Category Archives: Campaigns

Libraries are for “White Elite” (According to Lambeth Council)

The Friends have obtained four documents under the Freedom of Information legislation relating to the assessment of the business plans submitted to Lambeth by Carnegie Community Trust and the democratic Carnegie Library Association respectively in support of their competing bids to take over the building. Below are links to these and a copy of the assessment published by Lambeth.  We are still battling to obtain a copy of the Trust's full business plan.

 

The documents obtained confirm that the Trust's plan is essentially to exclude the library, though a "limited number of books" would be available and it is envisaged that there will still be two-hour visits from librarians.  Instead of a library the Trust propose to have a cafe or cafe bar run entirely by volunteers and serving hot and cold meals as "the real social centre."

 

The obvious question is what is wrong with a library?  The answer  seems to be that it is "seen as white elitist - catchment area is multi-cultural; building does not offer anything for some communities."  This bigoted nonsense appears to be part of a wider problem with senior people at the council.  The local branch of the Labour Party is demanding action to counter "a growing problem of institutional racism in Lambeth Council" and UNISON has published some disturbing figures on its website: https://lambeth-unison.org/2018/04/30/lambeth-council-staff-restructure-institutional-racism-and-staff-cuts-but-those-on-over-50000-up-by-12/

 

As they would not want a purpose-built library, the Trust would want to "reshape the building."  After detailed inspections architects and building surveyors have advised Lambeth that the building will need substantial long-term maintenance work in 10 to 20 years time.  The democratic Association are content to raise the necessary funds and do this work in due course.  There is a possibility of 100% Lottery funding, as was provided to the councils which applied in the last round of Lottery funding for libraries.  The Trust propose to do the work quickly combining it with the reshaping at a total cost of about £5 million.  They hope to get 50% from the Lottery and Cllr James Chatterton Dickson informs us that Lambeth will pay the other 50%.

 

Overall the officers preferred the Trust to the Association for the Council's preferred bidder, ostensibly because the Trust's plans are supposedly "more ambitious."  So far as appears from the documents this ambition comprises the reshaping of the building, of which no details have been disclosed, and the replacement of the library by a cafe or cafe bar.

 

The following table summarises the plans of the democratic Association and the Trust.

 Carnegie Library AssociationCarnegie Community Trust
Changes to the use of the ground floor and the first floor office from the uses prior to closure in 2016Additional community uses and income generation but all of this would be compatible with the primary use as a public library.Library use would be excluded (though there would be "a limited supply of books").

 

A cafe or cafe bar run entirely by volunteers and serving hot and cold meals would be "the real social centre."

 

Instead of the desk spaces being marketed specifically to artists and other creatives, for whom the well-lit spaces are especially suitable, space would be offered to anyone wanting it.

Income and expenditureDetailed plan to generate sufficient income to run the building and buy in library service from Lambeth.

 

Income from the basement assumed to be between £12,000 and £25,000 a year.

 

No grant income for running costs.

 

No paid staff. (Lambeth would employ the library staff)

Less detailed plan but broadly similar figures for income generation.  There would be less income from the desk spaces but the cafe bar would be expected to produce a profit.

 

 

 

Income from the basement assumed to be £87,000 a year.

 

 

 

 

 

Grants of £50,000 a year towards running costs assumed to be permanently available but not yet found.

 

Two paid staff, costing £80,000 a year.

 

Reports

Asset transfer published assessment
Asset transfer officer panel: CLA
Asset transfer report, CLA
Asset transfer officer panel: CCT
Asset transfer report, CCT

Carnegie Library Update

The Green Party recently put a written question to the Lambeth Cabinet Member responsible for Libraries, Sonia Winifred.  The Friends' experience of Sonia is that she does not lie.  She might tell us only part of the story but the part she tells is likely to be accurate.  The answer is therefore worth considering.

The answer informs us that there will be as much "community space" as before and that there will be a "library service" comprising library activities in the space from time-to-time. Previously Lambeth were using the term Neighbourhood Library to include token services which no reasonable person could call a library, such as the alcove containing 500 books in the Railway Tearoom in Streatham Vale.  It is good to see that Sonia appears to have ditched this grossly misleading term, with its connotations that there would be an adequate stock of books and some space set aside for a library.  For more than a year the Friends have been telling anyone who would listen that Lambeth have not committed themselves to providing a library only often to be told that we have got it wrong.  We can now hope that everyone who is interested will accept that they need to join in campaigning for a library.

