Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Preston Community Library's reservations over Council's asset strategy

This is what Philip Bromberg of the Preston Community Library Campaign presented to Cabinet yesterday evening:

I am speaking on behalf of Preston Community Library, a charity which, as I hope you all know, is currently running a library on a temporary licence in the Preston Library building on Carlton Avenue East.

As you know, Brent Labour Party made a very clear pledge before last year's election to offer the Preston Library building "at a peppercorn rent to any local group who can provide a sustainable community library....that is our pledge....We will not open to competitive tender in order to give preference to local groups."

Since last year we have done everything that you asked us to do. We've submitted a business plan for a permanent library which has been praised by Brent CVS. From a standing start barely a month ago,  we are now offering the full range of traditional library services - we have several thousand books available for borrowing, including a wide range of large print books which cater to the needs of elderly people, we have a children's library which is lending books to a local primary school, we have a range of newspapers and magazines, we offer study space and, from today, we have four public access computers and WiFi which are free to library users.

We're also already offering much more than a traditional library. We have (free) ESOL classes on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, and we're talking to a local school who want to fund us to offer these classes to their parents. We've trained two new ESOL teachers. We're running yoga classes for adults and for families. We run movement, exercise and dance classes. We host a weekly creative writing group and a Scrabble group. We've worked very closely with vulnerable adults from a local residential home who've played an important part in getting the library open. And very soon - with funding from you - we will be running a community cinema. In short, we are already doing very precisely the things which Brent says it wants community groups to be doing. Needless to say, all of this has taken a huge amount - thousands of hours - of very hard work by an extraordinarily dedicated group of people.

Bearing all of this in mind, I have a couple of observations to make about the proposed Property and Asset Strategy:

The third objective of the new strategy (p.3) is to increase ongoing revenue generation, but you do note that "clearly there will be times when these objectives will be at odds with each other". So I remind you again that your election promise was to offer the Preston Library building at a peppercorn rent.

And on pp. 7 & 11 the strategy says that "all opportunities for Community Asset Transfer should be advertised" and recommends a competitive process. Competitive tendering was, of course, explicitly ruled out in the Labour Party's election pledge last year. We're not, though, worried about an open and transparent process, provided that process takes place in the context of your very clear election pledge to support a community library in Carlton Avenue East.

Preston Community Library is the area's only secular community space; it is fully accessible and open to everyone regardless of race, religion, age or gender. In barely a month, and on a very restrictive temporary licence, PCL is already doing hugely impressive work. When we have a proper lease, we will be able to do much, much more.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Article today which is worth a look for the general context: phone your local library to check if a book's in stock, get put through to a Crapita call centre in Coventry.
Mike Hine