“Councillors have described local people as Trots, misogynists, racists, non-residents, motivated by party politics, posh dilettantes who care nothing for children or victims of domestic violence, and as a small group of protesters”- Library campaigner’s open letter to Lambeth councillors.
Libraries campaigner Laura Swaffield has responded to comments made by Lambeth council leader Lib Peck – by writing a ’round robin’ letter to EVERY Lambeth councillor.
A ‘header’ to the letter repeats comments by Lib Peck which says library campaigners “spread… outrageous and demonstrably untrue claims”.
Laura Swaffield has responded: “Really? In truth, we have spent over two years fighting a wall of secrecy, evasions, weasel wording and outright “untruths” – from the council.”
In the open letter Laura Swaffield hammers home the points which library users and campaigners feel many councillors have continually ignored, saying:
- Plans to turn libraries into gyms were devised and carried out by officers who don’t know a thing about running libraries.
- Lambeth’s assertion that closing the Carnegie saved money omits the unnecessary panic-induced security costs that ran for weeks at both Carnegie and Minet LONG AFTER the Carnegie occupation had ended.
- Local councillors have not taken up the cause of the many residents who objected – and didn’t “fight” anything. The letter in full reads as follows:
1. The whole dismal story was founded on an “untruth” – that the five main town centre libraries accounted for 80 per cent of use (Council meeting 11 Nov 2015). They didn’t.
Visits in October 2015 were 69pc. Weigh that against the fact that opening hours in the five accounted for 58pc of the total in 10 libraries. So visits per hour in October 2015 were 59pc of the total.
Did the 80pc refer to issues? No. October 2015 issues in the five town centre libraries accounted for just 62pc. Meanwhile, Carnegie and Tate South Lambeth (at that time likely to get the gym treatment) were among the fastest-growing in the whole borough. Carnegie was the busiest children’s library in Lambeth. TSL (mercifully spared – for now) continues to boom. Visits went up 93pc in 2014-16, from 93,592 to 180,623.
2. The council has constantly asserted that it has lost 56pc of its government funding, not making it clear that the real cut from all funding is 20pc. Cutting waste would cover that. We have suggestions…
3. The council has pleaded that its crazy gyms plan is necessary to save money. In truth, it rejected the library manager’s plan to keep all the libraries, properly staffed by professionals, while making ALL the savings demanded. The gyms plan set out only to make HALF that saving.
It was devised and carried out by officers who don’t know a thing about running libraries. Staff, library managers and communities have never been involved in any of it.
In practice, it has saved nothing at all. It has incurred extensive extra costs. And the plan is still to waste up to £4m more on installing gyms. That’s where the saving should now be made.
We have tried constantly, and failed, to get any information on the financial plans for the gym or gyms, or any business plan.
4. The disastrous gyms-in-libraries plan was devised in total secrecy, and rushed through Cabinet with NO consultation and NO publicity. (Even so, those who did find out about it turned up at the Cabinet meeting in hundreds – almost 100 couldn’t even get in.) Thus a campaign was forced to begin.
5. A real whopper was emailed to Kate Hoey MP on 6 October 2015 . It said the trust plan to run proper libraries required “that we redirect around £500k from sports and physical activity to the library service”.
It did not. It requested £275k from £500k allocated to “prevention activity through cultural activities & services to tackle the impact of ill-health” – exactly what libraries do, and gyms don’t do.
and £275k from a planned £350-450m pa “library endowment fund” set up to “provide and support literacy development and the love of reading”.
6. From the very start, we have repeatedly asked for details of how much space the four “neighbourhood libraries” would have, what they could provide (on £25,000 pa each!), what market research or business plan underpinned the gyms idea, how this would work financially… and so on. This information is still not available.
7. As for the gyms idea – which repeated local surveys have shown to be unwanted by local people – we have an answer (October 2015) from top manager Adrian Smith, since departed: “The sports facility strategy identifies unmet demand for both gym and broader leisure facilities in the borough.”
Yes it does – but NOT in Herne Hill or Vassall or Stockwell. Lambeth’s Sports & Physical Activities Facilities Improvement Strategy 2015 [p. 105-6] stated that, even then, gym provision in Lambeth was adequate, additions were already planned in and “the only area of significant under provision after the planned increases, is Norwood… followed by Clapham”.
It recommended that further development of “fitness gyms” be in these areas, not elsewhere.
8. Councillors have described local people as Trots, misogynists, racists, non-residents, motivated by party politics, posh dilettantes who care nothing for children or victims of domestic violence, and “a small group of protesters”.
The low spot was maybe when a local cllr replied to a legitimate query by tweeting a picture of a yawning cat.
