SENSATIONAL CLAIMS that Lambeth council agreed a £7 million fee reduction over its libraries deal with Greenwich Leisure – rather than a ‘one-off’ payment of £1 million – are made in a new report of potentially seismic proportions.

The report by The People’s Audit says that at the time of the final Culture 2020 report in October 2015:

  • negotiations between the two to give GLL access to library sites were at an advanced stage;
  • had been taking place since at least July 2015;
  • that sponsorship of the Black Cultural Archives was contingent on the agreement; and
  • that a GLL fee reduction was to be recurring and would amount to some £7 million over several years rather than being a “one off” as the council has suggested.(A press release issued by Lambeth council on March 4th 2016 shows Lambeth announced that Carnegie library, Herne Hill and the Minet, Brixton “will proceed as healthy living centres” in partnership with Greenwich Leisure – Ed.*)Information obtained by the People’s Audit team under the Local Audit and Accountability Act and Freedom of Information Act has uncovered email correspondence between Lambeth council and Greenwich Leisure Ltd (Lambeth’s main health facilities provider) which was sent the day after the Lambeth council cabinet meeting on 12th October 2015 at which Lambeth approved Culture 2020.The emails, between Dave Behagg, GLL’s deputy head of development and partnerships and Donna Wiggins, Lambeth council lead commissioner, show Dave Behagg urging Donna Wiggins to conclude the details of an unspecified “service” to be undertaken by GLL as part of the arrangement, say People’s Audit.

    “The timing of the emails (October 13th/14th and November 2nd, 2015) and references in the Culture 2020 report to negotiations between Lambeth council and GLL mean this is highly likely to refer to ‘healthy living centres’ to be installed in Lambeth library buildings, including the Carnegie and Minet libraries”, the group argue.

    The emails say:

    “Following last night’s cabinet confirmation, please can you write confirming the key elements, including:
    1)     GLL to operate the service from April 2017-March 2022
    2)    £1m per year reduction in management fee, commencing April 2015
    We can then proceed to invoice you for £467,747 for 2015-16.”

    When Donna Wiggins says she is unable to secure final confirmation immediately as councillors must be given five days to request a ‘call in’ review, Dave Behagg asks “can I therefore assume your letter next week will be prompt because you will have had the intervening period to line it up?”.

    The People’s Audit say the final Culture 2020 report makes only passing mention of “initial negotiations” with GLL, adding that “GLL have agreed with the council to apply £1m of the shared development pot capital balance towards the fit out of the healthy living centre trial”.

    “But the emails indicate that, at the time of the Culture 2020 report, negotiations between LBL and GLL were very advanced and that the outline of the deal was essentially in place, with only final agreement missing.”

    The precise treatment of funds saved through GLL management fee reductions is also unclear, say The People’s Audit.

    “This is important as it highlights the contradictory explanations already given by the council in describing proposals to spend £2m on the establishment of GLL ‘healthy living centres’, with an additional £1m coming from a “shared development fund with GLL.

    “These savings are described variously as being ‘derived from an agreement with GLL for the purpose of developing the proposed healthy living centres’ to be ‘allocated for the entire library programme…to fund the refit of some libraries into healthy living centres’; in a council members’ enquiry as being used ‘to help underpin the parks maintenance budget – initially in 2016/17 and 2017/18’, while the Lambeth/GLL email correspondence refers to the funds only as a “reduction in management fee.

    “Whichever way, the £1m discount amounts to around 30 per cent of the 2014/15 annual libraries budget, and would have been more than enough to save all 10 Lambeth libraries, as well as leaving significant headroom for capital investment in a service which, as Lambeth council itself said in a 2012 libraries consultation, has been subjected to 40 years of underinvestment.”

    Contradictions remain too in council explanations of the source of the funding for the Carnegie library refurbishment, say the People’s Audit.

    “While the Culture 2020 report states ‘GLL have agreed with the council to apply £1m of the shared development pot capital balance towards the fit out of the healthy living centre trial’, in a Lambeth cabinet meeting statement in February 2017, Cllr Jack Hopkins, cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, said that funds to install gym facilities in the Carnegie library building would be taken from an otherwise unspecified ‘capital pot’.

