By Cllr Maya de Souza
The recent outcry about plans to slash funding for Highgate Library, reflects the current administration’s lack of openness and transparency about its plans for our libraries.
In mid-2011, a decision was made to radically reform our library provision, taking three libraries out of direct council control and giving them to communities to fund.
Two other libraries, Highgate and Regent’s Park, were also subject to change: the former to lose over 60% of its funding, and the latter to be closed and for a homework club-type arrangement to be set up instead.
I immediately raised questions about the cuts, pointing out that it seemed that if no alternative funds were found for Highgate Library, it was at risk of closure. It was not possible to see how a library already running on a shoe-string could struggle on with such severe cuts – if it did, it could not have anything like the same level of service.
And there was no evidence at all that any of the possible schemes and sources of funding mentioned by officers and Cabinet Members would come to fruition at all.
When Alexis Rowell, our Green candidate, pointed out in by-election material – leading up to the narrow election of Labour councillor Sally Gimson, that Highgate Library was clearly still at risk, Labour denied this strongly. They said that the library was not at risk and that it would stay open.
However, this June – nine months later – the Council held a public meeting led by Cllr Leach where it was stated that almost 75% of funds would be lost and admitted that they had no thought-out plans for ensuring sufficient funding for the library come April 2013 – now only about nine months away.
Cllr Leach admitted that the current funding level involves running a library on a shoestring. Clearly without 75% of its funds the library is at risk!
Residents have now put forward a proposal for a community-led steering group to explore options and guide the council as to the library’s future, and they have asked for the funding cuts to be put on hold until after a solution has been found.
Highgate Greens and I are pushing for funding cuts to be reduced, and in any event put on hold pending a solution.
We will be seeking to ensure that we do not lose this invaluable community resource. We think the library needs to be made even better, NOT starved of funding.
The sums involved are manageable, considering that Camden has cut its budget faster than is necessary.