Plans to hand Upper Norwood Joint Library over to a community group but cut over £100,000 of its funding will go before the council’s scrutiny committee this Friday.
Croydon’s cabinet resolved on September 17 to transfer the library, which has been stuck in limbo between Croydon and Lambeth councils for almost a year, to a not-for-profit group.
The plans would see the council’s contribution to the century-old library reduced from £187,000 to £75,000.
But Labour councillors have referred the decision to the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee for a public probe at 6:30 pm on Friday October 5. The meeting will be open to the public with participation at the chair’s discretion.
Timothy Godfrey, Labour’s spokesman for culture, libraries and sport, said: “This gives the Tory council a vital chance to listen to local people and think again about their plans to slash the funding and the service.”
The referral includes a demand for up-to-date figures on the council’s £8.8m annual culture budget. Godfrey, whose party controls Lambeth council, claims Croydon is not being transparent about how money will be spent.
Tim Pollard, the council’s cabinet member for libraries, told EastLondonLines in September that the new figure was a “a very realistic budget” and that UNJL would be funded on par with the council’s own most expensive libraries.
Robert Gibson, speaking for the Upper Norwood Library Campaign, said the scrutiny call-in was a welcome opportunity for residents to have their say.
He said: “The UNLC looks forward to working closely with Croydon to explore a publicly funded community trust which could provide an exciting new era for our much-loved library.
“However, we have serious concerns that Croydon Council is proposing an even bigger cut in funding than many had feared…is hugely greater than is being imposed on other libraries in either Croydon or Lambeth.
“It appears likely to lead to a halving in the number of library staff, with serious implications for the level and quality of the library service.
Campaigners dispute the council’s estimate of their library costs, saying they do not take into account central services which the council provides to all its libraries. The council, on the other hand, says UNJL has no equivalent services and that it would be unfair to include these costs.
Gibson said: “It is not unreasonable for Croydon community tax payers in Upper Norwood to feel disgruntled at the unfairness that their Lambeth neighbours not only pay less in community tax than them but also receive significantly more library funding in return.”
He also claimed that because the council had based their figure on Lambeth’s agreed contribution, it risked “see-sawing” between the two councils, which have been at loggerheads since last year.
He said: “Surely all parties must realise that it is in no one’s interest that the library would be a perpetual political football.”
Lambeth council previously cut its pledge for the library from around £210,000 to £170,000.