Carnegie Library in Herne Hill will close temporarily today. Many local residents have been in touch with me about Carnegie and I know that there is a great deal of anxiety locally about the temporary closure and plans for the future of Carnegie.
I am absolutely committed to seeing the Carnegie Library retained as a library at the heart of our community and put on a sustainable financial footing for the long term. I have set out below my understanding of the current situation and the important next steps in securing the future of Carnegie.
Lambeth Council has faced unprecedented cuts to its budget in recent years, and with 75% of the Council’s funding now committed to children’s and adults’ social services and significant challenges in Lambeth in areas such as domestic abuse and youth violence, this has led to some extremely difficult and unpalatable choices. This is the consequence of six years of national government which has deliberately forced areas of high deprivation such as Lambeth to bear a disproportionate burden of its austerity programme. Over the next three years Lambeth expects to have to bear a further £50million of cuts. Despite the government’s rhetoric it was able to identify £300million extra of funding for some councils a few weeks ago, but not a single penny of this went to Lambeth, while £24.1million of additional money was allocated to Surrey, the most affluent county in the whole country. The Chief Executive of Lambeth Council and I recently met with the Local Government Minister to talk to him face to face about the impact that the government’s cuts are having in Lambeth, including specifically the pressures on the libraries budget, but the Tory government remains committed to an entirely unfair distribution of cuts, in exactly the same way as the previous Tory-Lib Dem coalition government.
In this context, Lambeth Council has sought to identify alternative solutions for its neighbourhood libraries, to enable the buildings to stay open, providing a library service, but run on a different basis which allows additional revenue to be generated to meet the costs of running them. Elsewhere in my constituency, the decision was taken several years ago to set up an independent trust to run the Upper Norwood Joint Library – this trust is now well established and is developing exciting plans for the running of this building with a library at its heart. This is what I want to see for Carnegie – a beautiful building which has the potential to be used for a wide variety of different purposes, but which is focused on providing a library.
The Council is working with its social enterprise partner GLL to explore ways in which new uses might be brought in to the Carnegie in order to generate additional income. There must be clear parameters for this discussion. It is clear to me that the main and dominant use of the Carnegie must be the provision of a library and spaces for community meetings and that any other revenue raising uses must be subservient to these. I would particularly welcome creative thinking about the utilisation of spaces which are currently unused or underused at the Carnegie. The Council is also looking to undertake a transfer of the building to the Carnegie Community Trust – so that it can be run by local residents as a neighbourhood library and Community Hub. The proposed transfer of the building and the diversification of uses to include the neighbourhood library is being done with the knowledge of the Carnegie Trust UK who administer the Carnegie legacy nationally.
I am clear that in order for the Carnegie to continue to be a successful library, it must be properly run. This may mean some changes to the staffing, but I am determined to see a well-stocked library, efficient book and DVD ordering systems, provision of computers and study space, as well as a creative and well run programme of community events and activities throughout the year. The building itself also needs to be run on a day to day basis by staff who have the skills to engage with residents and community groups in a thoughtful and creative way and create a warm and welcoming environment for all users of the library. It has been suggested that that library provision at Carnegie will be reduced to a small bookshelf – this has never been proposed by the Council and would clearly be completely unacceptable.
While the building must generate additional income, spaces within the library must continue to be available to community groups at an affordable rate, so that the chess club, Ruskin Readers and all of the other activities which currently take place in the library and which make it the heart of our community can continue. It is essential, in the short term that the Council works with the groups who currently use the library to identify alternative venues, so that they can continue to operate while the building is closed and return to it when it reopens.
I meet regularly with the local ward councillors to discuss Carnegie, and I have met in recent weeks with members of Lambeth Council’s Cabinet and the Chief Executive to highlight the issues that local residents raise with me, as I have done regularly since being elected last May. I pressed the Council not to temporarily close the Carnegie on 1 April for works to the building without a very clear plan of action and timescale to reopen it, and to work with the Trust and GLL to engage with residents as soon as possible to provide an opportunity for everyone to see the plans for the future and comment on them, and I will continue to press for this.
I am absolutely committed to seeing the Carnegie Library remain open, as a library, for the long term, and I will continue to work hard with local residents and councillors to achieve this.