Monday, 9 April 2012

Is Lambeth Council's Libraries Consultation Flawed?

It seems as if Lambeth Council’s Co-operative Council  Libraries Consultation may be flawed.

Looking at the North Lambeth Libraries in the five wards Bishops, Princes, Oval, Stockwell and Vassall, figures show that on weighed population the Library budget for 20012/13 would be £583,360.

However, in the budget allocation Options in North Lambeth outlined, the wards would only receive £470,000 under Options 1 and 3, while Options 2 and 4 would only grant £363,000. These sums are considerably less than the ward allocation based on weighted population. This appears to be discriminatory bearing in mind the nature of the weighted population.

The Options are based on visits and issues at each Library. The differences could reflect the degree of outreach work. But these are not explained. Low useage of particular libraries raises a number of fundamental issues, which are not adequately addressed, including: 

·         the degree to which there is consistent promotional outreach

·         the engagement of local schools

·         the extent of population turnover

·         the degree to which libraries cater for the increasingly complex ethnic/language mix in their catchment areas

·         the extent to which the above issues are more complex on the Council estates in the catchment areas of these three libraries

It has been pointed out to me that in North Lambeth as a result Tate South Lambeth and Waterloo Libraries are due to have a cut of nearly one half over the two-year period, while Durning faces a cut of one quarter. How this disparity reflects relative population and social need is highly questionable. It would seem that higher usage  has a heavy weighting.

Contrary to the advice of the Wirral Libraries Inspector and a recent court judgement there is no equalities analysis. There is no assessment of needs: age groups, income levels, ethnic groups. Wandsworth’s Library Review showed that non-white sections of the population use the libraries more than the white British, which will partly reflect the former’s recognition of the importance of learning and also their possible lower ownership of home computers.

There is no discussion on the link with the legally required Child Poverty Action Strategy. Wandsworth carried out a survey of the views about libraries of children up to age 16. Is Lambeth?

All these matters could influence the additional factors/weighting that need to be taken into account which would then influence the ward and area and individual library shares of the budget.

In addition to the above concerns, Friends of Durning Library has identified discrepancies in the calculations and is waiting a reply from the Council about them. 

Problems Facing Council Officers

Lambeth Libraries campaigners  understood that the officials involved in drawing up the consultation document were given a very tight timetable. It may therefore not be surprising that such things as an equalities analysis and compliance with the Child Poverty Action Strategy have not been done, or not yet. Apparently they are very conscious of what they are legally required to do as a result of recent cases  but may simply not have had time to do it all and issue the consultation document by the deadline. It looks like  'Visits and issues' were chosen as measures of usage because they were recommended by the Libraries Commission and they probably did not want to add further complications to some already difficult calculations.

Corporate Equalities

In terms of the Council’s overall equalities approach in relation to developing the Co-operative Council approach at its meeting on 29 March the Overview & Scrutiny Committee considered the  Corporate Plan 2012-15: equalities objectives and performance indicators’. The paper sets out a set of objectives including:

·         Communities feel secure. ‘Elements of this outcome cut across many of our other outcomes and focus on themes such as perceptions of crime, community cohesion, and usage and perceptions of the borough’s cultural offer. The findings of the EIA suggested that the take-up of cultural services is low for older people, BME groups and poorer residents and that addressing this should be the focus of the equalities objective. It was further considered to propose an equalities objective about youth perceptions and experience of discrimination.’

·         Communities work with the council and each other to improve their neighbourhoods and foster self-reliance. ‘It is important that residents feel informed, engaged and empowered if we are to build our cooperative council ambition and the evidence taken from our Residents survey suggests that this equality objective should focus on encouraging young people, Muslim residents, poorer residents and those who speak English as a second language to become more involved in their communities.’

 It would appear that Libraries can play an important role in meeting these two objectives, but they are not listed in the summary of the objectives and performance indicators.

What Kind of Service Can Be Provided Within the Overall Budget Sum?

The key question for campaigners is whether taking account of all the additional factors  mentioned will significantly affect how the money is to be allocated to individual libraries. It certainly won't produce any more money overall. Lambeth have said very clearly that they do not plan to close any libraries but that means that  cuts on the scale required are going to mean reduced service levels, particularly staffing which is the biggest single item of expenditure for each and every library. The result may well be that some of the libraries turn out not to be viable on those terms but that is what the 'local community' has to work out, in conjunction with Lambeth.

What Lambeth Library campaigners want to know is what sort of service could be provided with the levels of funding proposed.

Consultation Dates

The consultation runs until Friday 20 April. The following consultation events are still due to be held:

Wednesday 11 April. 10am-noon. Waterloo Library, 114-118 Lower Marsh.

Wednesday 11 April. 7-9pm. Brixton Library, Windrush Square.

Thursday 12 April. 10am-noon. Tate South Lambeth Library, South Lambeth Rd.

Tuesday 17 April. Upper Norwood Joint Library, 41 Westow Hill.

Plus

Monday 16 April. 6.45 for 7.15pm at Durning Library, Kennington Cross. Adrian Smith, Lambeth’s Director of Cultural Services, on co-production and the future of the library service. Talk followed by AGM of Friends of Durning Library. Light refreshments. All welcome. Suggested donation £2.


#Friends of TSL have written a summary of the main paper which you can find at www.tatesouthlambethfriends.org.

The Equalities Report considered by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee can be seen at


Upper Norwood Joint Library

This is a real library, not like so many run-down empty shelved ones that now exist.  It is under threat because of a dispute between Lambeth and Croydon Councils. The story over the last year can be seen on www.cpca.org.uk and www.unlc.org.uk. The Upper Norwood Library Campaign and Crystal Palace Community Association made a submission to the Lambeth Libraries Committee ‘An Alternative Financial and Governance Model for Lambeth’s Library Service’ which is well worth a read, but does not seem to be on the web.

Turning Council Properties into Community Hubs
The Council also envisages some libraries developing as Community Hubs. It has had a separate consultation on Community Hubs underway which ended on 31 March.

The development of Community Hubs is part of Lambeth’s Council’s Co-operative Council agenda. The aim is to see which Council owned buildings occupied by community and voluntary groups could be transferred from its ownership and be developed into multi-purpose service and activity community hubs. Many already are and there are also organisations running community hubs which they either own, lease or rent or have the use of from other property owners.  

The concept of a community hub is to provide a flexible, economical space for community groups, the statutory sector, social enterprises and small and medium sized enterprises from which they can operate, co-produce and deliver services. This event seeks to consult with the voluntary and community sector on the proposed development of a network of community hubs in the borough over the next four years.

The Community Hub consultation should be seen within the context of the Council’s approach to the management of its whole property portfolio. This was discussed by the Cabinet on 16 January; full paper on: www.lambeth.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s38873/08a%20PAMP%202011-2014%20Report.pdf

My background paper on issues relating to the Community Hubs consultation is available from me: sean.creighton1947@btinternet.com.  

The results of both the Libraries and Community Hubs consultations should be known in May.

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