Cultural Services by 2020: The Friends’ response

The Friends’ committee have submitted a response to Lambeth Libraries’ consultation on ‘Cooperative Libraries’.  SEE ALSO THE UPDATE BELOW.

The following has been prepared by the Friends of Lambeth Libraries as part of the campaign to keep all 10 libraries open under a plan prepared by Susanna Barnes, Head of Libraries.

DEFEND THE TEN

Save Lambeth’s 10 Libraries

Lambeth Libraries: YES, there is an alternative

Published at last is the plan that can end all the protests, end the threat of strikes, remove the threat of judicial review and above all preserve a popular, high-performing library service that is bringing national kudos to Lambeth.

IT IS WRITTEN BY SUSANNA BARNES, HEAD OF LIBRARIES,

who in two short years (with full support of staff and residents) has made this under-funded service:

  • the TOP performer nationally for increases in usage
  • nationally recognised for a whole list of successful new services.

COMPARED TO THE CURRENT HIGHLY UNPOPULAR CULTURE2020  GLL LIBRARIES-INTO-GYMS PLAN:

  • It makes EXACTLY THE SAME SAVINGS short-term
  • In the midterm it makes MORE SAVINGS
  • It also offers MORE WAYS TO GENERATE future income.

ALSO:  It can be put into action quickly, while the GLL plan is still barely worked out, and is struggling to get even basic provisions set up.

IT AVOIDS THE MANY DRAWBACKS OF THE GLL PLAN, WHICH INCLUDE:

  • Massive staff redundancies (25%)
  • Five out of 10 libraries reduced to a small ‘lounge’ with few books or PCs
  • The same five libraries to have NO staff at all to help people
  • Consequent serious harm to vulnerable groups including: small children, families, schoolkids and students, old people, disabled people, women, BME communities, people on low incomes, benefits claimants, and more.
  • Extra pressure on council services from those deprived of help and advice.
  • Heavy expenditure on unwanted gyms (£3m capital, £1m+ revenue)
  • Long closures while the gyms are installed
  • Elaborate mishmash of up to five different trusts to run just 10 buildings including handing valuable buildings to GLL at a peppercorn rent, already recognised as a financial risk to the council.
  • Very, very unpopular, as shown in demonstrations by hundreds of people, and over 10,000 signatures on petitions.

IT SAVES A HUGELY USEFUL SERVICE:

  • It keeps all 10 badly needed libraries, offering a full service, fully staffed.
  • It provides longer opening hours at all of them.
  • It maintains Lambeth’s nationally famous, ground-breaking access service for people with sight problems or dyslexia. This won’t survive in the GLL plan.
  • It introduces a much needed schools library service.
  • It develops a range of new, innovative specialist services, including a computer design ‘fab lab’, extra support for unemployed people, business support, extra-healthy living advice/activities and more.
  • It focuses clearly on Lambeth residents’ real needs and the council’s priorities, including: mental health, unemployment, poor IT skills and access, poverty, poor housing, social cohesion.

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Friends of the Durning Library Response to Lambeth Council’s consultation document:
Cultural Services by 2020

The consultation document, Cultural Services by 2020, covers the parks and open spaces, sports and physical activities, arts, and library and archive services currently provided by Lambeth council. This response is concerned only with the proposals for libraries.

The present proposals. The proposals for Lambeth’s current ten libraries in the consultation document are based on a target for the service to make annual savings of £800,000 by 2016/17 compared with 2014/15. Funding cuts on that scale are said to be unavoidable as library services have to bear their share of the council’s financial pain. The salient implications as we see them are listed below.

