Library campaigners have suggested that Lambeth council may have rejected an alternative plan for its libraries because it was already in advanced negotiations over the future of some of them with its leisure provider GLL.
Defend The Ten – the campaign that opposes plans for a gym in Herne Hill’s Carnegie library and other aspects of council policy – today (21 March) released details of a report on the council’s plans by the People’s Audit project.
It says that negotiations between the council and GLL were “well advanced” in October 2015 when the council issued its Culture 2020 report – apparently for consultation.
It also claims that GLL sponsorship of Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives depended on an agreement for it to run “healthy living centres” in the Carnegie and in the Minet library in Myatt’s Fields.
The report asks why there was no tendering process for the healthy living centres in gyms project and challenges the council’s auditors, accountants KPMG, over its failure to question aspects of the libraries deal.
It also asks: “Why did GLL agree to reduce their leisure services fees by around one-third, with a c.£7m reduction from the total £20m leisure services contract?”
The report says council estimates of the timing of changes at the now closed Carnegie and Minet libraries have not been met, but that a reason for its rejection of an alternative plan for its libraries was that it could not be implemented soon enough.
It also accuses the council of under-investment in libraries over a long period before the current plans were hatched.
The council head of library services Susanna Barnes had drawn up plans for libraries to be run by a “staff mutual”, achieving required savings, but keeping libraries open without the involvement of GLL.
Defend The Ten questioned whether the Carnegie and Minet libraries would be open by the time of council elections in May next year, when the council had earlier suggested work would be completed this year.
The controversy surrounding Lambeth council libraries came after decades of criticism of under-investmen, but the service was one of only two in Great Britain in 2015 to improve its performance in terms of visits, membership and issues of books and other material.
Defend The Ten is organising a meeting to plan future activity on Thursday (23 March) at St Saviours Church Hall in Herne Hill Road at 7pm.