    “An especially concerning aspect of the correspondence is that it seems to show Lambeth’s libraries being used as bargaining chips with which to secure corporate support.  

    “This is seen when Dave Behagg says of the management fee reduction: ‘finalisation of this initial matter unlocks progress in a number of other areas, in particular we [GLL] will be able to confirm our sponsorship of the Black Cultural Archives’.

    “While sponsorship for an important cultural initiative such as the BCA is to be welcomed, the manner in which it seems to have been secured in this case is worrying” the report adds.

    “So is the failure to mention such a condition in the Culture 2020 report, which says only of the sponsorship that ‘as a consequence of the Culture 2020 consultation Greenwich Leisure Limited have stepped forward to offer BCA a sponsorship deal worth in the region £100k pa, which will include £50,000 revenue and £50,000 in-kind technical support’.

    “Nowhere in the final Culture 2020 report is it mentioned that BCA sponsorship is subject to conditions, nor that the sponsorship hinges on the council’s agreeing to allow GLL access to other sites and to provide other services.

    “It is likely that many library users would see such sponsorship very differently had they known the strings attached to GLL’s sponsorship of the BCA.

    “Unless other powers of exit are retained elsewhere, the removal of contractual break clauses in the leisure services contract would seem to tie Lambeth into a commitment lasting until the end of the current leisure services contract in 2023.  

    “The council’s funding for healthy living centres is to come mainly from future profits from leisure services (as well as potentially Section 106 funds).

    “If the healthy living centres do not prove to be profitable, other services’ budgets will need to be co-opted in lieu of such profits, all to fund a project for which a business plan has still not been published and which still has never been publicly consulted on.

    “Local campaigners have always cited Lambeth’s failure to consult on the Carnegie plans as a key point of contention, especially after a public consultation on proposals to install gym facilities in the Tate South Lambeth library showed residents overwhelmingly favoured the retention of full library services.

    “Of 1,223 responses received at the Tate South Lambeth consultation, 1,186 said they favoured retaining a full library.

    “Failure to consult highlights a lack of clarity around the choice of GLL in being chosen as the supplier for the Carnegie project in the first place.  

    “In a Freedom of Information request response in December 2016, Lambeth council say ‘the Cultural Services by 2020 consultation from Jan-April 2015 specifically invited independent charitable trusts, community trusts and enterprises to come forward.

    ‘GLL submitted a proposal which included using buildings and assets differently to generate new sources of income that would offset cuts in funding.

    ‘We subsequently followed this up this with GLL and this resulted in the idea of the healthy living centres emerging.  ‘No other leisure operators responded to the consultation.

    ‘An offer to tender was not published by the council. ‘The existing contract with GLL allows us to vary other leisure facilities into the contract without going to the market.’,”

    FURTHER READING: press releases: Your views on Lambeth’s culture and leisure (January 30th 2015): Lambeth council has launched a three month public consultation on the borough’s libraries, parks, leisure and cultural services……….

    Culture 2020 – Libraries update (March 4th 2016 and less than two months after the press release listed above) Part of which reads: “…………Both Carnegie and Minet will proceed as healthy living centres, in partnership with Greenwich Leisure Limited, the social enterprise which runs Lambeth’s leisure centres.

    “For Minet, the council is ensuring that we can maintain the building and the archives, alongside a reduced neighbourhood library service.

    “At Carnegie, the council has been working with the Community Trust, local councillors and residents to ensure that the proposed healthy living centre works for users.

    “GLL will run a gym alongside community space and a neighbourhood library service and the council will continue to work with the community to encourage greater ownership of this much valued local asset.” Plus: Please search ‘Carnegie library Herne Hill’ or Lambethwatch on this website.

    PEOPLE’S AUDIT (From their website): In 2015 local residents in England acquired a legal right to inspect, question and challenge items in their council’s accounts.  The Aim of The Peoples Audit website is to raise awareness of these rights and share lessons learned.

    The Peoples Audit is run entirely by volunteers and has no commercial affiliations.  We share a common interest in ensuring that our local councils spend money wisely and can account for that expenditure.   We can be contacted by e-mail or through Twitter

    E-mail address: Twitter: @PeoplesAudit

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