Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Lewisham Council plan to bulldoze Community centres and close more librarys.



Hello all,
As usual please feel free to circulate the following to everyone.
****  Reminder:  Have you all e-mailed/written to the Mayor, your local councillors, MP, the Press?  The numbers game is really important.

Panel:  Director of Community Services, Aileen Buckton; Cabinet member for Community Services, Cllr Best; Head of Library and Information Service, Antonio Rizzo.

The same presentation concerning budgetary shortfalls was made again.  There was an admission that the Lewisham voluntary sector was being approached (soft marketing), being asked ".. in theory, are you interested ...?"  As well as the main consultation meetings other smaller meetings will be held, Focus Groups.  Included will be the young Mayor's office, schools, outreach organisations, Pensioners' Forum.  Library Staff will be consulted.  It was an exceptionally well-attended meeting, over 60, but that may be as the information has circulated and more people know.  The questioning was underpinned by sound knowledge of what was going on and disbelieving the fundamentals of what they were being told.
Again Ms. Buckton repeated that the consultation information had been trailed in the Autumn Lewisham Life.  It was not.

Questioning focussed on what the offer was.  Volunteers will be trained.  This raises further questions of costs, the turnover, constant recruitment, volunteers who cannot always appear.  There will be the usual security checks.  But, we do not know if the Council  expects volunteers to be the answer as we have been told future "community" libraries will not operate as the current "community" libraries operate.  Reports back from these libraries refer to not opening on time and non-opening, due to lack of volunteers.  The council was warned the chosen model in 2010/11 would not work, and it has not.  How can we be sure they are choosing the right option now?
The organisations chosen to run the 3 buildings (Manor House, Torridon Road, Forest Hill) in future will be non-profit and likely to run services complementary to a library service, with special connections to the local area of each library.  They could be connected to Education, Community organisations, Arts organisations.  There was a great deal of detail from Ms. Buckton concerning families, mothers, children at Torridon Road, until muttering revealed other users e.g. the elderly, teens, the middle-aged .....
We are an intelligent, informed, thoughtful bunch, when we try, so others asked why we were at a talking shop, being faced with a fait accompli so our views and opinions were irrelevant to the process?  What if all views were against the chosen option?
How could we ensure the new management would reflect diversity needs?  Diversity needs must be met.
How long would the contracts last?  The length of contracts would rely on the nature of the building and what group wants to take it on.  The council will have the final say and, it is just laughable to have to type the following, local people will be involved!  There will be no capital investment in the building (no, the tax-payer has already footed that bill.)
And here is the quote of the evening, the panel, on being told it was all pointless gave Cllr Best an opportunity to state that the status quo cannot continue.
There, you have it!
The value of professional staff in libraries was felt to be key to improving literacy, as well as being of great value to the rest of us so how would a reduced staff run 3 hub libraries for 85 hours per week, each?  Plus, enough staff for peripatetic visits to 9 "community" libraries, not sure if that includes Catford (unstaffed), which could become a zombie library and the best take away in town.  In addition they will still service commitments to schools, doctors' surgeries etc.  Meanwhile, they will be travelling back and forth across the borough, by bus, walking (running?), driving, using up time, not usable in libraries.  Don't even mention the traffic congestion and expenses.  Mr. Rizzo then played his master card - staff would be promoting opportunities, engaging in promoting all library services.  This presupposes you are not going to be able to distinguish between what you had and what you will get.
Our natural cynic in the audience could only conclude that outsourcing to the voluntary sector was meant to make everything look OK.
More detail revealed that the contracted voluntary organisations would meet the overheads of the buildings, but there was equivocation about maintenance.  Depending on what that would require could mean that the council would have to step in with funding.  Questions on how this new model would work were not answered clearly enough, if at all, for any of us to be sure what would happen.
Further points were raised over the non-working of self-issue/return machines, the collapse in borrowing figures for the "community" libraries and who would have caretaking/security responsibilities.  Points were raised, but not answered.
A key question was why the council could not organise least harm for the money available.  Lewisham is a recognised deprived borough so would it not be optional to use some of the reserves?  As we have seen with "community" libraries if the council's decision/policy back fires who picks up the pieces?  Officers would have to face the consequences of their actions, as will the public.
Yet again statements were made that volunteers would not be running the library service.  There would be a time table of staff visits made to "community" libraries, but the solution for each library would be different and a focus for the neighbourhood.  The organisations chosen will take up the service as the council is not seeking to make a profit and will not take rent on a commercial basis.  They will come as funded organisations.
Therefore, the question was raised about how these organisations would be funded.  A staff member of a funded organisation pointed out how it was increasingly difficult to raise money from elected authorities, local councils, the Arts Council, grants organisations, private funding etc, as money is drying up elsewhere.  If this is policy huge numbers of organisations will be chasing the same pots of money!  Thus we have the right to be most concerned about the long term sustainability of what is chosen.  Not only do we not know, neither do the officers, who will make the recommendation to the Mayor and Cabinet.

regards to all,

Patricia Richardson


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