By Sian Berry, Green Councillor for Highgate ward.
At Monday’s full council meeting, Councillor Flick Rea and I have proposed in a motion that the Council should set up a reserve fund to help community centres and libraries stay open and keep providing vital services.
Supporting libraries and community centres was top of our manifesto commitments in the local elections and this idea is something I first talked about in the summer at the Resources and Corporate Performance scrutiny committee.
At the July meeting of the committee we were asked to look at Camden’s plans for how to deal with an £8 million underspend in last year’s budget, which were to allocate the remaining funds to various reserves, many of which were already stocked beyond was required to deal with risks to other Council functions.
At the scrutiny committee, I made some suggestions for better uses, including topping up outsourced contracts so they would pay care workers and other staff the London Living Wage, and for a reserve fund to help give more security to the many community centres and libraries that are moving towards more self-sufficiency, fundraising and volunteer working.
The second suggestion didn’t go down completely badly with either officers or the other councillors on the committee so, with Cllr Rea, I’ve put the proposal to the whole Council in a formal motion.
You can see what happens on the webcast of Monday’s meeting, which will be shown here: http://democracy.camden.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=149&MId=5022
This is the text of the motion, which we hope is worded in a way that all parties can support:
Is committed to ensuring all residents have access to quality local public services, including local libraries and community centres. These facilities are vitally important to meet the health, educational and social needs of protected groups and to support residents of all ages.
Recognises the enormous budget pressures on the Council and the rationale for seeking opportunities for local community services to become more self-funding over time.
Recognises that current plans for increasing the self-sufficiency of many community centres and libraries are ambitious, can depend heavily on the effective mobilisation of volunteers, often by other volunteers including hard-working board members and steering groups, and frequently involve creative ways of extending services and significant changes to the way facilities are run and managed.
Is concerned that some of these changes may take time to fully reach their potential, and that some facilities will face difficulties when first implementing them and even the risk of closure in the coming years if fundraising and income targets are not met.
Believes that allowing vital public facilities to stop services or close due to short-term difficulties during a transition period, then trying to revive them later (perhaps once management teams and developing community networks have disbanded) represents poor value for money, and that short-term support to keep facilities open and running smoothly while obstacles are overcome would be a good use of council funds, if administrated in a responsible way.
This council therefore:
Supports the creation of a specific reserve fund in the 2015-16 budget for Camden, aimed at helping community centres and libraries through short-term difficulties on their way to becoming more self-supporting.
Suggests that this reserve fund can be created by the reallocation of funds from other reserves without impact on the overall budget of the Council, and that the support it would provide would save money overall.
Calls on the Leader of the Council and the Cabinet to investigate and consider this proposal while preparing next year’s budget.