Upper Norwood cut will go through, finds scrutiny

A melodramatic depiction. Pic: Upper Norwood Library Campaign

Croydon councillors resolved to go ahead with a “savage cut” to the Upper Norwood Joint Library at a heated scrutiny meeting before the public on Friday.

Scrutiny committee chair Steve Hollands declined to call a vote on the plans after heavy heckling and pleading from the public gallery, saying: “This is exactly the sort of behaviour I would expect.”

But the council agreed to consider extending its two year’ funding support to community organisations willing to take management of the 112-year-old library.

The proposals, which would hand the troubled UNJL over to community groups but cut Croydon’s funding from £187,000 to £75,000, were called before the Scrutiny and Strategic Oversight Committee by the borough’s Labour group this week.

Consultation in September showed that 83 per cent of library users believe that cutting its funding would have “significant negative impact” on their lives.

The library has been jointly managed by Croydon and Lambeth for over a century, but the two councils are have been negotiating over its future since their agreement broke down last year.

In a written submission to the council, Upper Norwood Library Campaign said: “Croydon’s huge 60% reduction in UNJL funding from 2013/14 seems to be a fundamentally flawed and misleading cost comparison between UNJL and Croydon branch libraries…”

The submission continues that the council’s sum of £75,000 excludes most of the overheads and back office costs.

It reads: “We implore the council to take proper account of the popularity and immense social, cultural, educational and economic good done by UNJL.”

Three-minute submissions were heard from the public gallery. Robert Gibson, of the Upper Norwood Library Campaign described the cut as “savage” and “unsustainable”.

The figure allocated to UNJL has been controversial because, although it is based on the cost of Croydon’s own library services, it omits back-office costs that are shared across all libraries.

Campaigners say it is misleading to omit these as UNJL handles their functions itself, while cabinet member for libraries Tim Pollard says UNJL has no direct equivalent of such services and that the figure is fair.

Pollard told EastLondonLines in September that while he was proposing a “significant reduction”, it would make UNJL “the most generously funded library associated with Croydon and with Lambeth.”

But Gibson said: “£75,000 is clearly an inadequate figure and will jeopardise the future sustainability of the library.”

The council states in its cabinet report on the plans that the 60% cut is likely to result in a “slightly reduced level of service.”

John Payne, Chair of Crystal Palace Community Association, said a shift from professional staff to unpaid volunteers or community helpers would be “a major blow to the local community”.

He said: “The support of expert, knowledgeable and skilled staff will be greatly diminished and service range and quality will suffer.”

The public submissions were met with cheers and applause from the gallery.

Robert Gibson told EastLondonLines he thought the decision was “disgraceful” but said the Upper Norwood Library Campaign would not give up.

He said: “The community will power ahead until the council recognise the need for more funding.”

A 40-year-old member Lambeth Save Our Services, who asked to be referred to as ‘Joe Public’, told EastLondonLines: “For some people a library can be a haven. Some people might have psychological of physical disabilities and find a library a safe place to go.”

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