  • There will be two tiers of library provision, one to be provided by the council and the other to be whatever local communities can sustain. The council will remain responsible for five larger ‘town centre’ libraries. The services provided there will, or so it is claimed, be sufficient to ensure that Lambeth meets its statutory obligations to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service. The libraries are mainly located in the south of the borough (Brixton, Clapham, Streatham and West Norwood) but Tate South Lambeth is to be an interim ‘town centre’ library to serve the north.
  • The council intends that the buildings in which three of the remaining five libraries are currently located (the Carnegie and the Durning, both in the north, and Upper Norwood Joint Library in the south) will be transferred to new community trusts or similar organisations. There may continue to be libraries there, plus other ‘community’ uses of the buildings, but there are no guarantees of future support by Lambeth for the libraries.
  • The transfer of those three buildings to community trusts is scheduled for completion during 2016; the libraries now housed in them will then cease to be council-funded or council-managed. The libraries will be able to ‘ask for support from a town centre library’ but there will be no guaranteed access to Lambeth’s library management system, other IT, book-stock or professional expertise and no provision of professional staff.
  • Two other libraries in the north (Waterloo and the Minet, which also houses the Lambeth Archives) will be decommissioned and their buildings sold by the end of 2015. The Archives will be moved elsewhere, possibly to a location in Brixton.
  • The proceeds of those sales (estimated at around £3 million) together with other funds from unspecified sources will go towards a Community Library Fund of £10 million to be set up as a sub-fund within the London Community Foundation. The sub-fund is described as ‘inalienable’ with its income to be used in Lambeth to make grants to ‘community-led’ libraries and for various other purposes. Distributions will be decided by London Community Foundation trustees, with input to the decisions from Lambeth.
  • The revenue from the fund (estimated at £350,000 – £450,000) is to be shared between the three ‘orphaned’ libraries plus ‘charities, social enterprises and community groups in Lambeth with the opportunity to provide and support literacy development and the love of reading, including the early years learning programme.’
  • There is to be a developer-funded ‘one off Lambeth Library Challenge Fund’ for 2016 and 2017, earmarked for Bishop’s and Vassall Wards where the Waterloo and Minet libraries are to be sold. It will be ‘open for charitable trusts and social enterprises to bid for funding to establish a community library offer’.

Our response. Like other library Friends’ groups in Lambeth, we welcomed Lambeth’s decision in 2012 not to close any libraries. That decision recognised the importance of libraries to local communities and their wider contributions to many of the council’s core objectives. We co-operated in 2012-13 in the preparation of ‘compacts’ for individual libraries and hence in planning the continuing delivery of library services, with reduced funding. More recently we have been closely involved in the options appraisal for the Durning conducted by the architectural consultants, Dow Jones. We were confident that, although delayed, the results of that process would provide a firm foundation for the future development of the library.

We are therefore profoundly dismayed at the approach embodied in the consultation document. Concentrating the available resources on a limited number of larger libraries has a certain logic. There is, however, a critical level of resources below which it is impossible to maintain the core elements of the library service – professional staff to manage the service, a properly selected book-stock focused on local needs, access to on-line information sources, and opening hours that match user requirements – that are needed for a population the size of Lambeth’s, currently nearly 315,000 and growing rapidly. We fear that the budget will be stretched to the point where those service levels cannot be sustained. Volunteers can supplement the core library service but that will not solve the fundamental problem.

Lambeth’s libraries have been under-resourced for many years, which explains why they have been among the poorest performers among London boroughs. There have been some very welcome improvements in the last two or three years but without sufficient revenue to maintain the core service at levels that meet the minimum needs of local communities, the efforts to update key parts of the service will go to waste. That also applies to the recent and long-overdue capital investment to deal with the backlogs of routine maintenance of many library buildings.

The consultation document refers to ‘innovation’ in service provision but there are no references to such solutions as seeking S.106 or CIL funding from the many local developers, reducing costs by sharing services with neighbouring boroughs or finding different ways of managing the present local (as opposed to ‘town centre’) libraries. Other possibilities that appear not to have been explored include finding partners who could be sources of both capital and, more importantly in the present context, revenue for maintaining the library service.

Instead, the only suggested alternative model of provision – stand-alone ‘community-led’ libraries for more than one-third of the borough – is one in which we have no confidence. It has a very poor track record elsewhere and has succeeded only in relatively affluent areas, with much support from local authority library services, not completely unsupported in diverse inner-city areas with high levels of deprivation (Lambeth is the eighth most deprived borough in London). With no support from Lambeth’s core library services, it is very unlikely that such ‘community-led’ libraries can count towards meeting Lambeth’s statutory obligations to provide a library service.

