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.

1 comment:

  1. read more about the 'customdian's' Lewisham council appointed to Forest Hill Library here:

    Where was the due diligence in leasing the building (at 25% of it's book value) as 'investment property', to an offshore-registered company?

    Why does the structure of this company appear designed to convert public assets into private wealth??