Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Users and Friends of Manor House Library

1. Introduction

Until August 2010 the London borough of Lewisham operated a passable library service, from 12 locations giving “comprehensive” and accessible coverage for all its residents. This had been reinforced well since the implementation of the Public Library Service Standards. It was a great mistake to first dilute then remove them altogether. The Peoples’ Network further improved the information/education side of the service, but after three years the funding moved on elsewhere so costs for maintenance of equipment, updating technology etc. fell on local authorities to find out of library budgets.

The Executive Director of Community Services repeatedly told each of the 10 main consultation meetings that there was no alternative to closure of five libraries, the outcome was predetermined. The service had to be reduced by cutting staff to save £830,000. In fact, Lewisham presented a master class in how not to do it and how to create a failing two tier library service. Are not all the people of Lewisham entitled to the same service for their tax payers’ money?

At the same time the DCMS minister and the Secretary of State were kept informed of the situation from the user point of view. They have overseen the virtual collapse of the service in Lewisham.

Reports, consultations, seminars, papers, investigations all concerning the Public Library Service have been legion in the last 15 years. We have attended many of them and contributed on behalf of the user. But there has been no improvement in general and a marked deterioration in many authorities, including Lewisham. The voice of the user, usually requiring good, plentiful stock, trained, experienced, helpful staff, pleasant surroundings in accessible buildings with information and other activities available, is virtually ignored.

The Roberts Report 1959: Worth reading, this report was presented to Parliament by the Ministry of Education by Command of HM in February 1959. It has valuable points.

The library service in library authorities should be “comprehensive.” “Adequate stock accompanied by expert guidance, particularly for children and young adults.” “Other uses of the library.” “Adequately staffed, adequately housed with efficient and enthusiastic librarians, supported by qualified staff working in suitable premises.”

The 1919 Public Libraries Act was not seen to be achieving this consistently so it was decided statutory bodies were required to take account of “local interest, local tradition and a personal association of readers with the librarian and staff. Democracy would be served by public opinion expressing itself through local councils ... the right and proper measure.” At the time the Ministry of Education was to exercise general responsibility along with two advisory bodies with ministerial power being the ultimate sanction. This was to supervise the statutory authority on local authorities to provide an efficient library service.

The report often refers to the reader and the public, an attitude sadly lacking in 2010–11.

Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964: This is still in place but has already been ignored by certain ministers, officials and local authorities. How is it defensible that the reader, the library user and the public actually have to take legal action to force the implementation of parliamentary legislation still on the statute books? What kind of example is this to public opinion? Don’t do as I do, do as I say! And there are many who cannot afford legal action!!

Where in Lewisham is our “comprehensive and efficient service for all its residents?”

Charteris Report: the results of what happened in Lewisham no longer meet “local need.”

2. Lewisham Council’s Library and Information Service

2.1 In early 2008 The Mayor of Lewisham began the Mayor’s Commission on Libraries and Learning. It reported in June 2009.

The Commission comprised mostly professional representatives, council officials, one councillor from each party on the council body, the Mayor and three users. We were completely outnumbered. The one library user had no knowledge of the Lewisham library service in general, library legislation, current reports on the service etc etc and did not attend all the meetings. I (Patricia Richardson) was on board as an Adult Education user. After two meetings we requested an additional AE user as the task was impossible for one user. It was agreed.

I asked for The Commission’s existence to be made public, to encourage user feedback. This did not happen. In fact the focus groups organised for the libraries’ policy attracted minimal interest, a low of two attendees, a high of six, from a borough of 250,000 residents!

I attended every single meeting and at the end my co-user and I went through the draft report and spent over two hours with the manager trying to make clear what was said about both libraries and Adult Education. At no time was it clear from the report that the library policy announced in July 2010 was what was being recommended.

2.2 Elections May 2010: The forthcoming libraries’ policy announcement was made in July 2010. A democratic challenge now waits until May 2014. Lewisham officers had been discussing policy with alternative providers long before the public knew.

