Lambeth Council on local libraries: Frequently asked questions and non-answers

For the last three months, Lambeth UNISON has submitted a series of questions concerning impact of Culture2020 and the closure of several of our libraries to be converted into “Healthy Living Centres”. Senior council officials have delayed responses and refused to treat our question seriously – they wouldn’t even give us a reply in an official meeting but told us to “Look on the website” for their response.

Below are the most relevant questions, their answers and our response.

Q1. Is it still true stock ‘won’t be reduced’? How is this possible within the space allowed for library services?

Lambeth Council’s answer: No reductions to stock have been agreed. The Service Manger [sic], Libraries and Archives is charged with working up plans for stock management and rotation with the support of the Programme Board.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: The Council continually makes ludicrous claims about stock levels in the new, smaller spaces. We have asked for plans which prove these claims, but they do not exist. Professional knowledge of the creation and design of library space and any general knowledge of the laws of physics, suggest that if the neighbourhood library is to take up less of the building it will not be possible to keep the same book stock and study space. Our Library spaces have been designed by professionals to maximise stock, study space, customer flow, and community use potential whilst complying with access and health and safety needs for a public building– there is not a vast amount of unused space within them. We urge the Council to stop making silly claims and start telling the truth to workers and residents.

Q2. When will the Floorplans be provided?

Lambeth Council’s answer: The floorplans will be issued soon, pending final revisions.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: UNISON have been asking for the floorplans and the council have been promising to provide them ‘shortly’ since October 2015. It makes us concerned that libraries are being closed and residents upset with no real plan for what is going to happen to the buildings. Without floor plans it is impossible to write stock plans or consider what level of service and facilities can be provided.

Q3. Is ‘Neighbourhood library service’ part of statutory library service?

Lambeth Council’s answer: The statutory library service will be provided through the town centre libraries.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: This amounts to the council admitting that in their view the service at the neighbourhood libraries – Upper Norwood, Carnegie, Minet and Waterloo – do not constitute a library, despite the claims of local councillors. The intention to provide the statutory offer through two large permanent sites and three small temporary sites raises questions about whether the Council is fulfilling its obligations under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964.

Q. In November according to FOI answers (obtained by Friends of Lambeth Libraries) the GLL plan had NO feasibility study, NO business plan and NO market research. The only description of the plan offered via FOI was a speculative letter from GLL – Where are these documents?

Lambeth Council’s answer: GLL hold the risk for the business plan for the 2 healthy living centres, the Council is not paying GLL for these services. The Council has assessed the return on capital investment and considers this a sufficient return.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: By refusing to reveal the details of what GLL has submitted we can assume that – unlike the alternative proposal –GLL’s plans (or lack of plans) were not subject to any scrutiny either financial or in terms of feasibility. We must ask why plans to close libraries are not subject to the same scrutiny as those to keep them open. The alternative proposals were rejected after ‘independent’ scrutiny showed that they may not be ready for 1 April 2016 – it is now clear that GLLs proposals were also not ready by this time.

Q. What is the reduction in IT facilities under the plan?

Lambeth Council answer: A commitment has been made to seek to maintain current IT facilities.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: The council have not provided any evidence that they will make good on this commitment. It is not possible to maintain the same level of book stock, study space and IT facilities whilst shrinking library space – something will have to give, but the council cannot be honest about what that is.

Q. There is no planning permission to convert ‘use’ of Carnegie and Minet to gyms – what assessment has been made on feasibility i.e. floorloadings at Archives, moisture isolation, etc.

Lambeth Councilanswer: The feasibility of the healthy living centres has been tested and we are satisfied that the proposals can be delivered. A number of detailed technical studies are underway as part of the design development and prior to construction.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: There is no evidence that this feasibility has been tested, the council have not provided any documentation concerning this and UNISON has made repeated requests to see such information.