The plea about vulnerable people we found particularly offensive, as it is those people who will lose most by losing a safe, free library space (where trained staff could advise them on finding anything from benefits to help with mental illness). This contributes a lot to the council’s provision on public health, support for young families and the elderly, literacy, employment, positive outlets for young people etc etc etc.
We were not pleading for funds to be diverted from such people, but for a vital frontline service for them to continue, for achievable savings as outlined by the library manager and for millions not to be wasted on gyms.
As for the “small group of protesters” – that’s the 10,000+ who signed the petition, the 600+ who went on TWO marches, and the hundreds who took part in other demonstrations, attended council meetings or wrote in vain to their councillors, GLL, the government, MPs, the chief executive, Lib herself… etc.
Not to mention the repeated surveys that have shown local people don’t want a gym at all, in any of the three buildings originally lined up to get one.
The council’s position reached the level of farce when it laid on police cover and 12 security guards to wall off the cllrs sneaked in through the back door to approve the planning application to wreck the Carnegie library – and its neighbourhood.
9. Numerous council/GLL leaflets have fallen over themselves to gloss over the fact that the four “neighbourhood libraries” (planned to replace four proper libraries) would be much smaller, and provide less of everything. This was obvious from the start, and the Cabinet report said so. It must be so, if you shoe-horn a gym into a building previously fully used as a library.
They would thus have far less stock, study space etc. This has proved to be the case in the sole such “library” to be set up so far (Waterloo).
Wording about the Carnegie plans, for instance, has included “the same book stock and study space” (https://lambethnews.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/update-carnegie-library)
and “comprehensive book stock, at the same level as the previous Carnegie Library” (exhibition board https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/sites/default/files/lsp-Carnegie-Exhibition-Board-Carnegie-Neighbourhood-Library.pdf) …right through to “will contain a similar number of books and computers as before…” (Herne Hill councillors’ leaflet, Feb 2017).
10. Similar weasel wording has been applied to the vital (free) activities that make libraries an essential community resource.
Just £100,000 pa is budgeted to run four “neighbourhood” libraries (running just one proper service costs c. £170,000pa). Library staff are to be present for “up to” two hours a day with a whole lot of stuff to sort out. So it’s obvious that activities provision will be near-zero. As it is in Waterloo. Again this has never been made clear.
That exhibition board is typical in just saying: “A programme of activities… will be provided by Lambeth libraries … A weekly session for under-5s and a monthly reading group…” If that’s all, it’s not enough.
11. A further FAQ leaflet on Carnegie is a classic (https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/what-is-happening-to-lambeth-libraries). Just a selection of some of its points:
It asserts that closing the Carnegie has saved money. It omits the unnecessary panic-induced security costs that ran for weeks at both Carnegie and Minet LONG AFTER the occupation last year. It then says the monthly cost (just at Carnegie) is now £5,400 pm while the library used to cost (a bargain) £13,000 pm. It doesn’t say the building is still paying full rates, utility bills, staffing and other costs.
It says that “a programme of support including a small grants programme is being provided” for the community groups evicted from Carnegie, with their equipment locked inside. This was news to the groups, which began asking for help well before the library closed in April 2016.
They were rebuffed, and have been forced to seek and pay for unsatisfactory alternative premises. They have consistently pleaded for access to the library ever since, backed by Helen Hayes MP. Nothing. One or two are just now getting some support, but most are not. If they do get space in the future “neighbourhood library”, they will apparently have to pay. For an up-to-date (5 February) account from one such group see:
The garden will, it’s said, “be used as it was before”. It won’t. It will lose one-third of its space, mature trees will be felled and it will be dominated by ventilation and other building plant for the gym and a sizeable glazed entrance extension with people coming in and out all day.
12. Most annoying of all is the stream of assertions in emails, local hand-outs and LBL literature that Labour councillors have “fought to save libraries”. The “neighbourhood libraries” do not “save” the real libraries being needlessly lost. Local cllrs have not taken up the cause of the many residents who objected.
They didn’t “fight” anything. We hear stories of arm-twisting behind the scenes, but what we know is that campaigners have had to rely on the three Tories and solitary Green to ask questions and oppose the plans. The Waterloo cllrs did make a stand, but unfortunately chose in the end to support the unsatisfactory transfer of their library to Oasis.
All but one Labour cllr have voted for Culture2020 in Cabinet and council. All but one have batted back numerous communications from residents with the party line, usually in identical wording.
The sole Labour cllr to speak out against library closures was Rachel Heywood. She was suspended from the party.
14. A final oddity. A Freedom of Information request has tried to find out more about the origins of the plans for Carnegie. The answer is that it’s not available because “the individual responsible” has left.
