Saturday, 27 February 2021

Our press release in response to threatened Lewisham library cuts.
 

Save Lewisham Libraries statement - 18th February 2021

 

Lewisham’s plan to cut up to £500,000 from the library service budget is very bad news for people in Lewisham.

After lockdown more people than ever will need access to Lewisham Public Libraries for resources,

literature, children’s books, computers, wifi, and the help library staff give them accessing library services, benefits, business loans, debt and housing advice - issues people will be struggling to cope with due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewisham council is proposing that staffing in libraries be slashed by up to £500,000 (1, 2, & 3). In a crisis in which library workers have been designated as key workers,Lewisham residents should be asking what effects these proposed job cuts will have on opening hours,safety and access to our libraries.

These staffing cuts are likely to hit the poorest and most vulnerable groups hardest by falling on

Lewisham, Deptford, Catford and Downham libraries (the rest of Lewisham’s libraries are volunteer run as the council offloaded responsibility for staffing them in 2011 and 2016).

Lewisham residents will be asking if these proposed cuts are a reheat of the disastrous £450,000 budget

cut proposal 2018 that would have seen all staff cut from Downham and Deptford libraries, making the libraries self-service, or a severe reduction in staffed hours across Downham, Deptford and Lewisham libraries.

After protests, the 2018 plans were rejected by the council’s own committee, because vulnerable

people and protected groups would have been disproportionately affected in every option of the cut put forward (4).

How will cuts of an even greater amount, result in what one councillor describes as a “new and greater

service in terms of outreach and inclusivity” (5)? Lewisham councillors say they want libraries to be community hubs, support digital inclusion and give advice and support; but with libraries already doing this, it is difficult to see how drastically cutting library workers’ jobs and the library budget will help deliver these aims. Despite the disproportionate harm COVID-19 has had on particular communities in the borough in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, and deprivation, it is these groups who are already dealing with pre-existing inequalities that these proposed cuts will likely affect.

The only “non-traditional” model Lewisham has consistently been interested in, is in replacing

paid council workers with volunteers.

It would be patronising to the public to suggest that a new model could offer “non-traditional” services

such as help with IT skills when libraries have always offered this, all the more effectively when provided by trained professionals in properly funded models. If by saying that “libraries will accommodate a range of staff who have not traditionally worked in libraries” (5), the council means to propose to use library space for other council workers to do their jobs and use them as indirect supervisors for the space, then this could be setting up self-service, staff-less libraries by stealth, potentially resulting in even more volunteer-run libraries.

Lewisham residents deserve a properly funded service run by paid professional library workers.

What they don’t deserve is the managed decline of a hollowed out library service and loss of trained staff, disguised as ‘innovation’ and ‘transformation’.

If Lewisham council are serious about these things then discussion needs to be about long term

investment and in depth consultation, which doesn’t just get wheeled out when budget cuts are on the table. Lewisham council has said that they will review the service and engage residents and library users soon, but they are running out of time for any meaningful public consultation.

The timetable for decisions on these proposals says that public consultation will be completed  by March 2021 but that staff reorganisation will then begin in April 2021, with restructuring completed by August 2021.

For library users, staff and unions to have any real impact on the formative stages of this plan - a say in

the future of their jobs and services, and not to just be part of a box ticking exercise - then wide ranging consultation, including equalities impact assessments, need to begin urgently.

The definition of a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service, which councils have a legal duty

to provide, continues to be stretched and tested in Lewisham.

Currently the council only funds staffing in 4 out of 13 libraries in the borough. What do Lewisham

residents envision, want, and deserve: a minimum, staffless, cut to the bone "service"; or professionally staffed, properly funded, well maintained and fully open libraries that fully meet residents’ current and future needs?

We believe that Lewisham’s libraries must be kept fully staffed, fully open, and that cuts must be resisted.

Libraries are vital to recovery after COVID-19 but the proposed cuts seem to go against the council’s

own principles for this recovery, “which will be at the heart of all decision-making, planning and actions”, of “tackling widening social, economic and health inequalities” and “protecting and empowering our most vulnerable residents”(6). Instead of library cuts and inflicting a total of £40 million cuts, Lewisham council should stand with people in Lewisham to demand more resources not less to help us through this disaster, and protect their residents’ jobs and vital services.

Please support your libraries, sign our petition, email your councillor, email your MP, raise it in

your ward meetings, raise it with your union and join our campaign to save our libraries and services.

Follow us on Facebook: @SaveLewishamLibraries

References:

(1) News Shopper. “​Lewisham libraries could be cut by £500K”​. 13th January 2021.

https://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/19008089.lewisham-libraries-cut-500k/

(2) Lewisham Council. Scrutiny Committees Report: “Budget Cuts Report”. January 2021.

https://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/documents/s76785/Scrutiny%20Report%20second%20 round%20budget%20cuts%20Jan%202021.pdf

(3) Lewisham Council. “Cuts proposal template 2021/22”. January 2021.

https://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/documents/s76802/Scrutiny%20Report%20second%20 round%20budget%20cuts%20Jan%202021%20Appendix%202.pdf

(4) Save Lewisham Libraries. “​The Unfeasible Study Rumbled! Demand better and take action”. 8th April 2019. 

http://savelewishamlibraries.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-unfeasible-study-our-demands-and.html

(5) News Shopper. “​Lewisham libraries could offer more services after remodel”​. 15th January 2021.

https://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/19014797.lewisham-libraries-offer-services-remodel/

(6) Lewisham Council. Mayor and Cabinet Report: “Budget Cuts Report”. 3rd February 2021.

“​https://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/documents/s77135/Budget%20Cuts.pdf 

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