A less welcome aspect of Sonia's answer is that it describes Waterloo Library as having "a full stock of books."  It has about 7,500.  A previous Head of Libraries advised that a local library needs a minimum of about 20,000 books to cater for all ages.  Experience at Carnegie Library seems to confirm this.  After years of much lower stock levels and lending, the stock at Carnegie Library was built up to 19,754 books shortly before Lambeth closed it in March 2016 and the rate at which books were lent was the fastest in the borough.

The Friends are most directly concerned with Carnegie Library but it would be foolish to think that its fate can be separated from the future of the borough's other libraries.  It may therefore at this point be worth emphasising that:

  • Lambeth needs all ten of its existing libraries.  It should really have more to provide an adequate service throughout  the borough.
  • Each library needs a good selection of books for all ages and a children's library in a separate room from the Adults' library.  The Adults' library needs to include a Teen zone and the teens will only use this if it is well away from the Children's library and situated so that the teens do not feel the staff or other grownups are looking at them.
  • The libraries need to be open sufficient hours, including some time in the evenings and at weekends.
  • Libraries also need to be fully staffed by professional librarians and trained library assistants.  An urban library is a particular kind of space and managing it to maintain a calm and welcoming character is a specialised skill.  Further skills are needed to assist learners, computer users and people seeking information.  Volunteers add greatly to the range of services on offer in Lambeth's libraries but they are only effective where there is a core of paid library staff.

The question and answer are available at https://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=10515

Carnegie Community Trust have also recently put some information on their website.  They inform us that they will be taking an asset transfer from Lambeth during 2019 and imply that they will be taking charge of the ground floor and the first floor office space over the coming months.

The posting calls for local people "to help to make the Carnegie Community Hub a truly community owned venture, a place the whole community can call their own."  This is almost as misleading as "Neighbourhood Library."  The Trust purports to be for the benefit of the community, hence its name.  However, there is no reason whatsoever to expect it ever to be run by the local community. There is a range of opinions among libraries campaigners about how close the Trust is to Lambeth's inner circle of senior councillors.  Some of us consider it to be just Lambeth by another name, the Council exercising power without responsibility.  Others take the view that the Trust has a degree of independence.  In any event it is clear that it is a thoroughly undemocratic organisation.  Its constitution permits only its trustees to be voting members.  The initial trustees were appointed by themselves at the behest of the Council and have the power to appoint additional or replacement trustees.

The Trust prepared a three-year Business Plan.  It published brief extracts from this in January and other bits of information at other times.  Reading its recent posting in the light of these it seems reasonably clear that its main activity would be hiring out rooms in competition with local church halls.  Additionally, it hopes to run a cafe even though the only kitchen in the building has been stripped out and is being converted into toilets.  Also, they plan to hire out desk spaces.

The Trust is trying to recruit volunteers to do almost all of the work needed but how the Trust could make its activities financially viable is a mystery even if it succeeded in recruiting sufficient people to put in the necessary hours for free, which seems unlikely.  The Trust has obtained a grant to enable it to pay one employee for eight months and the trustees seem to think that they could generate income to continue to pay someone and to fund the other costs of the building.  However, even if it is staffed entirely by volunteers a cafe is unlikely to generate substantial profits and room hires look equally unpromising.  The main intended source of income therefore appears to be the proposed desk spaces.  But there is a great deal of competition.  This will no doubt intensify now Lambeth has arranged for International House, the office block adjoining Brixton Recreation Centre, to be used for desk space hiring.  There is room for dozens of desk spaces on each of its eleven floors.

There have previously been suggestions that the cafe would be a cafe bar serving alcohol into the late evening but this would need the grant of a licence over strong objections from the neighbours and so its feasibility looks doubtful.  Lambeth appears to have promised a grant of £40,000 a year in lieu of the basement gym paying rent or making any financial contribution in respect of the building but this would only continue so long as the gym remained.  As the gym has no prospect of financial success this would probably be only a matter of months.  Thereafter the Trust would have the basement to rent out but the rent for a windowless basement in Herne Hill would no doubt be modest.  The Friends obtained a professional rental valuation of £1.50 a square foot if and when a tenant could be found.  It does not look as though the Trust's finances would work out.