So that’s apparently the final answer to all our questions. We’ll now never know how it all came about. To quote, “using the same ‘logic’, ALL emails written by ALL council officers / employees in EVERY SINGLE Lambeth council department – housing, rates, etc etc etc while they were employed by the council and who have since left Lambeth are inaccessible”. Really???
News From Crystal Palace also publishes the original letters between Laura Swaffield and Lib Peck
LAURA SWAFFIELD TO LIB PECK
Dear Lib Last Saturday I tried to tell you something. You drowned me out by constantly repeating: “I’m not listening! I’m not listening!” Let me try again. A few councils are trying out the bizarre idea of “libraries” with no staff. In every case, entry is only via a library card and a PIN number, there is CCTV – and even so, CHILDREN UNDER 15 ARE COMPLETELY BANNED for their own safety. Lambeth council is UNIQUE. Its unstaffed “neighbourhood libraries” are to be open to all-comers, at all hours, with no identification and no CCTV – and children will be welcome, any time. That’s right! Books, games and PCs to tempt the kids in… then any adult can approach them without hindrance – unidentified, unseen. Ironically, our encounter was at an Equality Commission public meeting. Your own Cabinet equalities report (October 12, 2015) clearly stated: “It is not possible to mitigate the impact of the unstaffed neighbourhood libraries on groups of vulnerable people who rely on staff in their local library for support.” The very long list includes small children, families, schoolkids and young people. To this deprivation, you are adding outright danger. You lead the only council in the entire UK to be so reckless of its children’s safety. This is what you plan to provide at Carnegie Library (formerly the busiest children’s library in the whole borough), and three other “neighbourhood libraries”. Why won’t you listen – before it’s too late? Laura Swaffield Defend the10
LIB PECK TO LAURA SWAFFIELD
Dear Laura Many people saw us speaking at the Equality Commission last Saturday. It doesn’t do you any good to be distorting the truth by claiming I wouldn’t listen to you. Like many of the points you raised in our ten minute conversation, it just doesn’t add up. You said: £4 million was being spent on developing Carnegie – untrue You said that the two community organisations bidding for the asset transfer weren’t looking to raise income. Also untrue. You at least appreciated that cuts had been made to our budget but then didn’t accept that should have any impact on running costs. Presumably you think that libraries should remain immune to the financial pressures we face? You deliberately didn’t understand the difference between paying for a one off capital cost and a regular annual expenditure.
You claimed that Lambeth is the worst local authority for libraries, even after I challenged you on the fact that other authorities are permanently closing libraries, as we see across the country. Yes it is the case that Minet (while the archive review is taking place) and Carnegie (while planning permission and the subsequent work takes place) are temporarily closed but this is to put in place mechanisms to secure their future for the long-term, even when we face huge budget pressures. You failed to acknowledge something I know to be true, from other local authorities’ experience, that letting a library be managed by a hastily assembled group of volunteers has proved much more problematic than the model we have opted for. Our model has involved working with established or long running community organisations or trusts such as Upper Norwood Library Trust, Oasis, Carnegie Trust and Friends of Carnegie. In the case of UNJL and Waterloo, we have seen extended opening hours in which thousands of people are able to study, learn and use our library services – in stark contrast to your repeated claims that these are not libraries and that they are effectively closed. Our discussion did stop after about 10 minutes when you said our libraries were “window dressing for paedophiles”. At that point I did say there was really no point in continuing the conversation.
So to your latest allegation. The citation you refer to is clearly addressing the point that not all of the functions currently carried out in the library will be able to take place. It is looking at where else people, particularly vulnerable people, can be helped to get these services. It is not in any way stating that children will be at risk as you claim in such a hyperbolic way. Second, one of the reasons we wanted to make sure that libraries were not just run by volunteers is that we wanted a staff member present – be that a library staff member or a member of Oasis or GLL. The buildings are not vacant. If you were genuinely interested in ensuring this wasn’t the case, you could go to the Waterloo library at the Oasis Centre and see how this works in practice. If you visited, you would see that it completely contradicts the increasingly absurd claims that you have made on this for well over a year now. Your argument of course also ignores the fact that in most of our libraries there will be a full complement of library staff. I have accepted that this process has been flawed, causing unnecessary confusion and concern, and I have apologised for that.
We clearly will disagree on the future use of Carnegie and Minet and I’m sure you will continue to argue for a fully funded service there, despite our financial challenges. I believe in the circumstances, that working with community organisations to secure their future and continue to provide library services is a much better outcome than a hastily put together volunteer service or closing them all together. But it is incumbent on you, as someone who claims to speak for others, not to spread such outrageous and demonstrably untrue claims. We take very seriously our responsibility to all vulnerable people in the borough and those who use our services, and we will continue to do so. Best wishes Lib