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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Local Council’s ‘Big Society’ Betrayal

Conservative led Croydon Council withdraws funding from its most cost efficient library resource leaving it under serious threat of closure after 111 years community service.

In October 2011, Croydon Council announced that it would withdraw its share of funding for the unique Upper Norwood Joint library based purely on a falling out with its partner of 111 years, Lambeth Council. 

Only last week our Prime Minister showed his support for libraries: 
"Reading matters for two simple reasons,…"If we don't learn to read properly, then everything else in education is a closed book.  But above and beyond that, reading is a joy and a pleasure and it is for life"…"I hope that one day you will look back and think about this school and this great library and everyone who has supported it", he told pupils.  "Because actually there is a huge problem with some kids not having access to books.  And having a library like this…… a really great start in life."
But  why are Croydon Council being so difficult and so keen to renege on their responsibilities for this much loved and well used community library?  It is a question the entire community has been asking itself and Croydon Council for some time now but it all came to a head in October 2011.  The only response received from Croydon Council is beyond staggering – that its partner of 111 years has breached a legal agreement which was put in place to ensure a secure future for the library until 2014. Where is the public mandate for this?   

Campaigners state that Upper Norwood Library
  • is the only independent jointly funded library in the country and it has been that way since it opened to the public 111 years ago – Lambeth and Croydon Borough Councils.
  • is widely regarded as a fine example of the independent model 
  • is at least 50% more cost efficient than libraries in the funding boroughs. 
  • and serves residents from 5 London boroughs (Upper Norwood is on the fringes of these 5 boroughs) 

Budget cuts forcing library closures is a familiar story with 10% of the 4500 UK libraries under threat or already closed.  But the reason for the likely closure of this community library is nothing to do with cuts, or not according to Croydon Council. 

Croydon Council is in the process of outsourcing its entire library network but this does not include Upper Norwood Joint Library. Campaigners for Upper Norwood Library claim that everything that the community now knows, points to a carefully played exit strategy by Croydon Council; Croydon have clearly been planning to outsource their libraries for some time.  

Campaigners are naturally angered at Croydon's handling of the situation, the lack of negotiations with Lambeth and the ultimatum placed before them, which absolves Croydon of any responsibility for the library, as we outlined here.

Despite repeated attempts by Lambeth Council and the community to ask Croydon to co-operate to commit to secure a future for the library, Croydon Council has not been willing.  Rather, it seems resolute in realising its 50% share of assets.

A statement released by Upper Norwood Library Campaign states,
"So if the Government wants to realise its ambitions of putting Britain back at the forefront of innovation and expertise through nurturing vocational learning, fixing our broken society, improving levels of literacy, tackling the exponential problem of rising unemployment for young adults  etc. etc. why allow local Councils to facilitate the closure of community library?  And in this case, one which is well on the way to being an exemplar of what Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, and his colleagues aspire to. The Community of Upper Norwood is a Big Society and at the moment, it is being crushed by the actions of a few councillors who think it acceptable to walk away from their responsibilities rather than facing them; the irony here is that the challenges that make their responsibilities harder are of their own making.
We call for Ed Vaizey and Chris White, Chair Local Government Group, to take the matter up personally with Jon Rouse, Chief Executive and Mike Fisher, Leader Croydon Council as a matter of urgency.  They need to be held to account on this matter and to reverse the decision if they cannot substantiate it within the mandated guidelines.
It is high time that these paid officials were called to account by their Westminster colleagues and by the media. They also need to be brought out from the apparent safety of their castle kingdoms and put to the sword by the communities they are breaking.
The Upper Norwood community is passionate about keeping its library and, as fully paid up members of ‘Big Society’, we have to ask, is the current Croydon Council Cabinet?"

To see the history of the crisis click here:

You can follow the campaign.

Twitter: @saveUNlibrary 

And please show your support for Upper Norwood by attending the EGM this Friday to have your say.

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