Friday 21 April 2017

After closing half its libraries Brent Council agrees Memorandum of Understanding with volunteer libraries

The Brent Council Cabinet is set to approve a Memorandum of Understanding on Community Libraries at its meeting on Monday.  In 2011 the Council closed 6 of the borough's 12 libraries in what they called the Libraries Transformation Projects. Local residents launched campaigns to keep four of the libraries open: Preston, Kensal Rise, Cricklewood and Barham. Neasden and Tokyngton libraries, the former in a very needy area, appear to have gone for good.

The SOS (Save Our Six Libraries) campaign was faced with the dilemma of campaigning for the retention of securely financed, professionally staffed libraries or keeping a local facility going through a volunteer system and fundraising. Some campaigners thought that keeping some kind of service going temporarily would make it easier for a future administration to restore the library.

The Brent libraries issue became something of a national scandal and contributed to Cllr Muhammed Butt's overthrow of Cllr Ann John's Labour leadership. In the event Brent's closures were ahead of the field and other councils, of various political complexion, have since closed libraries  citing government cuts as the reason. Currently there is a militant campaign in Lambeth LINK.

Since then there have been attempts by various lead members to reach an agreement with the volunteer libraries with Preston and Barham facing particular difficulties because the Council is the landlord of their premises.

The Officers' report LINK sets out the current situation:

Brent’s community libraries receive no direct funding from Council library service budgets. They are wholly independent organisations. They are not included within the Council’s statutory service, and they have full flexibility to tailor their offer to local need and interest and are eligible for various funding streams as independent organisations.

 The four community library premises are:
·      Barham Library, 660 Harrow Road Wembley HA0 2HB (15 year lease)
·      Cricklewood Library, 152 Olive Road, London NW2 (999 year lease being finalised)
·      Kensal Rise Library, Bathurst Gardens, London NW10 5JA (999 year lease being finalised)
·      Preston Community Library, 2 Carlton Ave East, Wembley HA9 8PL (currently has a temporary lease arrangement).
The MoU (see below) sets out various ways the Council will support the community libraries without committing to any additional expenditure.

The case of Preston Community Library, where uncertainty remains over its premises as Brent Council seeks to redevelop the site, is addressed directly:
A temporary lease arrangement is in place until the end of the 2016/17 school year as a short term solution. Long term plans for the site are at the development stage.
 In September 2016 Cabinet agreed to redevelop Preston Park Annexe for new homes and D1 space appropriate for library use. Since then the Council has appointed 5Plus Architects to lead the design of the redevelopment proposals and undertaken workshops with Preston Community Library to understand their long term service delivery needs and spatial requirements. The next stage of the design process will be to translate the findings into a design solution that is supported by Preston Community Library. Further consultation will then be undertaken on design proposals before final decisions are made.

The development of the site will provide a potential long term solution for Preston Community Library. However at present the medium term options for the library are not clear. Officers will continue to work to address this with the library within the constraints of the Council’s property portfolio and market options.

 Council officers recognise the strong social value provided by Preston Community Library and are keen to support the group in continuing to provide a service throughout the transition process
In a curious post on his blog LINK, former councillor James Powney, lead member at the time of the Transformation Project, says:
In Barham, Paul Lorber appears to be trying to play the Council for either financial gain or as part of his political manoeuvrings prior to the 2018 elections.  In Preston, the existing group appears to be given an undue influence that does not sit easily with either the Council's financial obligations or the building's ACV status.  Such arrangements can lead to ugly rumours about the integrity of Council decision making even where there is no legally proven case against them. 
  This is the Memorandum of Understanding:


Philip Grant said...

It is good to know that Brent Council recognise that local libraries 'contribute significant social value' to the parts of the borough which they serve.

That is what hundreds of local residents told them in the 2010/11 consultation exercise on the "Libraries Transformation Project", yet those views were ignored by Brent's Executive at the time.

Will any of the councillors who made the decision to close half of our libraries have the guts to admit that they made a mistake?


Anonymous said...

Of course they won't. They don't have the guts to do so. Unlike the people involved in the establishment of these community libraries who have shown that they have guts in setting up these much needed facilities.

Anonymous said...

I loved that use of 'transformation' so much that I started using it all the time. It comes in very handy in such contexts as 'Transform the door, that draught's going right through me' and 'Rural Wales used to be very religious, on Sundays the pubs were all transformed'.

Mike Hine

Philip Grant said...

After my initial reaction above, which might be considered "negative", I should add that I believe the Memorandum of Understanding is a good step in the right direction.

I fully support the work of the four community libraries, and Brent Council working with them as much as possible, to provide a valuable service to parts of the borough that were deprived of their local library in 2011.

I think that James Powney's comments are mainly "sour grapes" against a former political opponent, who stood up for local libraries when he was intent on closing them.