Safeguarding

Q. In 2012 Lambeth Play Association, an outsourcer who ran the Lambeth adventure playgrounds, had its contract summarily revoked when serious breaches of safeguarding procedures were uncovered, including failure to run adequate criminal record bureau checks. UNISON repeatedly tried to highlight the fact that haste to fulfil political aspirations led officers to inadequately consider their duty to safeguard children in this outsourcing process. We have no interest in another “I told you so” situation.

Q. We have not had confirmation on the position of unaccompanied under-16s in libraries?

Q. We have not seen safeguarding policies of organisations taking over library buildings. If children will be allowed to use library services we would like to know how the council will fulfil its safeguarding responsibilities.

Q. Can we be assured that this issue has been referred to the Lambeth Safeguarding Children Board for advice?

Q. Who in the LSCB is dealing with the issue?

Q. What risk assessments have been made in relation to Safeguarding in relation to these imminent changes at Upper Norwood Library

Lambeth Council answer: GLL encourages children and young adults to use leisure centres and libraries which it operates. In these, parents are asked to attend with children under the age of 8 years; when children are aged 8 or over, they can attend without a parent or carer. Children and young people of all ages are treated in accordance with GLL’s safeguarding policies, and GLL staff members receive training in safeguarding.

This standard approach will be adopted in the Healthy Living Centres. The Healthy Living

Centres will be managed by GLL staff who will supervise all areas of the building.

The Council is drawing on expertise and knowledge from Children’s Services to ensure that policies, procedures and practice are adhered to when the 2 new services open.

The expectations regarding the safeguarding of children and vulnerable people will be embedded in the lease agreements for the 2 buildings.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: We repeat our request to see risk assessments, safeguarding assessments and policies for all unstaffed sites. If they exist, we see no reason why Lambeth Council will not share them. If they don’t exist then reference to the “standard approach” used in other leisure centres is not adequate.

Equalities

Q. Report to Cabinet for meeting on December 7 to consider the OSC recommendation to review the equality impact. “The Equalities Impact Assessment is a live document and will be constantly reviewed to minimise the impact on groups with protected characteristics. Where ever possible, additional steps will be taken during the implementation of the culture 2020 plan to mitigate against the impact of the service changes. The EIA will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.” Is there an updated EQIA?

Lambeth Council answer: The EQIA has not yet been updated as the work to implement the Culture 2020 has only recently commenced.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: It was stated on 7 December, that the Equalities Impact Assessment will be “constantly reviewed”. Four months later, no work has been done to minimise the impact on groups with protected characteristics. It is worth noting that this directly contradicts a statement made by the Director in a meeting with unions that “the Equalities Impact Assessment was being updated by a number of people”. It is abhorrent that in a diverse borough like ours the council has such a cavalier attitude to its equalities responsibilities. Senior management should bear in mind Lambeth was recently declared the borough with the worst racial inequality in the country. We would have hoped Lambeth would be trying to turn this around.

Q. It appears there may have been an error in the calculation of the value of capital investment, resulting in the Culture 2020 Cabinet paper claiming total additional investment secured by partners and thus total value of capital investment, which is overestimated by £3 million. Under priority 1 there is additional investment attracted via partner of “£3m from private sector for development of commercial cinema”, under priority 6 there is “£3m private sector contribution for the development of commercial cinema and café at the Nettlefold”.

Lambeth Council answer: The error in the financial tables has previously been acknowledged.

Lambeth UNISON: We have been asking this question for several months and it has never been acknowledged to us. Does the fact that a Cabinet report was voted through with a budgetary error of millions of pounds, despite the Union raising the discrepancy with the responsible officers and Cabinet members in advance of the meeting. This raises concerns about whether funds for this project are being managed with sufficient probity and in the interests of LBL and council tax payers

Q. Level of rent to be paid by GLL and what undervalue this represents

Lambeth Council: This has previously been addressed.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: No it hasn’t. No details of the GLL rent scheme have been produced, other than the phrase used in the Cabinet papers – “peppercorn”, meaning “very low, nominal or token rent”. This answer is typical of the frankly embarrassing attitude of Lambeth to the financial management of Culture 2020.