As some of our readers will be aware, two of the Trust's trustees have apparently fallen out with senior councillors despite many years of being fellow stalwarts of the right wing of the Labour Party in Lambeth.  The pair insist that the Trust could only have a hope of paying its way if the subsidy were £80,000 instead of £40,000 and guaranteed to continue for at least five years.

The posting refers to an Asset Transfer to the Trust possibly taking place in 2019.  It is not entirely clear what is meant.  The original plan was that Lambeth would relieve itself of any responsibility for the building by letting the whole of it rent-free to an organisation which, at least nominally, is separate from the Council.  This is what would normally be understood by "Asset Transfer."  However Lambeth now propose to retain responsibility for the building, letting the basement gym to Greenwich Leisure Limited and bearing all the losses of the gym.  This would leave only the ground floor and the first floor office for letting to the Trust. This arrangement would enable the Council and Greenwich Leisure to terminate the basement tenancy at any time by mutual agreement.  The Trust might be expecting the gym lease to end during 2019 and that it would then be given a lease of the whole building.  Alternatively, "Asset Transfer" might just mean that the lease to the Trust would contain provisions included in Asset Transfer leases which enable the Council to forfeit the lease and take back the property when the tenant's finances appear to be failing.

Public Meeting, 2pm, Saturday 8th September

Friends of Carnegie Library will be holding a public meeting on Saturday September 8th from 2pm to 4pm with speakers and an open discussion on carrying the campaign forward.

We have deliberately chosen a venue slightly outside our usual area to bring out the need for the supporters of each library to work to make the campaign a success. It is in central Brixton:
St Matthews' Estate TRA Hall, 10 St Matthews Road, Brixton SW2 1NH

We need as many people as possible to come along and show that the public are still demanding a proper library service.

Upcoming events

Three important upcoming events for library supporters:

  • People's Audit public meeting on the dubious and wasteful finances of Lambeth Council: Waterloo Action Centre, 14 Baylis Rd, SE1. From 11am-14pm Saturday 24th March.
  • Defend The 10 demo at the Carnegie Library, 4pm Tuesday 3rd April, to mark 2 years since the closure and occupation, and 1 month to the 2018 council elections.
  • Lambeth Democracy public meeting, 2pm, Saturday 7th April at Effra Space, Effra Parade. Speakers from Justice for Grenfell, Haringey housing activists, etc. The meeting will also be a campaign launch for a unified slate of pro-library candidates for the elections.

Mystery Leaflet

A leaflet about the library and proposed events in Brockwell Park has been produced and distributed by some local residents and library supporters.

This was not produced by the Friends, and some of the information contained in the leaflet is incomplete.  Here are corrections:

The information in the leafletCorrection
Staff from the gym operator, GLL, will supervise the library.The library will not be effectively supervised except when library staff are present.  We are told this will be about two hours a day.
The library will be open when library staff are not present.This is only a temporary arrangement which we expect to end two months after the Council Elections.
Carnegie Community Trust has three active members.There were five members, that is, trustees and there does not appear to have been any change of substance.  The two members who are most obviously Labour activists connected to Lambeth have resigned as trustees but continue as volunteers.
There is no evidence that the gym will make a profit or contribute funding to the library.All the evidence indicates that the gym will always need subsidising.
GLL will not pay rent until 2023There are no grounds for  expecting the gym to last until 2023.

 

We sent a summary of the arrangements for Carnegie Library to Cllr Sonia Winifred, who is Lambeth's Cabinet Member responsible for libraries, and copied in the senior Herne Hill councillor, Jim Dickson.  We asked her to come back to us if anything in it  needed correction.  A month has elapsed without any response and we therefore infer that the summary is accurate in all respects.  A copy is here.

Funny Money

Contrary to what Lambeth say:

  • What they are doing to our library is not a money saving exercise.
  • The planned gym will always need subsidising and it will never make a contribution to the cost of the library.

