Three Lambeth Labour councillors on a committee considering council plans to turn some of its libraries into gyms this week voted for them to be reconsidered.
The vote came as campaigners accused the council of overlooking an alternative plan drawn up by its own head of libraries and as the union representing workers who would be affected by the plans balloted for strike action over them.
Jacqui Dyer (Vassall ward) Matt Parr (Coldharbour) and Amélie Treppass (Streatham Wells) were joined in voting for reconsideration by Conservative Louise Nathanson (Clapham Common). Dyer and Parr were vice-chairs of the scrutiny committee.
But they were outvoted by the other five Labour members of the committee: Chair Edward Davie (Thornton); Danial Adilypour (Streatham South); Rezina Chowdhury (Streatham Hill); Christopher Wellbelove (Clapham Town); and Andrew Wilson (Larkhall).
The move for decisions to be reconsidered – “called in” in council jargon – was proposed by Conservative group leader Tim Briggs (Clapham Common) and Green councillor Scott Ainslie (St. Leonard’s).
Laura Swaffield, chair of Friends of Lambeth Libraries said the plan would reduce five of 10 libraries to a fraction of their size, with no staff and put fee-charging gyms in three of them.
“We were expecting the usual rubber stamp,” she said. “Lambeth councillors are notoriously bullied into always supporting the party line no matter what. But we got something just a little better.”
Although it rejected reconsideration, the scrutiny committee drew up a list of points for the council cabinet to take into account.
Examine plans to help the many people who would be disadvantaged by unstaffed “neighbourhood” libraries
More development work needed on the alternative plan drawn up by head of libraries, Susanna Barnes
Guarantee that there will be the same number or more computer access points with support in libraries
Look at alternative plans with “much more reflection about what the community wants”
The council needs to be “a bit more robust” in dealings with Greenwich Leisure Ltd, its “partner” for leisure. GLL is a non-profit company that now brands itself as “Better”.
Swaffield said: “Surely we can work with this and easily show how awful and financially unnecessary these draft plans are. The council can do itself a favour and re-think. Or it can face furious opposition from residents all over the borough.”
She added: “It was a pleasure to hear – often – reference to existence of a viable alternative plan by the brilliant head of libraries, Susanna Barnes, who has already transformed a famously under-funded service into a London leader, with a host of extra services and activities, booming demand and national fame for its unique, ground-breaking facilities for people with sight problems, enabling them to read independently.
“Lambeth officers have sat on this plan and done nothing with it – while rushing through a ‘plan’ for leisure company GLL to spend over £1m revenue and £3m capital on the disastrous gyms – for which there is no business case, no market research and not even a basic feasibility study.”
She said the scrutiny committee “remarkably by Lambeth council standards” had produced a long list of recommendations that cover most of the things that concern Friends of Lambeth Libraries.
Ruth Cashman, Unison Lambeth local government branch secretary, and a library worker, said ballot papers for a strike were due to be distributed within a few weeks.
Unison says a quarter or more of Lambeth library staff will lose their jobs if the council’s plan is not changed.
The next move in the campaign against the council’s plans is a public meeting in the Carnegie library, 188 Herne Hill Rd SE24 0AG, at 7pm on Monday 16 November.
You can see the council’s side of the argument here.