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Tag: libraries

Lewisham Mayor asks community groups to run threatened libraries

At the Mayor & Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 17 February, Steve Bullock took the decision to close five threatened libraries at Sydenham, New Cross, Blackheath, Grove Park and Crofton Park. He instructed officers between now and the 28th May to seek detailed bids from groups wishing to run the affected libraries and report the outcome in due course to Mayor & Cabinet.

The Mayor’s decision needs to be approved by the full council meeting on the 1st March, although this may be regarded as a mere formality given the relative strength of the Labout group at Lewisham.

The four groups who have expressed initial interest in running Sydenham Library are: Exam Success Education Centre Limited; Eco Computer Systems; John Laing Integrated Services Ltd and SociaCapita Solutions.

For more details of the four bidders see

Officer’s report recommends closure of five Lewisham Libraries. Four groups apply to take over Sydenham Library

A report to be presented to the Mayor and Cabinet meeting on 17 February recommends closing five Lewisham libraries, including Sydenham, from 28 May 2011. The report requests Lewisham officers to pursue the potential for asset transfer to deliver community library services in the affected neighbourhoods. The five threatened libraries are Sydenham, Grove Park, Crofton Park, Blackheath and New Cross.

Expressions of interest in running Sydenham library have been received from:

Exam Success Eduction Centre Limited. This company provides tutorial support to children who need help with their school and homework. They would use the library building to host pre- school and after school clubs for children and would employ local residents with the relevant skills and training to work at the centre. A library service would remain within the building sitting alongside the learning environment.

Eco Computer Systems. A social enterprise company which offers IT recycling and refurbishment services, and reinvests profits into the business or uses them to fund other community projects. ECS currently support and run the new community library at Pepys Resource Centre.  ECS will ensure continuing library services in all 4 libraries, but will also offer a community café, office space, meeting rooms, IT training and local history centres. The library service will be professionally staffed and additional educational/cultural activities will be offered alongside it. They will work closely in partnership with other local groups and library users to ensure that the facilities are fully utilised and sustainably funded. They are already in contact with a number of local organisations with a view to developing local working partnerships, including Sydenham Community Radio, Healthy Brockley, 170 Club and Grove Park Community Group.

John Laing Integrated Services Ltd. This is a leading support services and facilities management business providing a full suite of operational services to public sector clients, spanning Libraries, local authority, education, rail, police, housing, health, waste and parks.  They currently manage and deliver public libraries on behalf of a local authority, together with their leisure and culture portfolio in the London Borough of Hounslow. They want to discuss different building uses provided they benefit the community and attract sufficient revenue through grants or service fees.

SociaCapita Solutions. SociaCapita Solutions is a Community Interest Company which has been set up to carry out a cluster of activities, including bidding for public sector contracts on behalf of private sector and third sector delivery organisations, acquiring and developing residential and commercial properties and unwanted public assets into a sustainable hub of community, social, cultural and enterprising activities delivering a range of social and community benefits. They propose to develop the buildings into an integrated Community Heritage and Enterprise Development Hub supported by a local community web-based portal and a local digital community radio or television channel. Each building will encompass various functions including cultural resources linked to black and ethnic heritage, construction related training, residential units and a range of enterprise and organisation support activities.  They will work with the Library and Information Service to offer access to cultural material in both print and electronic form.

The report considers the alternative of maintaining the current number of buildings but with reduced hours. However, the report rejects this option since it would mean a cut in 36% of total library hours throughout the borough.  Annex 2 of the report, gives an illustrative example of  what could happen under this alternative – Forest Hill library hours would be cut from 66 hours per week to 29 hours per week , Sydenham from 30 hours per week to 12 hours per week and New Cross from 25.5 hours per week to 14 hours per week.

Read the full report here:  library report

Library closures – a reply to Steve Bullock

In a recent article entitled Reading in the Runes on, Steve Bullock argues that there is no alternative to reviewing the whole purpose of libraries and streamlining their provision. The article is a clear guide to his thinking on the five libraries threatened with closure in Lewisham. A full version of the article can be found on

Here, Sydenham Society member, Bryan Leslie, replies to this article:

Mayor Bullock, in between grappling (as we all do) with Hegelian dialectical materialism, sets out an apparently reasoned argument in favour of drastic reductions in Lewisham’s existing library service.  Closer scrutiny however reveals the Mayor’s dialectic – a bit like some of the libraries that he intends to close – to be in need of repair.

 No one doubts the extremely difficult position of the Mayor in having to make swingeing cuts to his spending programme – cuts forced upon him by central government diktat.  But Mayor Bullock would have you believe that he has no choice but to axe almost half of the borough’s library service.  Slashing the library service as he proposes produces a saving for the Council of £830k – all piled into year 1 (2011/12) of the Council’s savings programme.  This is among the highest tranches of cuts in the Council’s Phase 1 cuts programme.  It seems that the library service has been singled out by Mayor Bullock for special treatment.

 Are there realistic alternatives to closure?  It’s difficult to make a truly informed judgment without full access to Council papers.  We all have our favourite ideas about cuts – including a reduction in the pay and perks of senior Council officers and/or councillors, and not forgetting the Mayor.  Satisfying as such cuts might be it’s not clear that the savings would be anywhere near what is required to save the libraries.  However a more considered and thoughtful proposal has been put to the Council in which it is argued, with supporting figures, that if the proposed cuts were spread across the entire library service then all libraries could remain open albeit with each providing a somewhat reduced service.  The Council’s response?  Silence.    

