Anger Over Hanwell Library Proposals
Councillor Nigel Bakhai reviews local consultation
This week I went to the public "consultation" meeting on the future of Hanwell Library. On the top table representing Ealing Council was the Council Leader Cllr Julian Bell, Cllr Yvonne Johnson, the Cabinet member for Finance & Performance, and Cllr Kamaljit Dhindsa, Cabinet member for Community & Customer Services. Cllr Bell outlined the council’s position that the council has to make significant savings across all departments, and that as yet no decision has been made to close any library service. The meeting then opened up to questions from the floor. A number of residents, including my fellow Elthorne Lib Dem Peter Hutchison criticised the council over the way the consultation is being carried out, and the fact that many library users, especially those that are not computer literate, are being excluded from taking part. We were told that the council is spending £12,800 on this consultation, and many will wonder how well this money is being spent given the loaded nature of the questions.
Carolyn Brown, Chair of the Hanwell Community Forum, and a number of speakers from the floor, spoke of the need for Hanwell library for all ages, but particularly working along side the local primary and nursery schools to encourage the children of Hanwell to develop a life long interest in reading. One American lady spoke of the need to improve the quality of the books available at Hanwell Library. I asked for a breakdown of the refurbishment costs that go into the £1.1 million that the Council believes that needs to be done to modernise Hanwell Library which is one of the main reasons they are targeting Hanwell for closure. I also asked if the council had considered bringing in additional services to Hanwell Library if they made repairs to the building so they could use the rooms upstairs. However, my question only served to make the Labour Council Leader Cllr Bell lose his temper and, while Cllr Johnson said that most of the costs would be on a new boiler and disabled access, they both failed to answer the second part of my question.
Cllr Bell kept repeating the Labour mantra that the cuts were being forced on him by the Coalition Government, and that he did not want to have to close libraries. However, Tory Cllr Colm Costello raised the issue of the £5.5 million that the Council is borrowing to build a car park in Southall and the fact that the cost of the interest would probably pay for the upkeep of all the libraries under threat. A representative of the Southall Chamber of Commerce was invited to address the meeting to defend the council’s position on the need for the new car park.
Hanwell Library currently costs around £82,000 per year to run - around 0.1% of the £65 million worth of cuts that the council believes they have to make. It was very clear from the angry exchange of views expressed by the packed audience in the William Hobbayne Centre, including two former Labour councillors that the public are very much opposed to the proposal to close Hanwell Library, and that Cllr Bell clearly needs to look elsewhere to find these savings.
For your information, please find below a copy of the text of my speech to this month's full Council on the future of public libraries:-
One month on, the Council has now released its consultation for the future of the library service, and not only were we right about Hanwell and Perivale libraries but this council proposes to go even further. Northolt Leisure Centre library, Northfields Library and the Mobile Library service are also under threat. Rather than a meaningful consultation about the future of the library service in the 21st century, we have a loaded sham of a consultation designed by a short-sighted council’s desire to cut costs or to make a quick buck from selling these prized community assets to developers.
The consultation is designed to lead residents participating in the survey to believe that the only option is to close libraries, end the mobile library service or for libraries to be run by volunteers. Almost every question begins: “Given the need to make significant savings to Ealing’s library service” do you agree to consider closing those libraries?
The council has made significant investment on its libraries with almost £1 million spent on Northolt Leisure centre Library only re-opened last January, £610k on Northfields, and it would be a tragedy for that investment to go to waste. However, Hanwell and Perivale libraries are under threat because they have not had the same kind of investment. Hanwell Library which I know well has been seriously under-funded in terms of maintenance of the building, staffing and service provided, by successive Councils over many years. Poor maintenance has led to the upper floor being closed to the public on health and safety grounds for some years which is a waste of a community space that could easily be used to bring in additional services and more potential users to the library.
The need for local libraries is vital for improving literacy rates of all ages. The UK Literacy rate among children leaving primary school must be improved: nationally around one in five children do not reach the required standard of reading and writing at 11 yrs old (Key Stage 2) and around one third families of younger children do not have access to Internet. Hanwell Library is within easy walking distance of five Primary Schools, four Preschool Nurseries, and three High Schools. The Preschool Nurseries and Primary Schools arrange outings for their pupils to Hanwell Library, a practice which breeds an early familiarity with books. Easy access to libraries is essential to encourage children to develop a life long interest in reading.
Furthermore, adult literacy is also a problem for one in six people in the UK. Men and women with poor literacy are least likely to be in full-time employment at the age of thirty. 92% of the British public say literacy is vital to the economy and essential for getting a good job – and as the local economy recovers it will be important to have a highly skilled and educated workforce.
Lib Dem Councillor Elthorne
NB The deadline for responses to the Council consultation is Tuesday, 3 May.
18 April 2011