Letter to Camden Cabinet on libraries

Dear Cllr Hayward and fellow members of the Cabinet,

I am sending you this note with regard to item 13 of your Cabinet agenda “Camden’s Library Service: Future Redesign and Implementation of Savings Programme (CENV/2015/40)”

I understand the deep pressure on local Government budgets imposed by the government, and the need for councils to make savings, however I believe Camden have a much better approach to this than the other borough I represent, Barnet. I have recently spoken to residents campaigning against the large cuts to the libraries service in Conservative run Barnet, where the Council is attempting to slash £2,850,000 from its libraries budget, so I am pleased to see that the Labour administration in Camden are taking a much better approach.

A hallmark of the Barnet approach has been to leave libraries unstaffed for much of the time, which I believe contravenes equality legislation. I am pleased to see that you are not proposing to leave Camden Libraries unstaffed, and that you value the role of professional librarians. It would be extremely dangerous to leave public buildings without staff who have had health and safety training. As we are also encouraging libraries to be ‘safe zones’ and free from bullying, the imperative for on-site staff could not be clearer.

I understand the appeal of community run libraries, however I do feel that these must only be considered as a last resort. I appreciate that there are some examples of community run libraries in places like Friern Barnet and Hampstead Garden Suburb, but the many challenges they face show how beneficial an integrated public library service is.

Consultation is also a key element of decision making in Camden. It is much preferable to have a proper consultation process based on a range of real options than the continual judicial reviews that have been a hallmark of Barnet.

Finally I would like to state that I emphatically share the enthusiasm of Camden Council in investing in arts and culture, of which libraries are, in my view a key component. This is a much better approach which delivers measurable benefits in other areas of council activity. My predecessor Brian Coleman once famously remarked – in his position as a Barnet Councillor – that “we don’t do culture in Barnet”. I am pleased to find a Labour run Council in Camden which does.

Yours sincerely,

Andrew Dismore

Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden