Councillor Oliver Lewis writes about Croydon Labour’s approach to our Libraries
I am very proud of our library service. When the Tories last ran Croydon council they privatised the service and let private contractor Carillion run them in to the ground. In 2018 when the private company collapsed Labour acted quickly to bring the service back in to public hands.
Now the service is back in house we have a real opportunity to invest in and improve our libraries.
Investing in our Libraries
At our latest cabinet meeting on 7 May 2019 we tabled a report that makes crystal clear the council is committed to keeping thirteen libraries open across the borough. We have also committed to improving the service and investing in the library buildings themselves.
Several decisions have already been made to affirm these commitments including:
· Allocating £5m of capital investment to upgrade IT and refurbish library buildings from 2019-2022.
· Increasing the book stock fund by 9%
· Widening book and online resource choice by joining the London Libraries Consortium in the Autumn this year
We know how important library services are to their local community and as we refurbish libraries we will also look to:
· extend library opening hours by piloting an innovative technology solution called Open+
· reconfigure existing spaces to create community facilities in addition to the current library offer (for example, meeting space) where practical
· develop an outreach offer to encourage those who are less likely to use libraries
· develop the online library offer including an app for library users
Maintaining a professional service
Our library staff are hugely valued and do a great job on the front line for the council. I was pleased to join them recently at their staff conference, where I thanked them for their hard work, particularly during the very difficult years of Tory privatisation. Some council’s have responded to Conservative austerity cuts by cutting Library staff or handing over Library buildings to volunteers. But we know how valued our professional Library service is, which is why we are committed to protecting it. As such we have no plans to make any changes to staffing numbers.
In addition to our staff, the library service already benefits from the time, energy and skills of a number of volunteers who help with activities in our libraries. In addition to our staff, we have committed to increase the number of volunteers that support our libraries service. By increasing volunteering, we can:
· establish a befriending service for our users who are homebound (and more likely to be socially isolated).
· provide more digital skills support for all library users.
· provide more homework clubs – something residents have told us they want.
· provide more volunteering opportunities for young people to help them gain valuable work experience.
Redevelopment of our Libraries
Finally, I have been asked recently whether we are planning to redevelop any of our existing libraries. I can be clear and say that we currently have no plans to redevelop any of our libraries.
A number of our library buildings do require investment to bring them up to modern standards and our officers are working to understand how we could deliver this in the future.
We know from South Norwood Library that in the right circumstance redeveloping a library can create an even better service for residents. In that case, the costs of modernising the existing library building were significant (in the region of £0.5m). So instead, we made the decision to develop a new purpose built facility just round the corner from the current library, which has improved community space and is more accessible to Norwood Junction station.
The community were engaged at the early stages of the redevelopment process and as a result the new building features a number of priorities highlighted by residents. These include a fully accessible and flexible community space that can be used for a range of activities.
As a council we will always look at ways to build on the success of our public services but our policy makes clear that any future redevelopment of our Libraries will require a fresh cabinet decision, along with public consultation and proper scrutiny.
If you’d like to read more about our long term plans you can find the full cabinet paper which outlines our libraries plan and culture plan here.