  Regular breakdowns with the Self Issue Self Return machines occur as do the on-line facilities. And the breakdown in lights continue apace.
The customer is unable to pay for regular library services such as fines, reservation fees, and is unable to use a pay-only photocopier/printer as there is no facility for payment for any of these services.
Furthermore, there is the ridiculous system that reserved books/media are unable to be collected by the customer at Manor House Library who is thus obliged to collect the item at The Age Exchange branch in Blackheath or at Lewisham Central Library (whichever is the nearest for the customer.)
Under these conditions, is it any wonder users would be discouraged from using the Manor House Library thus contributing to the idea that nobody uses libraries any longer. Is this the reason our request for up-to-date CIPFA statistics from January 2015 have been officially refused by the Library and Information department?.
In fact, Manor House Library is not, and has not since 21st October 2016 operated as a functioning Library and Information Service outlet.   Frankly, it discourages users and even deters some laptop computer owners because of its weak Wi-Fi links!

In terms of the anticipated transfer of responsibilities to the incoming ‘Host Partner’ who may engage a volunteer force to work the library space, will these people be required to undergo DBS checks?  We understand that paid Public Library Staff are not required to undergo these checks.  This was an issue that both Cllr Mallory and yourself were surprised to learn.  Has any form of clarification been sought?  Patricia asked Ms Buckton about this at our meeting on 10/12/2016 at the Manor House and was assured the council would take responsibility for this.  Is this the case?
We assume the Host/Partner will be required to provide the volunteers with Induction training for all the aspects that may involve, including Fire drills, Evacuation techniques, Health and Safety matters, and Public Liability responsibilities as is required in good practice/management of Public Spaces.

We have recently been made aware of the input of other money from other departments to assist this kind of ‘outsourcing’ of once-public services.  So-called “Small Grants” and other ‘free rides’ have been provided for some Community Library management organisations.  As for the internal structural damage highlighted by The Pinnacle Report this is intended to be rectified by the Host/Partner. It is hoped the selected Host/Partner is able to fund these requirements.
However, we refer to the Pinnacle Report; Introduction, (p2 of 12) in particular paragraphs 7 and 8 which although advisory are pertinent to the long-term sustainability of such a valuable Grade 2-star listed building.  Did any of the prospective Host/Partners understand this responsibility or were they blinded by the comfort of a rent-free Grade 2-star-listed building and a Business Rate holiday until May 2018?  We have just discovered, today in fact, that the Council has employed a company to be responsible for various works.  Will this be another cost to tax-payers, in spite of the building not being managed by the Council?

A great deal of public money was invested in the building, as you yourself remarked.  Is this investment now to benefit a private company?

Yours sincerely,

Patricia and Peter Richardson.

Cc   Heidi Alexander M.P.

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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.