Job losses inevitable under proposed library cuts

Pic: Manor House library, Lewisham. Credit: Stephen Craven

Pic: Manor House library, Lewisham. Credit: Stephen Craven

Lewisham Council has warned that job losses will be inevitable under a proposed austerity plan that will see £1 million cut from its library service.

The council’s savings proposal report, outlined at a public consultation at the Broadway Theatre in Catford on Wednesday night, proposes a full staff re-organisation and staff redundancies in order to make the savings.

The proposed cuts form part of Lewisham’s plan to save £45 million over the next two years.

According to the savings report, staff wages are the highest expense in the library budget accounting for 80 per cent at £3,105,800.

Aileen Buckton, executive director of Community Services Lewisham, explained at the consultation: “You can’t save £1 million without it impacting on staff.”

Seven of the borough’s 13 libraries are currently owned and managed by the council; Downham, Forest Hill, Lewisham, Manor House, Catford, Deptford Lounge and Torridon Road Library.

The six remaining libraries, Blackheath, Crofton Park, Grove Park, New Cross, Sydenham and Pepys are owned or managed by community and voluntary organisations, with the branches being self service.

The proposal ruled out closing any libraries but would see branches at Forest Hill, Torridon and Manor House become part of the community library model and cease to be run by the council.

While the suggested switch to a community model would allow the council to make the savings it needs to balance its budget, there are concerns around the impact this will have on the quality of service at the three branches, with staff numbers reduced and librarians replaced by self-service machines and a part-time visiting librarian.

The council would also need to identify suitable partner organisations for the three buildings, the report said.

Chris Flood, a former Lewisham councillor for Telegraph Hill ward, said: “I think the consultation was a rubber stamping exercise, they come with a predetermined decision and asking the public how they can make the cuts. We should be growing the economy, creating jobs and should not be in the process of making people redundant.”

“Lewisham council has about £13 million in reserve, I know you can only dip in for so long, but with that and prudential borrowing  you can protect key services.”

Also proposed within the report is the creation of ‘hub’ libraries at the borough’s three most popular branches, Deptford Lounge, Lewisham and Downham. These ‘hubs’ would offer better face-to-face services and have longer opening hours, with a suggested staff re-organisation allowing each library to open 85 hours a week.

Steve Bullock, Mayor of Lewisham, told EastLondonLines: “Every London borough faces huge financial pressures as the Government cuts their support and demand rises.”

“There will not be a single solution that works everywhere and consultation about different approaches is important to enable councils to make the best decisions in these difficult times.”

The public consultation, the first of five to take place over the next month, saw Buckton join Antonio Rizzo, Head of Library and Information Services in Lewisham and Chris Best, Councillor for Sydenham and Cabinet Member for Health, Well being and Older People, on a three person panel to discuss the proposals.

During the public meeting Best said that the council had already used £5 million from the reserve to balance last years budget.

Heidi Alexander, MP for Lewisham East and Shadow Secretary of State for Health, told EastLondonLines: “Some libraries in Lewisham are already run by local social enterprises and charities and so I think it makes sense for the council to consider whether this model might work in other places.”

“I will be talking to Lewisham’s Mayor Sir Steve Bullock and senior council officers next week about the proposals for Lewisham’s libraries as this is an important issue and it’s imperative that the council gets it right.”

The remaining dates for public consultation, which start at 7.30pm, are:

12 October at Trinity School,Taunton Rd, Lee, SE12 8PD

19 October at Sydenham School, Dartmouth Rd, SE26 4RD

22 October at Sandhurst Junior School, Minard Rd, SE6 1NW

4 November at St Dunstan’s Jubilee Hall, Canadian Ave, SE6 4SW

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