Without continuing professional management and other resources, these local libraries risk rapidly becoming nothing more than random collections of books. The limited revenue funding that is scheduled to become available from the Community Library Fund will not be enough to meet more than a fraction of the potential demands on it. If such a method of funding is to be pursued, it is essential that specific capital and revenue are earmarked for individual libraries. That would provide greater security for the libraries and prevent annual battles for a share of a limited amount of revenue.

The current location of most of Lambeth’s libraries, particularly the larger ones, is a historic accident which happens to have resulted in a reasonably even geographic distribution throughout the borough. That distribution means, however, that if these proposals are implemented as they stand, there will be very unequal access to library services in different parts of the borough. Concentrating the Lambeth-funded library service in the five ‘town centre’ libraries located towards the south of the borough will leave a gaping hole in library provision in the north. If the proposals go ahead within the timetable envisaged (ie by 1 April 2016), there can be no guarantee that thereafter residents in the north will have access to any local, professionally managed, library services. That may not have been the intended outcome but it is what will happen. That situation would certainly call into question whether Lambeth is meeting its statutory obligations in terms of library provision.

Our particular concern is about provision in Kenning ton, where the Durning is located, but the same arguments apply throughout the north. The proposed closures at Waterloo and the Minet and concomitant reliance on the Tate South Lambeth library as an ‘interim town centre’ library are based on a serious misunderstanding of the geography and transport modes of the borough. Tate South Lambeth is at the extreme southern end of the northern half of the borough. It is at least 45 minutes’ walk from Waterloo with direct buses but no underground service; it is 20 minutes’ walk from the centre of Kennington with a direct but infrequent bus service, and 30 minutes’ walk from Myatt’s Fields (the Minet Library), with no direct bus or other transport services. There are no other suggestions of how library services could continue to be provided in the areas currently served by the Minet and Waterloo libraries.

Reduced service levels or more probably closure of up to half the smaller libraries in Lambeth would most adversely affect those, particularly in the north, who can least afford to travel to the ‘town centre’ libraries. It would deprive the young, the old, the vulnerable and the unemployed of access to numerous vital government and local authority services that are increasingly available only on-line, not to mention the reference and information sources, quiet areas for work and study and safe space on which many depend. The suggested pop-up libraries (the ‘Hub and Spoke model’) in ‘community venues’ will not meet those needs and the libraries will be a significant drain on the resources of the core library service.

The Durning Friends have said many times over the last three years that we do not have the capacity or the will to take on management of the library. We know of no-one else in the area who would be prepared to do that. Local organisations have expressed an interest in making more use of the building but that is not the same thing as managing the library. As with the other smaller libraries, there is a real risk that if the council withdraws altogether from providing a library service, the library will have to close, regardless of any solution that may emerge for the Durning building.

The suggested timetable for the transfer of the Durning building to a ‘community-led’ trust by April 2016 is also impossibly tight. It is completely unrealistic to expect that a trust and ‘community-led’ library could be set up as quickly as that. It depends on the existence of people and/or organisations willing and able to take on the responsibilities involved, including managing libraries without guaranteed professional support or access to other resources from local-authority managed libraries. That is a big step for any organisation to take.

We need a genuine ‘town-centre’ library in the north of the borough and believe that there is a strong case for keeping a council-funded and managed library in Kennington, preferably in the Durning. Its location and good transport links mean that it is much more suitable than Tate South Lambeth as a ‘town-centre’ library to serve the north of the borough. Considerable resources have been devoted to the recently completed options appraisal which has amply demonstrated the extent of local need and support for the library. It has also provided innovative but realistic suggestions for improving disabled access and using the building for the benefit of the local community. There are also possibilities for generating revenue that could contribute significantly towards the cost of maintaining the building. That will provide a sound basis for exploring how the library can survive as part of the council-provided library service.

We would be happy to work with Lambeth to examine in more detail, and within a realistic timetable, how best to secure a viable library service for the future, particularly in the north of the borough. We urge Lambeth to think again about the proposals about libraries in the consultation document, Cultural Services by 2020.

Committee of the Friends of the Durning Library
March 2015

The Friends’ covering letter sent with the response

UPDATE

What is happening to our library?

The answer is that at the moment we don’t know: this is to update our members and other library users about recent developments.

Durning/TSL consultations

First, thanks to all those who completed questionnaires during December about the choice between the Durning and Tate South Lambeth as the ‘town centre library’ for the north of the borough.  It was not the ideal time but we needed all the support we could get and are very grateful to everyone who took the trouble to respond.  No information yet about how many responses in total but we know a lot of you completed the forms on paper and online.

As the questionnaire explained, the plan was originally for Councillor Edbrooke, as Cabinet member with responsibility for libraries, to decide which of the two libraries should become the ‘town centre library’ for the north of the borough until around 2022, by which time it was hoped that there would be a new library in the north, possibly on the Oval gasholder site.

When the Culture 2020 report was published, we recognised that, unlike Lambeth’s other smaller libraries, the Durning stood, uniquely, to benefit from those proposals. They would give the Durning (relatively) more resources than it has ever had.  It would therefore be better placed to serve the local community than it has ever been, a situation that we welcomed. We also welcomed the possibility in the Culture 2020 report (but not mentioned in those consultations) that in due course there might be a purpose-built town centre library in the area that would serve the whole of the north of the borough.

We have, however, become convinced that the one-library option for the north that was offered in the latest consultations was far from the best or only way to meet the immediate library needs of the north of the borough while making the savings required by the Culture 2020 report. The consultation document was only about the future of the Durning and TSL buildings ‘and nothing else’ but ignored the possibility of keeping both libraries open as local libraries with their existing hours, rather than the 7/7 opening that is normal for town centre libraries but very costly because of the staffing levels required.  Although that option was not on offer, we had good reason to believe that it could be financially viable.  It would also be popular with local residents.   We therefore suggested to Councillor Edbrooke on 6 December 2015 that she should consider that option, but have had no reply.

The staff/community mutual trust proposal

Susanna Barnes, head of Lambeth’s library service, had originally submitted a proposal for a staff/community trust to run the library service in April 2015, in response to the public consultation on the council’s Cultural Services by 2020.  Her proposal was intended to achieve the necessary cost savings and keep all ten libraries open but it was not taken forward; instead the Cabinet agreed In October 2015 that five of the ten libraries should become largely unstaffed library service points with minimal book and computer provision, with three of them based in former library buildings that would be managed as ‘healthy living centres’ by Greenwich Leisure Ltd who already manage Lambeth’s leisure centres.  That approach has been very unpopular (and much-ridiculed) and the Cabinet’s decision was called-in for review by the Oversight and Scrutiny Committee.

During November 2015, as the Durning/TSL consultations were starting, the Cabinet accepted the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s recommendation that although the October decision should stand, full consideration should nevertheless be given to Susanna’s proposal for a staff/community mutual trust to provide the library service.  Susanna was required to deliver her detailed proposals by 1 January 2016, a very tight deadline that she nevertheless met.  Her proposals provide for a staff/community mutual trust intended to keep all ten Lambeth libraries open while making the cash savings required by the Council in the next four years. This type of trust has been successfully developed elsewhere, particularly at York.

Discussions about her proposals are now taking place between Susanna and senior council officials.  We hope that the details of the proposals will soon be made public and we will e-mail our members as soon as that happens, as well as putting them on our website.  In the meantime, there can be no decision on the future of the Durning or TSL until a decision has been reached about Susanna’s proposals so the future of the Durning and TSL is still in the air.