Two consultation meetings were held for each of the five libraries under threat. (Refer maps.)

Each library was treated individually and not as part of the borough library service.

2.3 Our Lewisham Our Say: July 2010. This was on the back of saving public money. The general public recommendation was that cuts should not occur. Services should be kept ticking over, even if reduced. Then they could be revived if prosperity increased.

The survey was available digitally and put before local assemblies. The latter serve each of 18 wards, attracting between 70–80 attendees.

2.4 Eventually we presented an alternative budget strategy, as did another member of the public. Based on the Council’s own Library Budget Book in spread-sheet form, both these independently produced alternative strategies showed savings of approximately double those ostensibly required by the Council achievable without the loss of any branch library. Neither was accepted by the Council.

2.5 There was huge public anger and resentment: From 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010 the five libraries under threat racked up 327,000 visits and issued 264,000 items. (Refer attached figures.)

Petition (25,443 signatures) meetings, marches,

MPs, councillors, ministers, PM, Deputy PM, CMS Committee all were heavily lobbied. Opposition councillors from the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and the Greens proposed alternatives and/or tabled motions against the policy.

2.6 The council went ahead with its plans regardless. Providers were asked to register and bid to run four of the libraries. There were 13 original registrants. On presentation day there were four present, two offering to run four libraries, two offering to run one or two and Age Exchange Charity to run Blackheath—the latter were not present, as that was a done deal. The council had virtually NO choice hence the advice from officers to Mayor and Cabinet on 11 May 2011. Commenting on the Eco Computer Systems bid to run four “community” libraries, the Evaluation Panel was concerned about the viability of the bid, scale of growth required, the strain on the company this would create, the possible financial failure of the company, the deterioration in the condition of three structurally risky buildings. Final advice stated, “Should either the financial or buildings related risks arise, this could lead to a reputational risk to the Council ... Officers acknowledge that these risks are real and that possible mitigation measures are limited.” Yet Mayor and Cabinet agreed to pursue a risky venture in spite of pleading poverty. This must also have been acceptable to the DCMS.

2.7 The five libraries as they had been, New Cross, Crofton Park, Grove Park, Sydenham, Blackheath Village, closed on 28 May 2011.

3. The Result

3.1 New Cross library was taken out of the equation, three libraries were handed over on a 25 year lease to ECS. Blackheath Library became the responsibility of Age Exchange Charity. Amazingly Lewisham Council, again pleading poverty, found £200,000 of public money to give to the charity as it was providing the building for the new library facility. The issue never came up for public consultation and would have paid the rent on the larger old library building for three years. How many professional staff would it have employed over a year?

3.2 New Cross has been left to be managed by a group of community minded citizens who are determined the library should remain. Even this is not guaranteed as the community tries to raise funds to keep going and provide volunteers, under extreme pressure from the council. This is the most deprived area of Lewisham in one of the most deprived boroughs in the country with its crime and social problems, poor educational attainment, youth unemployment and poor level of facilities. The National Literacy Trust report earlier this year unequivocally supported the importance of reading for pleasure and its beneficial effects on learning. The new facility at Deptford, at least a mile away, was not due to open until 1 January 2012. The old facility closed at the end of September 2011. Therefore that area had no library presence. Yet the council found £200,000 for a better off area in Lewisham?!!!!!

3.3 Book Stock: was removed from each of the five libraries eg Blackheath Village Library had 21,000 books, averaging visits of 6,000 per month in 2010–11, with monthly issues averaging 5,000. The new temporary facility claims to have 6,000 items of stock, but a generous count could only manage 4,000, and no, they are not being borrowed because the borrowing figures have collapsed. Are these facilities any longer libraries at all?

It is virtually impossible for anyone who is interested in the welfare of the Lewisham Library Service to discover how, when, where new stock will be supplied, if at all.

