11:30 am - March 8th 2011
contribution by Cllr Tulip Siddiq
I very rarely cry. It’s just not me. But attending the ‘We Love Highgate Library’ day and being greeted by children standing in the cold with banners proclaiming their love for their local library made me feel a bit teary.
Julian Barnes dramatically declared that he would go down on one knee to stop me from making cuts. Danny Scheinmann interrupted me with a copy of his book Random Acts of Heroic Love. ‘I’ve inscribed it for you Councillor Siddiq’ he said (‘Always do the right thing’ it said).
What is the right thing? Don’t all elected representatives want to do the right thing?
After I was elected last year and put in the cabinet in Camden Council, I was told immediately that there was a £80 – £100 million funding shortfall in the council budget due to cuts from national government.
I was instructed to model a 20–25% cut over the next three years across my culture budget of £14 million, including the libraries budget where 13 libraries cost £8 million. Over the next three years, I had to take out £2 million but continue to provide an efficient library service.
The initial recommendation from the officers was to go from 13 libraries in Camden down to 4. I rejected that proposal immediately. Libraries are the cornerstones of our community – people I have met have told me how their library helped them educate themselves, provided them with a quiet space to do their homework, access books they’d not otherwise be able to afford.
In the first financial year, I managed to take out £400,000 by making backroom efficiencies such as cutting management costs, reducing stock purchases and lowering transport costs.
Consultation and ideas
I decided to launch a consultation of library users themselves. We had nearly 3000 responses in three weeks. Of course people are hostile to the consultation – most don’t believe the libraries fund should be touched. It’s not ‘the right thing to do’. But what is the right thing to do?
Here are some of the ideas we’re considering:
» I’ve done a property assessment of the libraries to see if we have any land that can be outsourced to coffee shops. One of our libraries has an exhibition area which I’m hoping to derive income from.
» I’ve also looked at sharing management costs with neighbouring boroughs. Furthermore, I’m examining the actions of other boroughs and it looks like one local authority has transferred their libraries to a social enterprise which has reduced its costs. While this is not wholly appropriate for Camden’s libraries, it is an option that the borough has used for its sports centres.
» Another option is a community asset transfer. The idea is to empower Camden’s communities by transferring the management and /or the ownership of a library (i.e. a publically owned asset) to a community group. There’s one particular group of library users who are keen on this idea. The library could be transferred on a short lease for a fixed period of years or at an annual rent. This means the community organisation will manage and staff the asset but Camden could still share the maintenance costs.
» Another option is to transfer the library to a community organisation on a long lease. In this instance, the community organisation buys a lease of more than 22 years on the asset and pays the council a low annual ground rent.
» These are also alongside ideas like charging for wi-fi and increasing fines on late book returns.
However, even these “big society” solutions do not amount to a panacea. Coalition ministers think councils can just offload libraries, community centres and even schools onto communities and let them get on with it, but building a stronger society means working in partnership with local people to protect services.
I wish our libraries; our older people’s services and our children’s centres could be saved by a “random act of heroic love”.
Last week, the opposition’s ‘alternative budget’ comprised of sacking union reps and diverting funds away from school repairs. In the face of the Conservative-Lib Dem cuts, the Labour way forward is to get as close as we can to doing the right thing.
This is a guest post.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Local Government
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Reactions: Twitter, blogs
- Liberal Conspiracy
How I've tried to stop library cuts in Camden http://bit.ly/fh0HMO
RT @libcon: How I've tried to stop library cuts in Camden http://bit.ly/fh0HMO
- sunny hundal
Councillor @TulipSiddiq – "How I’m trying to stop library closures in Camden" – great piece http://bit.ly/fh0HMO
- Jerome Taylor
RT @sunny_hundal: Councillor @TulipSiddiq – "How I’m trying to stop library closures in Camden" – great piece http://bit.ly/fh0HMO
- Tulip Siddiq » Stopping the cuts in Camden
[...] really wanted to share with you an article I wrote recently for the Liberal Conspiracy website, about what I’m working on in Camden. Here’s the article: I very rarely cry. [...]
- Budget Cuts « jamila4
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