Published: 16 June 2011
by DAN CARRIER
PLANS to hand over three libraries to community groups look likely to be delayed – or even scrapped – as councillors were told they must, by law, look at the decision again.
Four Conservative councillors have forced a “call-in” of the strategy, the process where the wisdom of council policies is reviewed again by special request.
Only last week, Labour cabinet councillors at the Town Hall voted to make £2m worth of cuts to the library budget over next three years and the plan for branches at Hampstead Heath, Chalk Farm and Belsize Park to be handed over to community groups.
Other changes included scrapping the mobile library service, closing the Regent’s Park branch for an unspecified time and starting a search for money to fund the Highgate branch.
Tory councillors Don Williams, Andrew Mennear, Kirsty Roberts and Claire-Louise Leyland jointly signed the call-in and said the decision to do so was because they felt the policy of handing over three libraries to non-council groups breaks council policy.
Cllr Williams said: “There is not enough clarity. With the libraries set adrift, will the people be able to use them as if they are council services?”
The four added that refusing a six-month delay to draw up alternative plans would damage attempts by groups such as the Heath and Hampstead Society and the Friends of Heath Library to manage the sites.
Leisure chief Labour Councillor Tulip Siddiq said: “We do not find ourselves in an ideal situation because of central government cuts, and we are making the best of it. We have people wanting to follow up on our plans but we have had to delay because of this.”
Meanwhile, according to the Friends of Heath Library, there has been little progress to form a new body to run the Keats Grove branch. The City of London, who manage the building, have ruled out a “white knight” rescue. It currently lets the building to Camden for a peppercorn rent on the understanding that it is used for a library. A City of London spokesman said: “We will not be taking over the day-to-day management, but we are exploring options.”
Heath library treasurer Lee Montague said: “In the precarious position the Heath Library finds itself in, it would be a goodwill gesture if a Camden library officer would allow us information on the library’s running costs, which could mean talks can start. So far nothing has been forthcoming.”
Camden Public Libraries Users Group chairman Alan Templeton said: “There is a little hope the call-in will allow Camden to reconsider its decision. All things are possible but Camden does not appear minded to be sensible. Councillors have not thought things through.
“They expect that there will not be any later repercussions from the struggles of the community organisations which take over Belsize, Chalk Farm and Heath Libraries.”
Unison convener Philip Lewis said the call-in was nothing more than scoring political points with the taxpayer footing the bill. He said: “This is grandstanding and nothing else. This option will go ahead, and this is pure political opportunism, which will just cost the taxpayer money which could have been spent on library services.”