Sunday, 13 January 2019

Brent Budget Panel opposes reduction in library services and suggests handover to a charitable trust and more use of volunteers

Brent Council may be relying on local people having short memories regarding the above options for cuts to library services but they did promise back in 2011, when Brent libraries were 'transformed' by closing half of them, that opening hours would be increased and there would be enhanced service provision in the remaining libraries. Certainly the promise to extend opening hours was kept.  In addition after the very bad publicity and damage to the council's relationship with the local community, a change of political leadership brought a more sympathetic attitude to local library campaigners and some support for volunteer led libraries.

However the budget proposals for reduced hours or another closure  may well bring back bitter memories and accusations that the 2011 promises have not been kept.

The Budget Scrutiny Panel have come out in opposition to the proposals but suggested an alternative which was abandoned before, of handing over the libraries to a charitable trust. This will also prove controversial as it reduces democratic control and is contrary to Brent Council's recent love to bring arms-length and out-sourced services back in-house. They also recommend increased use of volunteers.

This is what the Panel had to say:

CWB006 proposes to reduce library hours and offers no argument that residents will benefit from a better service if this is implemented. We do not agree with this proposal and believe it should have been place in the “Most Difficult” appendix. 

We are pleased that residents in Brent know they have six council-run libraries in the borough that they can go to seven days per week. Scaling back on this universal service would undermine the trust the council has slowly rebuilt with the community following the closure of several libraries before 2014. We also believe there is a real danger that demand will be dampened if people become confused about which libraries they can go to at certain times and which they can go to at others.

There are other options we feel the council could consider before passing this proposal. The first of these is transferring the library service to a charitable trust as other authorities – including Glasgow, Luton and Fife - have done. If our library service were run in this way, the six buildings could become eligible for business rates relief of at least 80 per cent, presenting significant savings without a loss in the service. 

We recommend that the council gives serious consideration to this idea. 

Secondly, the largest mistake, in our view, that the council made before adopting its proposal of library closures a few years ago, was refusing to give local community and volunteer groups any opportunity to run the service. We recommend that this time every effort should be made to see if volunteers can take over some of the services to prevent closures. We are aware that some libraries require a permanent security presence and that this work cannot be done by volunteers, but this is not the case in every library and so should not prevent a volunteer team from keeping these branches open. 

Thirdly, we recommend that Brent explore all options which help to maximise the use of library buildings and extract additional financial value from them. For example, residents in flats above shops often struggle to get hold of council recycling bags for their waste. If they could collect these easily from their local library this would be easier for them and give the library further status as a local hub for council services. Likewise, there is much potential to rent out event space in some of our libraries, like the upstairs floors in Harlesden Library, and we think more work needs to be done to sweat those assets. 

This are just some starting ideas, but it is our fundamental belief that any alternative to make savings in the service are considered before we resort to the drastic step of partial closures. 

Pros and Cons on Library Trusts can be found HERE

Contribute to the Budget consultation HERE


Philip Grant said...

I have submitted comments to the Brent Budget Consultation on the Libraries proposals (and on recycling), and am setting these out below. If you also have concerns about some of the cuts which are being considered, why not have your say as well?

'Comments on specific proposals:

CWB006 - Libraries:
Any further closures of Brent's six remaining libraries MUST be avoided. They are already thinly spread across the borough, following the divisive closures in 2011 - provision of a reasonable service in some areas already relies on four volunteer-run community libraries.

Brent's own six libraries are meant to be community hubs, and Brent's winning bid to be London Borough of Culture 2020 was made on the basis that its network of libraries would be used 'as visitor centres to help people explore the interesting nooks and crannies around our borough.' Our library network is too important to be cut back any further!

It might be possible to make some small savings by reducing opening hours, but this would reduce the service to residents, especially young people needing a quiet place to study because their housing situation makes this difficult at home. Any such reductions in service should be kept to an absolute minimum.

I am strongly against the suggestion that Brent's libraries (and Museum & Archives?) should be hived off to a charitable trust. Although this might appear to provide savings for the Council, the increased administration costs which would have to be incurred by an "independent" library organisation mean that the funds available for the front-line service would be greatly reduced. Brent's Libraries/Museum & Archives play an important part in delivering a range of Council services to local residents, and should be kept "in house".

R&E010 - Recycling:
The proposal to close the Abbey Road Recycling Centre is a grave mistake. Like many Brent residents, I make a number of visits to this centre every year, to recycle material which is not collected by the Council / Veolia as recycling or garden waste. Where would I take this recyclable material if the only centre in the borough is closed?

Closure of Abbey Road, without providing a good local alternative "Civic Amenity Site", would be a big mistake. It would reduce the amount of waste that is recycled; and that would end up costing the Council MORE than it saved, by increasing the tonnage of Brent waste going to landfill and increase the scourge of "fly-tipping".'

Anonymous said...

I bet they want to sell the Abbey Road site to one of their pet developers so they can build more of the much needed tower blocks that local residents can't afford to live in.