Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Lewisham People before Profit

Lewisham People Before Profit (LPBP) was formed in 2008 as a political group.

Candidates representing the group have stood in the Lewisham Mayoral election and local council elections in 2010 and had parliamentary candidates in Lewisham in the same year.

Among many other issues LPBP has been heavily involved in campaigning against Lewisham library closures policy as well as taking a stand against the implementation of four “community” libraries (Blackheath Village, Sydenham, Crofton Park, Grove Park) and the future of New Cross Library.

LPBP organised the Lewisham Carnival Against the Cuts which involved a strong library campaigning contingent. Members have also been involved in publicly lobbying and demonstrating outside the DCMS, followed by a public lobby of No 10 Downing Street.

Library Policy

The London borough of Lewisham is the 39th most deprived borough in the country. It is the 16th most deprived in the greater London area. Within the borough there are pockets of severe deprivation. Libraries are therefore an essential support for education, literacy, community, access to information and reference material.

Local need must be met. Local people must feel their needs have been realistically consulted on, understood and taken into account.

“Comprehensive” as stated in the 1964 Act refers to both the services offered by a library and access to such facilities.

Good quality book stock is a priority including up to date titles, strong backlist of both fiction and non-fiction, audio cassettes or CDs, DVDs and recorded music.

Reference and Information material may be obtained on line and libraries are working towards more availability but not everything is online and not every library user has the skills to access such information.

Cross borough interlinking of all the above. Each library is the entrance to the library world.

“Efficient” services must be those received by the user and how they are managed by the council. There is much room for improvement in the organisation of use of budgets. Administrative costs may be reduced significantly where so much of the budget is linked to recharges. Information on this matter needs to be made widely available to the public, in detail, and not the result of regular FoI questions.

Partnerships, co-location, self-issue may be used provided they do not diminish the essential library service.

Following on from this is the employment properly trained, effective and experienced staff. The library profession is dying as it is now assumed that anyone can do the job. This harms both the service and the user experience of that service.

The assumption that volunteers are the answer is short sighted and damaging. Finding such numbers, who can make the regular commitment, being managed, trained, monitored is not necessarily a cheap option. It is harder to do in deprived areas than in middle class communities.

Accessibility is key. There is no point in expecting users to take expensive bus rides or longer journeys, especially the young, infirm, the elderly, the socially disadvantaged. The Home service is available for some but if such users can get out, get to a local facility and connect socially this is a far better solution.

Such buildings need to be pleasant public spaces, fit for purpose.

1. The Current Lewisham Library and Information Service

(a)The latest revelation of the collapsing visit/issues figures is a salutary warning.

(b)Some Lewisham residents no longer access the same service as their fellow residents. This cannot be in accordance with the 1964 Act.

(c)Considerable stock was removed from the five libraries under threat where it had once been available. Why would library users visit a facility where they cannot regularly borrow a book to take with them?

(d)The spread of the Lewisham run libraries removed badly affect a certain area. The loss of New Cross, Crofton Park and Sydenham leave gaps in connected parts of the borough On 30 September 2011 Wavelengths Library in Deptford closed. It was to re-open as the Deptford Lounge (again, not called a library) on 1 January 2012. This also applies to the Downham Health and Leisure Centre. Consequently the North of the borough had only the community run facility, very short of books, available in New Cross. According to Lewisham’s plans this should not have existed at all.

Lewisham’s most deprived area operates as a library free desert, unless you can get down to the other end of Deptford High Street. There is no longer a thriving network of branch libraries in the borough.

(e)Volunteers are still being sought.

(f)Crofton Park, Sydenham, Grove Park buildings all required considerable structural repairs and maintenance. Eco Computer Systems has been given a 25 year lease on each of these, with a five year review. Advice to Mayor and Cabinet was that this was a risky venture with a reputational risk to the Council. How is this acceptable to the Mayor, Cabinet, people of Lewisham and the Secretary of State at the DCMS?

(g)Blackheath Village Library’s rented building was closed and some stock moved to the Bakehouse, owned by the Age Exchange charity. This charity was also given £200,000 of public money, by the council, which cannot afford to run libraries properly for all the people of Lewisham. Were the people of Lewisham asked? Of course not!

(h)Staff restructuring has damaged availability of the Local History department and Archives.

2. Observations

2.1 How is it that a democratically elected council can completely ignore the view of its residents?

2.2 How is it that such damage can be inflicted on a library service which is supposed to have the statutory protection of the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act?

2.3 How is it that a local council can ignore its statutory duties?

2.4 Why is it that neither the minister nor the Secretary of State at the DCMS makes any attempt to deal with these breaches of duty?

2.5 It is clear neither the Mayor and Cabinet of Lewisham, the minister, nor the Secretary of State care if Lewisham’s residents, of all kinds, receive the decent service required by the 1964 Act.

January 2012

Prepared 5th November 2012