Residents protest over library cutback plans

Bethnal Green Library is facing proposals of reduced opening hours and minimised staff as a result of council cuts. Pic: Glyn Robbins

A ‘Save Our Libraries’ petition has been started by Tower Hamlets residents to protest over plans to cut back services at three libraries saving more than £1.6 million, but putting 35 jobs at risk.

The council have proposed that there will be reduced services, hours and staff at both Bethnal Green Library and Watney Idea Store in Shadwell with a full closure of Cubitt Town Library on the Isle of Dogs.

Local resident, Glyn Robbins who started the campaign said: “I want to try and do something to make sure that our council doesn’t use coronavirus as a cover for seriously reducing the availability of public libraries at a time when we are going to need them more than ever.”

According to the council, savings across the borough need to be made to deal with Government changes to council funding and the pandemic. The council said that by 2024, £30 million needs to be saved. The council state that if the current library proposals go ahead, £1.6 million could be saved.

Robbins said: “We understand that the money is difficult…but this is an essential service. It may not be a blue light service but it is absolutely vital for lots of people in the borough to have a free public library service… it’s a fight we have to have and a fight we have to win.”

Emma Davey from UNISON told East London Lines: “A Freedom of Information request submitted by UNISON revealed that the council spent an eye-watering £50 million on consultants over a two-year period.  The council could save money elsewhere by reducing its unnecessary and excessive use of consultants.”

The current closure proposal for Cubitt Town Library would leave the area south of South Dock on the Isle of Dogs with no library making the closest available library service the Idea Store at Canary Wharf. This is a twenty-five-minute walk from Cubitt Town Library.

The council have proposed that Cubitt Town Library will close permanently. Pic: Philip Talmage

Tower Hamlets has been ranked the third most deprived borough in London with many residents unable to afford digital devices or broadband. Currently, library services across the borough have remained open, offering residents opportunities for work and education to which they otherwise might have been unable to access. 

Robbins said: “There’s a lot of people in this borough who are still living in poverty where they’re more worried about putting food on the table than they are about buying books. The library is an essential service and a place where you can have access to education in a way that you may not elsewhere.” 

On the campaigns page, one supporter Rayed R wrote: “To close libraries at this time when schools are shut and many families do not have access to devices or access to the Internet is not reasonable or fair.” 

Libraries have been open this lockdown, offering people with no technology or internet a place to work and learn. Pic: Joe Shlabotnik

Unions have also expressed concerns over the reduction in opening hours at both Bethnal Green and the Watney Idea Store. Unions believe that this could lead to the eventual closure of both services as reduced hours could prevent residents from using the libraries services altogether.

A UNISON press release said: “Jobs will be cut in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic, around 1 in 5 of the jobs in the service.”

Robbins told East London Lines: “Whatever the council decides I think we will have to carry on fighting it and demand that they keep all of the libraries open. They shouldn’t be thinking about cutting library services right now, they should be looking at extending them.”

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