Although the reduction in library opening hours would save about £125,000 a year in staff costs, Lambeth appear to be providing about the same amount to their Carnegie Community Trust to run the main room as a Church hall type of facility instead of the previous flexible use as a library and hall.  So there would not be any saving overall.

The disclosed estimates of the capital costs of the building works total £3 million.  Final costs of Lambeth projects always seem to be a multiple of the original estimates.  We should therefore expect the final cost of the works to be at least £5 million.  Lambeth are currently borrowing at 4.7% per annum.  Assuming a generous 20 years for repayment the financing costs come out at £400,000 a year.  The basement is not deep enough for a gym and there are many cheaper gyms offering more facilities in locations more convenient for almost anyone who wants a gym.  It would be hopelessly unrealistic to expect the gym to attract enough custom to cover its running costs, let alone generate an additional £400,000 a year to cover the financing costs.

One view is that Councillors are just indulging themselves at the People's expense in the standard Lambeth nonsense of always having money for pet projects but not for services to the public.  For example, Lambeth are simultaneously:

  • Spending about £100 million on "Your Nu Town Hall."
  • Refusing to pay the water bill of £2,000 a year for the paddling pool in Ruskin Park.  They say that the Friends of Ruskin Park, whose volunteers already manage and clean the pool, must pay this in future.

However, there is a more sinister aspect to the current and proposed building work to the library in that all of it is more consistent with Lambeth's previously announced plan to sell the library for redevelopment than with providing a gym in the basement or restricting the use of the ground floor.  The details are here.

Lambeth’s Plans Summarised

Lambeth's plans for our library are complicated and presented by them in ways which are confusing.  The Friends have therefore tried in the following summary to describe all the key features as clearly as possible.  For the sake of simplicity we have omitted the scandalous waste of money involved.

 

Lambeth plan to open a library in the building in February, then open a gym confined to the basement in June and finally open the main room as a sort of church hall at an unknown future date.  Neither the library nor the gym or the hall if it ever opened would be viable.

 

The library would have barely enough books and these would be in a cramped space.  There would not be a separate children's library, only a small area with furniture for children.  There would not be room for a Teen Zone or space for socialising or group activities.  The library would only be open for about two hours a day and it would be staffed by only one person, either a Library Assistant or a professional Librarian.  In a matter of months Lambeth would no doubt announce that the library is not attracting enough visits or lending sufficient numbers of books to justify the space and quantity of books devoted to it.

 

The gym would not have enough headroom for users to raise their hands above their heads or jump.  This disadvantage combined with competition from cheaper gyms with more facilities in locations more convenient for most potential users strongly suggests that it would never break even financially.

 

The hall after removing the bookcases and covering the glazed partitions would be an unattractive, echoey space with plain walls and the building would not have a kitchen.  The existing kitchen and the small meeting room next to it are currently being converted to toilets for users of the hall.

 

Even Lambeth's "community group" who would be expected to run the hall, Carnegie Community Trust, say that the plans are not feasible.  They object that Lambeth could terminate their payments to the Trust in respect of the spaces occupied by the library and gym at any time, which would force the Trust into insolvency.

 

Lambeth intend to open the library 11 weeks before the Council Elections after keeping the library closed for nearly two years.  They plan to have the library open for 40 hours a week or more until a few weeks after the Elections instead of the usual two hours a day.  It should be readily apparent that all this is blatant electioneering.

 

The Friends will continue the campaign for restoration of the library comprising properly staffed suitable spaces for library use and activities compatible with a library.

Some Context

Lambeth has been pursuing the current round of library closures on and off since 1999, saying that ten libraries should be reduced to five "Town Centre Libraries" or "Centres of Excellence,"  though in fact six of the ten libraries are threatened with permanent closure:

Carnegie LibraryClosed since March 2016.  Proposed temporary funding as a gym, library and "church hall."
Durning LibraryTemporarily reprieved from closure.  No longer funded from the Libraries budget but instead funded one month at a time from an undisclosed Council budget.
Minet LibraryA limited library service is being provided pending relocation of the borough's archives, which are housed in the same building.
Tate South Lambeth LibraryAs Durning Library
Upper Norwood Library HubSurviving on temporary funding from Croydon and Lambeth Councils which is due to expire two months after the Council Elections.
Waterloo LibraryCurrently housed in a small room temporarily available behind a cafe in an Evangelical Christian Centre.