 The Mayor will be well aware of the statutory obligation placed upon him to provide “…comprehensive and efficient public Library Services…”  He will also be aware of the 2009 Wirral Inquiry findings which established that library closures should take place within the context of a strategic plan for or review of the library service.  Yet the Mayor’s proposal to close the five libraries under threat was based on the crude and single criterion that they were not libraries where there had been (recent) significant capital investment.  So much for a strategic review. 

 In the case of Sydenham Library, the Mayor also argued that the building was in such poor condition that it required substantial, and unaffordable, investment.  That argument – which turned out to be based on a dubious assessment of repair costs – was especially annoying since such repair work as was needed had arisen because of a Council failure, over a number of years, properly to maintain the building.  (It’s worth noting, by the way, that the 2009 Mayor’s Commission, to which Mayor Bullock refers, did not recommend any library closures).

 As for alternative forms of library provision some of those initially mooted by the Mayor were wholly inadequate.  In Sydenham, for example, the Mayor wished to shut down our library and replace it with subsistence level provision – a handful of books and no staff – located in the Naborhood Centre.  Local and borough wide campaigning has forced the Mayor to take a more considered view.  Even so it is far from clear that the model for community libraries which the Mayor says he has developed will provide a viable level of service.  Take the Blackheath Library for example – it has a stock of around 21,000 books.  The Mayor’s proposed community library would have 7,000 books.  So, although the Mayor places great store on the community library model it remains to be seen whether it is capable of producing anything other than a Lilliputian version of the current, much loved, library facilities.     

 None of this is to argue that the Mayor is not faced with extraordinarily difficult choices but I do wish that whenever he meets resistance to his ideas he would not put it down to “special interest groups”.  Those many residents, locally and across the borough, who have deep concerns about what the Mayor intends deserve more respect than that.

Bryan Leslie

Steve Bullock on cuts to libraries

In a recent article entitled Reading in the Runes on, Steve Bullock argues that there is no alternative to reviewing the whole purpose of libraries and streamlining their provision. The article is a clear guide to his thinking on the five libraries threatened with closure in Lewisham:

Libraries have played a big part in my life. When I was younger, I used to hang around the village library a lot – reading books and obscure magazines, although the presence of an attractive young trainee librarian may have played a part too.

As a student, I wrestled with Hegelian Dialectical materialism beneath the dome of Leeds University’s magnificent Brotherton Library. And, as chair of leisure services in London’s Lewisham borough during the 1980s, I encountered a service which had developed piecemeal, and was finding it a challenge to come to terms with changing customer expectations.

Fast-forward to 2010, and I find myself the recipient of letters and e-mails which presume I know little about libraries – and care less.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Since becoming mayor in 2002, I have been able to deliver one new, state-of-the-art library, and see two listed buildings renovated and the libraries they contain dramatically improved.

Another new library will be built soon in one of the most deprived parts of our borough, while yet another is undergoing refurbishment.

All of that was planned before the current government decided to scapegoat local authorities and force cuts on an unprecedented scale to be made by every authority.

Without resorting to ‘shroud waving’, there is no escaping the fact that some of the services we provide, particularly to young and old, are pretty much matters of life and death.

Sustaining those services at an adequate level will be a struggle, not least because they constitute such a large part of our controllable budget, and we face rising demand for them.

Against this background, every other service has to be re-examined. We need to rethink what constitutes an acceptable level of provision for those services which contribute to the vitality of our communities, but are not essential on a day-to-day basis.

Library services are inevitably going to be part of that consideration. Those for whom libraries are the most important thing will argue the case for absolute priority, just as those who care deeply about other non-essential services will argue their corner.

But those of us who are charged with taking an overview, and reaching conclusions about the allocation of diminishing resources, cannot take such a view. For a service to be offered even a degree of protection, let alone absolute exclusion from cuts, there must be an overwhelming case, and I have yet to hear such a case in the context of library provision. But neither is Lewisham or anywhere else, I suspect, proposing completely to close down the library service, despite what much of the public debate on this issue suggests.

In Lewisham, we began thinking about the future of the library service long before we faced the current financial horrors. In 2008, I set up a commission to identify and respond to the opportunities and challenges faced by the borough in developing library and adult learning services.

Members of the commission were drawn from Lewisham’s political parties, the community and voluntary sector, library and community education service, users, colleges within Lewisham, the Learning and Skills Council, the Museums Libraries and Archives Council, and Lewisham’s Primary Care Trust.

One of the things the commission reinforced for me was that we did not provide a service which was being delivered on an equal basis across our borough.

The bigger libraries, with greater facilities and longer opening hours, provided a service not only for their immediate area, but also drew enthusiasts in from further afield. Other libraries, despite their limited facilities and shorter opening hours, served very local communities, and changes to either the service or the building were seen as a significant loss to that community.

It is perhaps worth noting that Lewisham has 18 wards, and has never been able to support a library in each one. Libraries are local for some of our residents, but by no means all.

We are part of the Future Libraries Programme, formed by a partnership between national and local government, which aims to help the library service during the current, challenging financial situation. Together with other south-east London boroughs, we are looking at options and opportunities for improving quality and reducing costs by working more closely together.

Our investment in buildings and technology has led to increased usage, and we have developed a model for community libraries which is delivered in partnership in areas underserved by the current provision.

It is this model which offers the possibility of making significant savings, but sustaining a library service in a number of locations where otherwise there would be straightforward closures.

This is no easy task, and each location has unique challenges, but it means that if we can help create strong local partnerships, they will be able to deliver not only library services but act as hubs for the local community.

Libraries will remain an important part of the services that Lewisham and other councils provide, but in a world where central government formula grant funding for councils is falling by 12.1% in a single year, with further cuts to come, change in both the scale and nature of library provision is unavoidable, however loudly special interest groups deny it.

Photographs courtesy of