3.4 Refer tables of figures. The collapse in visits and issues at the “community” libraries is alarming. There has also been a downturn in figures for the other libraries. Is this a reflection of the uncertainty over the future for libraries in Lewisham?

In addition the sudden upturn at Crofton Park and Sydenham Community Libraries in October 2011, is astounding, barely believable, but then Lewisham has form. At the Downham Health and Leisure Centre, which contains a Lewisham library, the counter for library visits is at the entrance to the café. All are counted in, whether they visit the library or not.

3.5 Schools and Libraries summary, Impact of Library Closures on Children, Young People and Local Schools 15 April 2011, this Lewisham council report quite clearly states that adopting its library policy will have a deleterious effect on all local schools near such a “community” library. It had little impact on Mayor and Cabinet. Did the DCMS officials see it?

3.6 Community Managed Libraries Report by MLA June 2011: Lewisham Council Library Service Policy was presented to MLA as “a sophisticated model” and named as such in its report. When challenged by local users the MLA said “Lewisham said it!” MLA made no attempt to investigate, visit, talk to users or deal with users’ highly critical report. MLA seriously needs to examine such poor methodology and putting out such contentious, un-investigated information as being well founded!

3.7 Staffing: Each “community” library, mostly dependent on volunteers, is still constantly asking for volunteers. Why is it assumed that a professionally trained, experienced member of staff can be replaced by a volunteer? From where is a large pool of volunteers to come?

3.8 Staff restructuring: This was a result of redundancies, the object of the exercise, and has led to damage to the Lewisham reference library as well as the Local History department. These effects need to be seriously examined by the DCMS. Thus far both have been ignored.

4. Failures

4.1 No pilot programme was required by the Mayor and Cabinet or the DCMS.

4.2 No cost benefit analysis was asked for.

4.3 No account taken of the deprivation of Lewisham borough in certain areas, education, literacy, communication, youth unemployment, in connection with the benefits of a library presence.

4.4 No consultation with other boroughs. Lewisham’s Grove Park library, Sydenham library and New Cross are close to borough boundaries. The new facility for Blackheath, which will not now be ready until December 2012 (promised for summer 2012 and currently in a temporary home) is and will actually be in Greenwich.

4.5 No attempt whatsoever by the Minister or SoS to ensure implementation of the 1964 Act. It is their statutory duty. DCMS made little attempt to continue to work through channels opened up with users.

4.6 CIPFA figures for library returns, including so-called “community” libraries, will no doubt damage the reputation of the library service in Lewisham.

4.7 No results answering repeated requests for information determining how decisions were made, what information the DCMS had or asked for from Lewisham Council. Prevarication was the name of the game by both the Council and the DCMS. The public has no evidence of DCMS monitoring.

5. Conclusions

5.1 Mr Ed Vaizey MP prior to taking office, while a shadow minister, rightly berated Andy Burnham MP, Secretary of State at the DCMS, for his inaction over library closures proposed in The Wirral. Mr Burnham eventually set up an enquiry, which solved the problem.

5.2 However, Mr Vaizey has sat back and ignored the melt down of the library service in England. He is answerable to the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, who seems to require no answers.

5.3 There is something seriously wrong with a government which cannot see the value of an institution which achieves so much, so cheaply and is capable of achieving much more for the benefit of all its residents.

5.4 We have misgovernment, mismanagement on a grand scale and no democratic answer in sight. What do people in Lewisham do now, to retrieve what they had? The 1964 Act was meant to provide the whole country with an equal service, for the benefit of all residents. That is no longer the case.

Attached documents:1

1. Comparative maps showing the effect on residents of closed libraries.

2. Question no 2 to Lewisham Council, 29/11/2011, from Cllr David Britton, Cons

3. Tables of Lewisham Library Service Issues/Visits figures, 2010–11, 2011–12

January 2012

1 Not printed.

Prepared 5th November 2012