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Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Upper Norwood - History to Current Crisis

The following information is provided by Upper Norwood Library Campaign as background to the Upper Norwood Library situation, now at crisis point.

Since opening in 1900, Upper Norwood library has been jointly and equally funded by Croydon and Lambeth Councils.

In response to a number of funding crises in the early 2000’s, a legal agreement (UNJL Agreement) between the two funding boroughs was put in place in 2006 to secure funding and a management structure for the library until 2014. Under this agreement, both borough councils were entitled to have at least two local ward councillors on the management board.

Until 2010 Croydon Council honoured this and the management board consisted of cross-party reps and members of the community.  From 2010 Croydon Council chose NOT to include local ward councillors instead, they placed councillors from the furthest reaches of the borough who, even with the best will in the world, weren’t ever going to represent the area as well as local councillors. 

Of course this riled both locals and the Lambeth Councillors and many efforts were made to discuss this with Croydon Council in a fair and open manner.  Croydon Council did not respond responsibly and instead chose to play petty party politics at the expense of a strong willed and galvanised community.   Lambeth Council felt strongly enough not to take part in the AGM of 2010 and 2011.  In fact, it was advised that the presence of non-local ward councillors would render the meeting inquorate.

It is alleged that, being totally aware of the situation, Croydon Council knowingly and shamelessly mislead the local community at the aborted 2011 AGM.  In fact the Upper Norwood campaign group claim that Cllr Sara Bashford, the Croydon Council Member of Cabinet,  has repeatedly misled the community and Lambeth Council on this matter.

In October 2011 (following the aborted 2011 AGM), Croydon determined to withdraw from the agreement and in doing so would cut funding at the end of this financial year (March 2012) leaving the library with a shortfall of required revenues of around £200K. Under the UNJL Agreement, if either party breaches it, they are not obligated to serve the mandatory 12 month notice period. 

So why did Croydon Council (in October 2011) determine that it would no longer fund its 50% share? 

It has cited that Lambeth Council has breached a legal agreement (the UNJL Agreement) by non- attendance at the 2010 and 2011 AGMs.  Lambeth has for two years been advising Croydon Council that it is in breach by not allowing local ward councillors to sit on the Management Board.  Campaigners maintain what is certain is that in the middle of all of this petty political point scoring and schoolboy debate is a society of decent folk being crushed by a few self-serving council officials who have not shown any respect to the community over this issue.  Rather, campaigners claim, they have displayed contempt and total arrogance.

Since 2010, Croydon Council has not acted in the interests of its residents (42.5% of library members are Croydon residents – the largest percentage of library users) or the wider Upper Norwood Community.  If it had, it would have at least allowed local ward councillors representation on the library management board or could have explained why it felt it appropriate NOT to do so despite the UNJL Agreement.  Even the least cynical amongst us would question the motive in this behaviour. Everything we now know about the outsourcing of their library service points to a carefully played exit strategy.  By claiming that Lambeth has breached the agreement, they can walk away without the requirement to serve 12 months’ notice. 

Since Croydon’s announcement, Lambeth Council has, with the backing of the local community, sought to negotiate a future for the library with Croydon Council.  Lambeth has put forward various options but these have not been acknowledged by Croydon Council.  Rather, Croydon seems to be resolute in realising their financial assets from the library come what may. This is evidenced in recent correspondence to Lambeth Council, in which they ask Lambeth to carry out valuation works “discreetly” and that there is a “real prospect that the library will close”. This issue has been dealt with in detail on Inside Croydon who have received details of this correspondence. You can find details here:

This is symptomatic of their approach to the community of Upper Norwood. To illustrate the behaviours of these councillors:  a group of community members attended the most recent Croydon Council Cabinet meeting in December 2011.  As a local Ward Councillor took his opportunity to address the cabinet on the subject, we saw the senior Croydon Cabinet members (including Cllr Mike Fisher - Leader Croydon Council) literally laughing in the face of the impassioned cause of the councillor who was representing the views and opinions of the community which he serves.  Is this really acceptable behaviour of elected councillors or indeed, civil servants?

Furthermore, on the day that it made their announcement to withdraw funding, Croydon Council sent an army of clipboard staff into the library to audit everything and everyone.  This was the first the staff had heard of the situation.

Useful statistics and other information:

1.       Breakdown of library users by the 5 Borough Councils that serve the Upper Norwood area: Bromley 14.3% Croydon 42.5% Lambeth 30.5% Lewisham 3.5% Southwark 8.5%

2.       Croydon Council is seeking to save £25m in costs this year and according to Cllr Fisher that "the majority of these costs come from efficiencies". Of the 150 headcount loss across the council, the hardest hit department is Children, Learning and Families Department which stands to lose 88 posts. This means that the Upper Norwood Joint Library represents at least 11.9% of this headcount loss which is staggering given the size of the borough compared with our small community. Initial budget papers outlining costs savings were agreed at Croydon Cabinet meeting on 12th December.

3.       The nearest alternative libraries are not within walking distance which represents a real problem of access for children, elderly, disabled and infirm people. 

4.       Not all town centres have Town Halls and with the absence of either, where would the centre of community exist for our Big Society? There is no Town Hall in Upper Norwood or within walking distance.

5.       The library is heavily used by job seekers – there is no alternative space for this user group in Upper Norwood.

6.       Various campaign activities have taken place including sending a Model Letter to those below: Cllr Mike Fisher, Leader Croydon Council : Mr Jon Rouse,Croydon Chief Executive: Cllr Steve Reed, Leader Lambeth Council: Derrick Anderson CBE, Lambeth Chief Executive: Val Shawcross AM, GLA: Malcolm Wicks MP: Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP:

7.       There is significant support for the campaign witnessed through on and offline petitions, social media presence, link up with other library campaigns, support from authors and high profile supporters of library services amongst others.

You can follow the campaign on twitter at @saveUNlibrary and on facebook at

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