Cuts to Lewisham libraries put on ice after council faces opposition

(From left to right) Caroline Jupp, Mark Dunk, Richard Conway Pic: Sam Hancock

Campaigners have vowed to continue to fight Lewisham Council’s “opaque proposals” for the future of libraries in the borough, despite the borough’s announcement that it will suspend over £450,000 worth of cuts to services.

The cuts were a result of the government slashing Lewisham Council’s funding by 60 per cent since 2010 and forcing the borough to find further cuts of £30 million by 2021.

Lewisham Council said on Tuesday: “We’re looking into the possibility of rebuilding Lewisham Library so that we can reduce the impact of central government cuts on our local library services. As part of these plans, we will consider options that include building new council-owned homes for rent to help pay for a new library. The proposed cuts to the library service will be put on hold until the results of a feasibility study have been announced.”

Members of Save Lewisham Libraries voiced their concerns at the council’s Mayor & Cabinet meeting.

Dr Alice Corble, from Catford South, a lecturer at Goldsmiths and one of the campaign’s founding members. She said: “Although our timeframe is better and the council are saying the cuts are suspended, there’s still the money that needs to be saved; they’ve got to generate income if they are going to go with this proposal, which requires spending a lot of money.”

“These cuts, and the council’s various iterations of how they propose to implement them, have not been properly informed and have not had any evidence behind them. They have not done an Equalities Impact Assessment, even though they’ve indicated themselves that if they were to do them, the impacts would be extremely high on all counts.”

She added: “I personally, as someone with a professional library background, think that is very bad practice when libraries are there to inform people. Councils also have a duty to inform people, so that’s a double whammy.”

Damien Egan, Mayor of Lewisham, said: “The ideal would be that we could get a new library that would protect our service, as well as seeing if we can make numbers work so that we can have council-owned homes above it. We’re at very early stages, but what’s important is that we’re having this discussion and things are as transparent as they can be.”

He ended by saying: “One point to make is that myself and this cabinet do feel that all other avenues to do with this issue have been exhausted.”

Corble and other SLL members doubt the council’s “transparency.”

She said: “What I’m concerned about with this new move by the council is further opacity, further glossing over important facts. We’ve got a very long list of information that we need from them.”

The university lecturer also questioned that while the delay means “jobs are protected for now and people can still access professional services in these libraries for now – how long is now?”

Fellow campaign member Richard Conway, who lives in Eltham South, said: “There isn’t that much detail and the council have now taken down links on their website that should be open to the public to be able to refer back to what previous plans were.”

“We need to stress that whatever’s going to happen with this feasibility has to be open and transparent and it has to be vigorous. We’re going to be holding them to that.”

Lewisham Council confirmed yesterday that comments from SLL would “be considered as part of its feasibility study which it aims to complete by April 2019.”

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