Libraries ‘staff mutual’ not ruled out

Libaries campaigners shout in protest at councillors
Libraries campaigners shout in protest at councillors

Lambeth council libraries management team are to be given a budget to develop their plan to run the borough’s ten libraries as a “staff mutual”.

But council leader Lib Peck warned at a meeting of its cabinet yesterday (7 December) that any plans must be within the “financial envelope” of nil cost to the council.

The mutual has been irged on the council by opponents of its plans to turn three libraries into gyms run by its leisure provider GLL.

The cabinet was considering a report from the council’s overview and scrutiny committee that had been asked to look at the issue.

Lin Peck stressed that the meeting was not reopening the decision but listening to recommendations form the scrutiny committee.

Cllr Ed Davie, chair of overview and scrutiny committee, made five recommendations on libraries that were accepted by the cabinet. They are

  1. “Urgent work” should be done to explore viable alternatives for library services “within the defined financial envelope”. In particular further work needs to be done on working with the library service’s management and staff on the proposed staff mutual (as put forward by head of libraries) to look at making that proposal viable within a practical time frame..
  2. Consideration should be given to including early break clauses with GLL so that any alternative model that may be developed can be introduced as early as possible.
  3. Further examination of the impact of the proposals on, and mitigations for, people with protected characteristics is needed. The scrutiny committee noted that children, younger, older, disabled and Black and ethnic minority people use libraries to a greater extent than the rest of the population and therefore proper consideration needs to be given to ensure they are not unduly disadvantaged.
  4. Clarity is needed on the balance between library provision and the fitness services available under the GLL model.
  5. It would be desirable that the number of internet access points for residents should be at least at the same level as the current provision.

Cllr Davie said the library management proposal was “not at a stage that is developed enough as yet to offer an alternative.” Library campaigners in the audience – who were not invited to speak – shouted: “Neither is GLL’s”.

Cllr Davie said that various alternatives for the library dervice had been looked at over a period of four years, so it was  “a little disappointing” that some of those proposal were not more well-developed. “But that’s where we are,” he said,

He told the cabinet that there were “quite a lot of questions regarding the exact nature of the GLL model and how it would exactly work in practice”. “It is still quite vague,” he said, to jeers from the audience.

Invited to answer questions, senior Lambeth staff member Adrian Smith said the library management proposal had been received on 24 April this year.

When Cllr Matthew Bennett said he was “suspicious about things that come up at the last minute” he was greeted by shouts that the council did not have a well-developed proposal for the GLL gyms scheme.

Adrian Smith said Lambeth officers’ assessment of the library management scheme was that it would not be financially viable and that it would take up to18 months to implement because of complex issues like pensions and ownership of buildings.

But “in terms of the way we actually deliver the service, setting aside buildings, the concept of a staff mutual had not been rejected entirely.

Library management had been invited to continue to work on their proposal and had been given a budget to do so. But their deadline was 1 January.

Adrian Smith admitted on the GLL scheme that: “We have not yet got to the point where we have details of how we will remodel what are potentially three very difficult buildings because of planning, conservation and sensitivity requirements”.

Cllr Jane Edbrooke, the cabinet member in charge of libraries, said: “It is very much in our own interest as much as everyone else’s to keep investigating some of these models about how we might be able to take our library service and keep them safeguarded in the future.”

She challenged other Lambeth organisations like schools to open up community buildings for internet access.

Laura Swaffield makes notes at the meeting
Laura Swaffield (centre) makes notes at the meeting

Laura Swaffield of Friends of Lambeth Libraries accused the council of “shroud-waving” over central government cuts.

She said it was making “the usual dodgy assertions that campaigners have challenged again and again – with no answer.

“They were reduced to shouting in protest at each one.”

She said that everyone – except the councillors – wanted to know “why officers ignored the managers’ plan when it was offered in April, and why its very existence has been concealed until recently”.


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