In addition, there has just been an exchange of letters between the Friends of Lambeth Libraries and the Council Leader, Lib Peck:
Letter of 17 January 2016 from the Friends of Lambeth Libraries to Lib Peck .
Dear Lib,
Friends of Lambeth Libraries – from Waterloo to Upper Norwood – want to thank you for your decision to consider the alternative proposal for Lambeth’s libraries, by Susanna Barnes, head of service.  This would maintain all 10 libraries, but still deliver the savings which we entirely understand the Council is forced to find.
We fully appreciate that the government has inflicted deep cuts on Lambeth. But we also know that the council believes in finding pioneering solutions to deliver improved services to residents.  Here is a chance to do just that.
The current Culture2020 proposals, while perhaps well intentioned, would reduce five of our 10 libraries to a fraction of their current size – and leave them unstaffed. Millions would be wasted on installing unwanted gyms in three of them, and on administering a clumsy, fragmented ‘system’.  These proposals would hurt the most vulnerable in our borough, and do not deliver the savings needed.
They are deeply unpopular. Residents have demonstrated this in their hundreds, again and again. Over 10,000 have signed petitions.
But we are wholeheartedly in favour of Susanna Barnes’ proposal – which preserves a full library service for all who need it, provides more certainty of savings and offers many additional benefits.
Lib, you can turn bitter opposition into enthusiastic support. What’s more, this support will build into extra funding, more activities, new ideas – and kudos for Lambeth.
That will not happen if the Council tries to foist an illogical and hated plan on to reluctant residents who value the libraries as they are now.
So – what does Susanna Barnes propose?
The core idea is a staff and community mutual trust. It opens up savings, and ways to bring in funding, that are not open to the council. Above all, it is a unique opportunity to pool the expertise of council staff and the skills of Lambeth residents.
By creating this formidable alliance, the council can access outside commercial acumen and professional skills to deliver additional income, reduce costs, develop staff and use properties more efficiently.
This, we believe, represents Lambeth’s finest aspirations for social inclusion – and being a Co-operative Council.
If you endorse this alternative approach, you will regain the huge measure of goodwill you have lost with the Culture2020 plans.
And you will be able to rely on a very active network that would deliver added value – something the Council has so far not explored.
Can Susanna Barnes – and the community – deliver? Well, she and her staff have already made remarkable improvements in the past two years. Lambeth – on one of the lowest budgets in Britain – is TOP for its percentage increase in loans, and one of only two services in the whole country to improve on all three national measures: loans, visits and active borrowers.
A host of new – free – activities and advice sessions keep the buildings buzzing all day. And Lambeth’s libraries are also now the national leader in enabling people with sight problems to read and use the internet.
None of this can survive if the service is cut in half.
Those who would suffer include children, old and disabled people, BME communities, those on low incomes, those without internet access and many people who need help with everyday problems.
Next to suffer would be the council, as its hard-pressed services try somehow to compensate for the damage.
Our libraries now are jewels in the borough’s crown. We need to build on them to deliver maximum social returns. To reverse all this progress is a shocking waste of the Council’s recent hard work and capital investment.
Imagine what accolades Lambeth Council could garner if, instead of slashing its library network in half, it maintained and improved it – with the full support of residents.
Imagine if this could be achieved in a way which generated more than the required savings, drove innovation and staff productivity and increased the feeling of ownership by Lambeth residents in the provision of their service.
We don’t have to imagine.
Let’s call off the fight, get round the table together and make sure that Susanna Barnes’ proposals for our 10 libraries become reality.

Yours sincerely,

Laura Swaffield, chair of Friends of Lambeth Libraries

Lib Peck’s reply of 17 January 2016

Dear Laura

Thanks for your email which the SLP had told me was about to arrive.  I haven’t however seen a copy of Susanna Barnes’s proposal so I am not yet in a position to respond in any detail.
I will be in touch as soon as I can.

With best wishes
Lib

Final instalment from Laura Swaffield to Lib Peck on 17 January 2016.

Dear Lib
Thank you for speedy reply!

Nothing would make me happier than for you – and all cllrs – to see Susanna’s proposal – just as you should have seen her original proposal sent last April, which officers chose to ignore. The convention seems to be that it is kept under wraps while officers ‘assess’ it (it will go to the relevant project board in due course).

You will appreciate that Susanna is in a very delicate position, & we don’t want to jump in & upset things. But YOU, surely, can express an interest…

The wheels seem to be coming off the GLL plan, & it is making nothing like the savings promised & necessitating a lot of extra expense on top. Susanna’s plan really is a win-win solution for all of us.

I know you understand what libraries do for Lambeth, so I’m desperate to have you in on what is happening now.

Best wishes
Laura

Priscilla Baines

Chair, Friends of the Durning Library

18 January 2016