How I’m trying to stop library cuts in Camden

11:30 am - March 8th 2011

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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.

Tulip Siddiq is a Labour councillor in Camden. She blogs here and tweets here.

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Reader comments


Does Camden pay for 8 full time union officials?

If so, some cuts there perhaps?

3. Flowerpower

Tulip’s article would all seem very reasonable if we didn’t get told the truth by Eric Pickles:

Or take Labour-run Camden.

Ed Miliband’s local council.

His councillors are cutting the Surma Community Centre, coincidentally visited by Samantha Cameron.

Yet the council has spent twice as much on its town hall newspaper.

His councillors are now cutting back tax relief for local voluntary groups.

Heard of the People’s Supermarket – the social enterprise featured on Channel 4?

Camden are hounding it the courts for £40,000 of rates.

Camden has refused this local co-operative rate relief for non-profit groups.

But the council does bankroll EIGHT union officials at taxpayers’ expense.

David Cameron coincidentally visited this Big Society project recently – notice a trend?

So much for Labour being the Cooperative Party.

In 1985, Neil Kinnock attacked Derek Hatton for the “grotesque chaos” of his Labour council.

A quarter of a century on, we have Labour councils yet again – playing politics with people’s jobs and people’s homes and people’s services.

I can’t help wondering whether Tulip’s little sally is just another example of opportunistic “playing politics”.

“I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, out-dated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, and you end in the grotesque chaos of a Labour council—a Labour council—hiring taxis to scuttle round a city handing out redundancy notices to its own workers.

“I’m telling you – and you’ll listen – you can’t play politics with people’s jobs and with people’s services. The people will not abide posturing.”

One minute blanco is a Libdem supporting troll, the next minute he’s a trot, accusing others of being sellouts. Hilarious.

Flowerpower- are you posting that comment by Eric Pickles with a straight face? Really? You expect anyone to take that posturing seriously? Why not ask him first why Labour councils are getting disproportionately larger spending cuts than Tory ones, before you start using him to accuse others of politicking.

The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart:
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!

Libraries are in the book business so why do they not sell books? I’m not suggesting that they go into competition with Waterstones but they could well compete with Oxfam/Help the Aged/Salvation Army etc. These organisations are finding second hand book selling to be quite lucrative.

Libraries do have a few advantages over Christian Aid:

They have experts on hand.
They have barcode readers attached to databases
They have bookshelves
It’s where people go to get a book
Bookish people go there (likely to have books to give away)

Even if they have to give up a couple of bookshelves to provide room,the bookshelves would be used for,mmm let’s think, oh yes books.

Libraries have access to a lending pool across the country, if they could also request books for sale from other libraries – a super second hand book shop.

7: When’s the last time you went in a public library? My local ones have been selling second hand books for years.

“Labour councils are getting disproportionately larger spending cuts than Tory ones, before you start using him to accuse others of politicking.”

They received more handouts from central government in the Labour years.

Who says I’m a trot? I’m pointing out the fact that Labour has been here before: it needs to stop moaning or start resisting. Pretending that it’s doing both, is an amusing spectacle from the likes of Tulip “I rarely cry” Siddiq

They received more handouts from central government in the Labour years.

Money went to areas with higher deprivation – not because they were Labour councils. If you have a problem with redistribution, then just say so. At least flowerpower doesn’t pretend.

I’m pointing out the fact that Labour has been here before: it needs to stop moaning or start resisting.

Yeah, people like you aren’t really interested in nuanced articles which actually go over the decision making processes of elected officials. Who cares about the details when you’ve got slogans to write on political blogs?!

IT just strikes me as hilarious (and the anarchists Sabcat group seems to agree with me) that within less than a year you’ve gone from supporting the Lib Dems to defaming them to supporting Labour to being an apologist for their cuts as if it matters who’s cutting when all parties would’ve made similar cuts and Labour councillors could do what you’ve been egging the LDs to do and just resign in order to “maintain their honour”. If the LDs are traitors for helping the Tories make cuts, why aren’t Labour fatcat councils?

If the LDs are traitors for helping the Tories make cuts, why aren’t Labour fatcat councils?

Does the fact that Libdems are now in govt now occur to you, or are you really that dimwitted? I suspect the latter.

I’m amused at the “fatcat councils” jibe too – does it not hurt your head when dealing with the contradiction of trying to insult the very councillors that you’re also pretending to be on the side of (when encouraging them to resign). You’re a shill for the Libdem cuts blanco – stop pretending otherwise and stop trolling just to get a rise out of people and wreck discussions. I’ll simply ban you.

Dear Blanco and Flowerpower;
When Labour councils implement cuts passed onto them by the National Government it’s politically motivated right?

Care to explain

Tory/Lib Dem Coalition. Strange how no one seems to have noticed they are cutting more staff than any other authority in the country….


How did your retakes go?

16. Edward Carlsson Browne

Al: Everything I needed to know from that article I got from the final sentence: ‘The writer is the president of the Adam Smith Institute.’

Does it really help to expose everybody to the ravings of the vindictively stupid?

Excellent liberal perspective on libraries here.

Total cowardly soppy nonsense! I

n the 1930s you could be jailed for not passing budgets yet Labour councillors did it, in the 1980s you could be fined yet Labour councillors did it, now you get a stern letter followed (eventually) by dismissal!

If every Labour councillor refused to sign the budgets off there would be a justified constitutional crisis with the Tories having to impose all the cuts (still at exactly the same levels).

It simply could not and would not be done if you had the guts to stand up to them.

As it happens you agree with the Tories. You think this capitalist crisis can be solved by more capitalism. You are all neo-liberal capitalists, yet have the pretence that you are somehow fluffier neo-liberal capitalists. Stop pretending to represent the people, whe you simply represent the interests of capital. there IS enough money. The rich have it. they caused this let them pay.


Money went to areas with higher deprivation – not because they were Labour councils.

All parties tend to be in favour of spending more money (or levying lower taxes on) on people who vote for them. Labour are just a bit more shameless about it.

Ministers have made £7bn of spending pledges to boost the UK’s regional economies in the past two months, fuelling opposition claims that they are engaged in a pre-election binge at taxpayers’ expense.

Nearly a third of the total comprises transport projects affecting Labour-held marginal seats or areas bordering them, Financial Times research has found. Other projects involve def-ence contracts – some directly benefiting marginals – and grants and loans for industrial companies.

When Labour are in power Labour areas get showered with public money. When the Tories are in power, it’s hardly a great surprise to see some of this reversed.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    How I've tried to stop library cuts in Camden

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    RT @libcon: How I've tried to stop library cuts in Camden

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    Councillor @TulipSiddiq – "How I’m trying to stop library closures in Camden" – great piece

  4. Jerome Taylor

    RT @sunny_hundal: Councillor @TulipSiddiq – "How I’m trying to stop library closures in Camden" – great piece

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