Q. Will the lease to GLL allow them to underlet any part of the sites? If so what are the restrictions of the underletting premises which they are receiving at undervalue?

Lambeth Council: Leases are currently being drawn up by property specialists and will comply with Council policy

Lambeth UNISON’s response: It isn’t acceptable that the council has taken Cabinet decisions and closed libraries without any detail of the implications or what it means.

Q. What are the level of potential exit costs?

Lambeth Council: Exit costs are a contractual obligation for the local authority in most cases where a third party invests in plant and machinery when/if the council was to cancel the contract without mutual consent. This is a standard condition, which cabinet needs to be aware of when making its decision. The level of costs will depend on the termination date for any agreement which is currently subject to final negotiation.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: The council could avoid these exit costs by not entering into a long term contract with GLL which has no clear purpose nor has any support among residents in the borough. We urge the council not to gamble our library service away like this.

Q. Has the level of capital funding allocated to the development of healthy living centres

been reduced following changes to the proposals (two libraries, not three to be decommissioned)?

Lambeth Council: No decision has been taken on the level of capital investment for the development of the two sites. This will be reviewed as detailed design progresses.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: This directly contradicts public statements by Council Officers, Councillors and GLL Managing Director that the project will fit within the financial envelope of Culture 2020. Which statement is true? Is there a good rule of thumb for working out which contradictory statements from the Council are correct?

Q. The Library budget and the budget for the Borough Archives above together provide a revenue budget of £3,427,000 for the service per annum for two years, a budget reduction of £369,000 rather than £800,000. There is no explanation of how the remaining £431,000 would be removed from the Library and Archives revenue budget in 2018-19. Is this correct? Who is ultimately responsible for the financial feasibility of this proposals?

Lambeth Council: The reduction in the libraries base budget from 1 April 2016 is

£800,000.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: The “reduction in the libraries base budget” refers to the paper budget for the library service. What the council is trying to avoid telling people is that they are spending more money to keep the services closed than they would to have them open. They are able to carry out this paper exercise by moving the “budget line” out of the libraries budget into another department of the council. This may be politically expedient but is hardly honest. We have asked for more financial information on the cost of keeping libraries closed. We will share it when we receive it from the council.

Q. What is the cost and timeframe for the installation of IT at Oasis building? Who will be meeting these costs?

Lambeth Council: Costs for the installation of the IT for the provision of the library service

have not yet ben [sic] confirmed. The Oasis building is due to open in mid-June 2016.

The costs for the installation of the IT will be met by the Council.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: The council will be unable to provide IT facilities at Oasis from mid June 2016. We have asked further questions on the cost of moving Waterloo library to a temporary facility given there is no use confirmed for the library building. We request further information on the total money which has been allocated for Oasis and what it is being spent on.

Q. What is the £170,000+ to Upper Norwood Trust actually for? Our discussions with the Trust seem to suggest they wanted to run a library service and have been prevented and that they are as baffled as us as to why the council have giving them over hundreds of thousands of pounds not to run a library

Lambeth Council: Upper Norwood Trust will be funded via the London Community Foundation for a period of two years to provide a wider range of activities and services to the local community.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: We think Lambeth council should spend its money on libraries which already provide a wide range of activities and services to the local community. We are astonished that there will be no statutory library service at Upper Norwood Library despite £170,000+ being available for its funding.

Q. Is the plan to keep archives on site while work done – what risk assessment has been done on this? Who have the Council sought advice from, regarding risks?

Lambeth Council: We are currently looking at the feasibility of this.

Lambeth UNISON’s response: We note that the archives were temporarily and avoidably closed. We regret the council does not take its responsibilities to provide these services more seriously.

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