Residents, library users and opposition councillors have reacted angrily to an email from a senior Lambeth council member which appears to snub community groups not run by members of the Labour Party.
Cabinet member for culture and leisure, Sally Prentice, was writing to Labour party members ahead of a meeting in Lambeth Town Hall about setting up so-called “Friends” groups to control parks and libraries. These independently-run groups are a key part of Lambeth’s “cooperative council” plans.
The message said those who were friends of Labour party supporters could attend the event, but should be “broadly sympathetic” to the party’s cause. She went on to say: “In the past many of the Friends groups have been run by people who are our political opponents!”.
In response to the email, leaked last week, Liberal Democrat councillor Jeremy Clyne called for cllr Prentice to consider her position in the cabinet.
He told the Blog today: “I will be calling for cllr Prentice to resign. She has completely lost the confidence of the people in friends groups locally.”
“It is completely outrageous and it is an insult to all the people who are already in friends groups. What this says about the co-op council is that it’s just about filling these groups with Labour cronies and yes people.”
On Thursday, Alistair Crabtree, of the Friends of Streatham Library (FoSL), wrote an open letter to council leader Lib Peck.
He said: “We are disappointed to see that the Cabinet member responsible for libraries has seen fit to comment ‘in the past many of the Friends groups have been run by people who are our political opponents!’. We are further disappointed that FoSL was not invited to the meeting referred to in the note which says ‘friends and neighbours who are not Labour Party members are welcome to come along but they should be broadly sympathetic’.”
Streatham Conservative activist Simon Helmsley told the Blog that all friends groups should be completely apolitical.
He said: “I’m very angry about it. It makes a complete mockery of Lambeth being a cooperative council because if they are going to give responsibility to all these youth groups and then pack them with Labour people, why bother with the cooperative council?
“It’s not a party political anger here… people should try to leave their politics at the door.”
In response to the criticisms from FoSL, Cllr Lib Peck said in a statement last week: “Firstly I’d like to thank Alistair for his letter which I received this afternoon and I will be sending a response to him.
“I’d also like to apologise for any unintended offence caused. We have worked very closely with all the Friends groups in the last year, particularly through the Library Commission, and it is very much our intention to work closely with all the Friends groups in the future as we deliver our Cooperative Libraries initiative.”
Cllr Prentice today (Tuesday) apologised for any offence caused by her email: “I’ve worked closely with the friends groups in the past and will continue to do so in the future. I know what a vital role they continue to play in the success of Lambeth’s libraries and parks.
“This meeting was intended to encourage more people to get involved in their parks and libraries. It was certainly not intended to cause offence and I am sorry if it has done.”