LIBRARY MEETING ENDS IN TOTAL CHAOS
by Jerry Green
The annual meeting of Upper Norwood joint library ended in total chaos tonight (Wednesday) as councillors from Croydon and Lambeth clashed over who should sit on the committee – and who shouldn’t.
Amid stormy scenes councillors agreed to suspend the meeting to so both sides could take legal advice – with no other decisions being taken.
Cllr Florence Nosegbe, Lambeth’s cabinet member for culture, said the Lambeth councillors – all Labour – were concerned by the nominations Croydon were making to the committee as both Croydon and Lambeth had agreed in the past to have local ward representatives on the joint committee.
But Cllr Sara Bashford, Croydon’s cabinet member for culture, said no such suggestion had gone to the council cabinet in Croydon – and such a decision at committee level was not binding on the council.
Solomon Agutu, Croydon’s head of democratic services who ended up chairing the whole of the meeting, explained that as the first item on the agenda was the appointment of a chairman it was customary for an officer to chair that part of the meeting.
As tempers began to rise he said: “It’s not right for me as an officer to be chairing this.”
Cllr Matthew Bennett (Lab, Gipsy Hill) said Croydon had failed to keep its side of the agreement. Cllr Bashford said she found the implication they had some part in some deception “quite insulting”. “We haven’t. This did not go to our cabinet and has not been accepted by Croydon.”
Ignoring calls from Cllr Jennifer Brathwaite (Lab Gipsy Hill) to get the meeting chaired by co-opted member Don Bianco (Norwood Forum) Mr Agutu said he had a copy of a signed agreement between Croydon and Lambeth saying who was entitled to be appointed as a member of the committee – which he said members ought to see.
Cllr Phil Thomas (Croydon) said it was for Croydon to decide what representatives Croydon should have on the committee – not for people in Lambeth to do so.
Cllr Bennett retorted: “Lambeth’s constitution was amended and we are here to act within the rules of our constitution which says members should be locally represented. “The local community in this area did not elect you. The people who elected you probably don’t know where Upper Norwood library is.”
With tempers rising and angry interruptions from the public Mr Agutu had to repeat himself three times in immediate succession that he could not take anything from the public at the meeting – held in the Salvation Army centre in Westow Street.
Cllr Bashford said the meeting could not progress “unless we do this with some decorum.”
Reading from the signed agreement Mr Agutu said clause 5.1 states that the joint committee consists of eight members, four from each council. Told of the minuted agreements which referred to local councillors being members of the committee Mr Agutu asked to see a signed copy of any such agreement. None was forthcoming.
Mr Agutu had to explain that the only items on the agenda were the election of the chairman, the chief librarian’s report and the annual accounts.
Lambeth Cllr Jennifer Brathwaite (Lab. Gipsy Hill) said: “We cannot move forward. We cannot proceed with the annual meeting. We have minutes which record the fact that Croydon did, under delegated powers, amend the agreement.”
Mr Agutu explained he was bound to proceed on the basis of signed documents. “The one submitted to me is neither dated nor signed.” Cllr Bennett said he was not prepared to go ahead with the meeting until the matter was resolved.
Cllr Phil Thomas – who had been proposed as chairman – said: “What I’m not sure about is whether Lambeth councillors want this meeting to go ahead. Perhaps they want to adjourn this meeting tonight and get the legal people to sort it out. We are going round in circles.”
Cllr Bennett said they were perfectly willing for the meeting to go ahead – when Croydon played by the rules. “We know the library’s constitution and you’re not sticking to it.”
Cllr Nosegbe (Lambeth) said they were totally committed and would like to see local representatives from Croydon on the committee. “So maybe we should adjourn this meeting until Croydon put forward local ward councillors.”
Cllr Thomas hit back: “We are not adjourning for local ward councillors. We were elected by the residents of Croydon. We need to get some legal advice on this.” Amid a stream of interruptions from the public Mr Agutu said they needed to adjourn the meeting in order to take legal advice on the meaning of the documents.
This led to an angry reaction from Cllr Pat Ryan (Lab. Upper Norwood) who was in the public gallery along with the five other Labour councillors from Upper Norwood and South Norwood wards.
“What legal advice” he asked. “We’ve had legal advice from Croydon and it’s not correct. Croydon agreed to that constitution.”
Amid the hullabaloo it was announced the meeting was adjourned.
All four Conservative councillors stood up. Asked why Croydon had decided to put four cabinet members on the committee Cllr Thomas told me: “We have been criticised in the past for not having people like the cabinet member responsible so this is how important we see it – to have four cabinet members on it.”
I approached Cllr Bashford for a comment. I wanted to put to her the concerns of councillors from both boroughs and both parties that if there was the same percentage cut for libraries across either borough then Upper Norwood library would suffer far more than other libraries.
I didn’t have the chance to put the question. Croydon Cllr Jason Perry, standing behind her, said: “She says she’s not going to comment SO LEAVE HER ALONE.”
I was able to put the same question to Cllr Nosegbe and she explained she was still learning the ropes. She emphasised her commitment to having local councillors on the committee – a situation which had worked well over the last four years.
But she said she would have no objection to a Croydon cabinet member chairing the committee. “We are happy to support their new chair” she said.