Photo credit: Vivienne Lewis
The Government are set to probe Lambeth council over their libraries plans.
Friends of Lambeth Libraries, in a statement issued early this morning, say the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, are taking action.
A DCMS spokesperson told News From Crystal Palace today (Monday) : “The department has received a number of representations concerning the changes made to Lambeth council’s library service provision.
“After careful consideration, these are being treated as formal complaints in accordance with the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.”
News From Crystal Palace understands that the DCMS are considering whether a local inquiry into the Lambeth library service is necessary to resolve any real doubt about the council’s compliance with its statutory duty under the Act – and that they are to write to Lambeth council to seek information and clarification on relevant issues.
FOLL (Friends of Lambeth Libraries) say: “The DCMS (Department for Culture, Media & Sport) have a legal duty to intervene if a council is failing to provide a ‘comprehensive and efficient’ library service (Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964).
“The DCMS is known to have been following events in Lambeth for some months. “Now it is taking action, and asking for full information.
“This new interest at the highest level is just one achievement of the occupation of Carnegie library which ended on Saturday (9 April) after 10 days.
“It began on March 31, when local people refused to leave the library. “Carnegie library, along with nearby Minet library due to close from April 1 for conversion in to fee-charging gyms with an unstaffed lounge.
“These closures were vehemently opposed by local people whose lobbying, letter-writing and delegations were ignored by Lambeth council.
“The occupation at the Grade 2 listed Carnegie library gave Lambeth residents a new chance to demonstrate this opposition – and they eagerly took it up.
“Messages of support flooded in from all over the borough, along generous donations of food, blankets and toiletries. “Hundreds of people came to the barred library doorway to say: ‘Thank you. You are doing this for us’.
“Visitors to the gate included Horrid Henry author Francesca Simon and local author Stella Duffy who, with fellow local writer Toby Litt, organised a statement of support which 220 major authors queued up to sign.
“Coverage by the press was on a scale never before seen for a library protest, anywhere in the UK. “As well as continuous reports throughout the week by all major radio and TV channels, the story was heavily featured in national papers including the Guardian, the i, the Times and the Financial Times.
“The occupation ended after court proceedings for eviction by Lambeth council, with a rally in front of the library with an emotional renditions of ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘We Shall Overcome’ led by young occupiers.
“2,000 people joined the march on Saturday that started at the Carnegie, passed the Minet library and ended with a rally in Windrush Square in Brixton.
“‘We are coming out today stronger than we went in, just as resolute and with much more support. ‘By coming out today, we can march together. ‘We may be leaving the library today, but our campaign continues.’
“The investigation by the DCMS is adding to the mounting pressure on Lambeth council. “The library campaigners will fight on.
“As they left the building on Saturday – greeted by hundreds of cheering people – the occupiers said: ‘We leave the library today with the intention that we will all be returning back through the doors; when Carnegie library is reopened, Minet library is reopened and the future of Waterloo and Upper Norwood libraries are secured.
“Nevertheless Lambeth’s Labour council is still refusing to change plans that have now been exposed nationwide as unworkable and wildly expensive.
“The occupiers say:’Lambeth’s clumsy, combative handling of the occupation has been a PR disaster. ‘People are incensed. ‘It is now in a very deep hole, but seems unable to stop digging.
“This exposure of the council has given new focus – and hope – to groups in the borough fighting against high-handed decisions that are set to demolish social housing, privatise public assets and destroy local businesses and meeting places in favour of expensive flats for wealthy incomers.
“Protest is growing all over the borough, including within Labour party branches. “The common issue is the council’s refusal to listen, and a bullying culture that aims to crush all dissent.
A public meeting has been called for Thursday 14th April – venue to be announced.
Lambeth council, asked for a response to the DCMS intervention and comments in the FOLL statement above, sent their latest statement to News From Crystal Palace. This reads:
“We are pleased that the occupiers have now left the building. “It means we can now concentrate on spending our scarce resources on services instead of security, including developing the plans which will guarantee Carnegie Library’s future.
“Carnegie will reopen with a library service that will remain free and open to all. “The new gym will be housed in the currently unused basement of the building and the rest of the building will provide at least as much community space as now, including a library service.
“At this point is also important to reiterate that we are not closing libraries – there are ten libraries in Lambeth now, and there will be ten libraries in the future.
“Overall, Lambeth libraries will be open longer and book stocks will be protected. We are committed to building two new libraries in the coming years and recently built a new Clapham library and refurbished Streatham and Brixton libraries.”