 

Public opposition has kept the Council at bay for the past 19 years and Defend the 10 are continuing a determined campaign to keep all the libraries.

Although Lambeth's current plans for our library are unworkable, Carnegie Library Association have produced a fully-costed business plan which uses the income-generating potential of the building to cover its costs and produce a surplus to buy in a library service from Lambeth in the spaces we had before closure.  Lambeth have rejected the plan so far but the Association continue to offer it and make clear that they are ready to take over the whole building.

The current work to the basement will reduce its rental value because the basement office previously used by the library Home Visit Service would be lost.  This loss would only be partly compensated for by the excavation increasing by 150% the lettable area of the windowless part of the basement.  However, the overall amount concerned is only about £3 500 a year and not therefore of great importance.

Fortunately most of the changes Lambeth plan to the ground floor are reversible by a combination of voluntary and paid work.  The necessary money should be easy to crowd fund because the Association has hundreds of members and many more local people want the library back on a long-term genuinely sustainable basis.

Current Lambeth Leaflet

Lambeth are currently delivering a grossly misleading leaflet to homes in Herne Hill Ward.  Lambeth's current plans would not provide a viable library or a viable gym.  The library would not have sufficient space, staffing or hours to attract enough users to justify the cost of keeping it open once next year's Council Elections were out of the way.

Below are some of the specific things the leaflet says or clearly implies and the true situation in respect of each:

Lambeth's SuggestionThe Truth
The library was closed for building work.The library was closed 17 months before the date programmed for starting the work.  The date planned for reopening is 11 weeks before the Council Elections.
 GLL, who are expected to run the gym, also run libraries and will provide staff "in the library" to "assist library users."From time-to-time GLL would have sales staff for the gym, not library staff, in the front entrance lobby on the ground floor of the building, not the library.  When they were present there would be public access to the library.  The library would not be staffed or supervised except that a Library Assistant or Librarian would visit for about two hours most days.
The GLL staff will be present for 40 hours a week and this "will increase."Lambeth are arranging for the sales staff to be present for 40 hours a week until after the Council Elections. For a brief period after the gym opens longer hours can be expected as GLL attempt to sell gym memberships.  Thereafter the hours can be expected to reduce, eventually to nothing.
Lambeth excavated the basement to accommodate the gym.The basement excavation and its depth were proposed years before the gym.  The excavated basement is not deep enough for a gym, that is, for users to jump or raise their hands above their heads.

 

The gym "will provide an income stream for the building."There is competition from leisure centres and other gyms, all offering much better or cheaper facilities in locations that are more convenient for most people.  This strongly suggests that the gym would always require subsidy to cover its running costs.
GLL will "pay a £1 million contribution."All the money being spent is Lambeth's.  £1 million of it would be spent on improving the Council's leisure centres if it were not being wasted on the gym.
Capital spent on providing the gym is an investment which will generate a return in the long run.This is completely fanciful.  The "investment" appears to be about £5 million.  Lambeth is currently borrowing money for 20 years at 4.7% per annum.  To produce an overall profit the gym would need to generate a surplus of     £400 000 a year. 
Carnegie Community Trust is a community organisation and independent of the Council.The Trust was set up at Lambeth's behest and is financially dependent on the Council.  By its constitution the Trust is specifically prohibited from having voting members other than its trustees.
Carnegie Community Trust would "oversee" the library.The Trust was set up to replace the library with something which is not a library.  The aim has always been to replace Council funding with grants that are not available for libraries.  From the outset the Trust's original predecessor, Carnegie Project Group, was adamant that a library could therefore only be accommodated as a commercial tenant paying a market rent plus service charges.
The changes to Carnegie Library would save the Council money.The library before it closed was open for 36 hours a week with two or three staff usually present.  Substituting a single member of staff visiting for two hours a day on, say, five days a week would save about      £125 000 a year.  But to set against this there would be the rent payable by Lambeth to the Trust of about £35 000 a year and the grant from Lambeth to the Trust of £40 000 a year.  Additionally, the Trust instead of Lambeth would take hire fees from desk spaces of about    £50 000 a year.  So there would not be a saving even if the astronomic cost of the gym were ignored.