On Wednesday night Lambeth Council held a public meeting in Myatt’s Field North Community Centre to discuss proposed changes to cultural services in the borough.
The session last night was the fourth in a series of six ‘Culture 2020 conversations’ around Lambeth to discuss council plans for cultural services, as set out in their Culture 2020 proposals [PDF]. This is part of wider public consultation on the future of cultural services in Lambeth, covering libraries, parks, sports facilities and arts programmes.
According to the councillors and council officers present, the only thing that’s not up for debate is the bottom line; a £90 million cut to the council’s core funding from central Government. This means that the cultural services budget is to be reduced from £10.493m in 2014-15 to £6.573m by 2018 – just over half.
The theme of the meeting was ‘community hubs’; local groups or social enterprises which can bid for council funding. Lambeth invested £160,000 in the programme in 2012. For many however, the so-called ‘community hubs’ are seen as a poor replacement for established publicly-funded services such as libraries and parks.
Of particular interest to people in the Vassall Ward is the proposed sale and closure of Minet Library, a crucial local resource for residents of Cowley, Angell Town and Loughborough estates, as well as the home of the Lambeth Archives. Fudning for Myatt’s Field Park, voted one of the country’s top ten parks in 2012, is also under threat.
Many protested strongly against the proposed closure of the Minet Library at the meeting, insisting that it is already is a community hub (“whatever that means”). It was asserted by residents that whether the library building itself stays or goes, some library provision must remain with many ideas proposed as to how this might be financially viable.
The sale of the library was interrogated, with residents asking whether a local campaign to save the library would need to raise the £130,000 a year it costs to run it or the market value of the property – which would be much greater.
As the meeting came to a close, some residents wanted more clarity on what the council was going to do next. In answering, associate director John Kerridge, declared “there wasn’t anything suggested tonight that hasn’t been suggested already” which caused some outcry.
Lambeth Council has a statutory obligation to carry out this consultation, which closes on 24th April. At that point the council will review all responses and investigate viable options before they put a plan to Cabinet members in July.
You can find out more about the consultation and further public meetings on the Lambeth Council website.