Culture 2020 caused uproar

Culture 2020 was hugely controversial from the start – not least as an alternative plan which kept all 10 of Lambeth’s libraries open whilst making the required savings was presented by Lambeth’s head of libraries, Susanna Barnes.

It was rejected on the grounds that it would take too long to implement, and that it did not contain a full business plan.

Uproar greeted council proposals contained in a second, unconsulted version of Culture 2020 to install gyms in library buildings, including the Carnegie Library and Tate South Lambeth (which just a few months earlier was described by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as “unique, pioneering and innovative”, and whose visitor numbers doubled from 93,592 in 2014 to 180,623 in 2016 making it one of the most successful libraries in the borough).

The failure to use a tendering process when selecting GLL/Better as a business partner for the gym project, on the grounds they already offered leisure services elsewhere in the borough, was another point of contention.

Crucially, plans to install gym services in the Carnegie or Minet libraries never went to a public consultation, a key factor in motivating protesters who claimed that no demand existed for such services in the area, and highlighted the much-improved performance of the Carnegie in recent years in arguing for it to be retained.

‘Regeneration’ provided further subtext to the campaigns, as Lambeth cabinet papers from 2009 suggested the Carnegie Library “would be ideal for sale for a private residential flat conversion”.

Culture 2020 lent weight to local community groups’ fear that the council viewed the Carnegie site as a prime target for redevelopment, and that library sites more widely were targets.

The council in 2015 had publicly spoken of the possibility of using the Minet library site “for the provision of social housing”, and in an earlier 1999 Lambeth Labour leaflet had proposed closing several libraries.

Overall, the Culture 2020 proposals came to be seen as ill conceived, against the wishes of affected communities, and flying in the face of the ‘Co-operative Council’ approach announced just a few years earlier, which purported to put community views at the centre of the council’s policymaking process.

Libraries denied Section 106 funding

A further twist is Lambeth’s failure to use ‘Section 106’ (S106) funds to shield libraries from the worst of the cuts.

Despite receiving tens of millions of pounds in S106, (used by councils to offset costs incurred from new developments), in recent years, Lambeth have directed just £15,221 S106 to libraries since 2008/09.

In fact, Lambeth spent no S106 funds at all on libraries in 2013/14 and 2014/15, during which time they collected £16.7m from developers.

Lambeth actually had a £257,000 underspend on S106 library funds in the year to March 2015, shortly before they proposed to sell or cease funding several libraries due to lack of funds.

Lambeth’s library users will find it odd that, while the borough sees expensive luxury apartments proliferate, just streets away public libraries close or are forced to fight for survival.

All this is especially puzzling as other schemes used far less than libraries are supported with S106 funds – including a ‘Car Club’ and ‘Revenue Maintenance’ – while the Vauxhall and Nine Elms development received £2.3m, around two-thirds of the entire annual library budget.

Libraries, it seems, just aren’t a priority for those negotiating S106 agreements for the Council.
(Source: People’s Audit report)


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