Agenda item

Culture 2020: Call-In

(All Wards) (Report 120/15-16)

 

 

 

Contact: Elaine Carter, Lead Scrutiny Officer

ecarter@lambeth.gov.uk, Tel: 0207 926 0027

 

Minutes:

The Chair explained that two call-ins in respect of Culture 2020 had been received from Councillors Tim Briggs and Scott Ainslie.  Councillor Briggs would step down from the committee and be replaced by Councillor Louise Nathanson.

 

The Chair also explained that as a number of persons had already registered to speak regarding Culture 2020, they would be given priority.  However, depending on the time available, other people present in the audience who wished to speak would also be given the opportunity.

 

The Chair invited Councillor Tim Briggs to make a brief opening statement setting out the reasons for his call-in for Culture 2020.  Councillor Tim Briggs raised the following issues:

  • His call-in provided the opportunity to work with the administration and Council to deal with funding issues pertaining to the library service.  'The council currently spent £550m contracting out their services, against which the £4m was a drop in the ocean, and the council had consistently failed to gain savings from this huge expenditure.  Most other local authorities faced the same funding issues but still managed to run their libraries effectively.  He cited Wandsworth Council as an example of a local authority that had changed to a not-for-profit provider whereby everyone previously on a full-time contract had kept their job, and felt that Lambeth should consider alternative options used by other local authorities.
  • He made reference to the Greenwich Leisure Ltd. (GLL) business plan and queried why the Head of the Libraries’ suggestion to create a mutual trust had not been given due consideration by the Council.
  • He believed that placing gyms in libraries was pointless.  Libraries were considered as places of tranquillity which was at odds with this other function.
  • He urged the committee to refer the decision back for reconsideration, as he felt that an alternative option for funding the library service was required.  If this committee supported libraries, the proposal should be reviewed, especially as the recommendations were not supported by the community.

 

The Chair then invited Councillor Scott Ainslie to make a brief opening statement setting out the reasons for his call-in for Culture 2020.  Councillor Scott Ainslie raised the following issues:

·         He urged the committee to refer the decision back for reconsideration;

·         He received a flurry of emails from residents and Friends of Lambeth Libraries groups against the new plans, including numerous petitions presented to Council. 

·         No consultation with residents had been carried out as the proposals were different to the original proposals consulted upon in February-April 2015.

·         He made reference to the good work undertaken in Lambeth libraries, especially for residents and the disabled.  A variety of residents used the libraries and he feared if this was not referred back to Cabinet a legal challenge could result, for failing to provide a service under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 and Equalities Act 2010.

·         He queried on behalf of residents why the gym-library shared facilities proposal had not seen public consultation.

·         Lambeth’s record suggested the need for increasing the library provision and not cutting services.  He made reference to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) March 2014 figures which showed that of the 12 inner London boroughs, Lambeth had the tenth lowest revenue library spend.  Evidence showed that current town centre libraries were full to capacity – turning people away.  For example, the Mark Bennett Hall at Streatham had to be used for overspill for young people studying; Clapham could not accommodate all under 5’s; and, at Brixton study space was regularly full to capacity with people being turned away.

·         Sport libraries would run the risk of turning residents away. 

 

The Chair invited registered speakers each in turn to address the committee.

 

Patrick Roberts, resident, raised the following points:

·         He made reference to the Gunning Principles of consultation carried out by the Council and explained that despite requesting financial budgetary plans pertaining to the libraries from officers, this had not been received;

·         As a registered blind person, he also worked with other blind people in Streatham and Tate Libraries.  He noticed that no information was available to blind users in an accessible format which resulted in documents being difficult to read;

·         Incorporating a gym within a library was not suitable for residents;

·         He queried how the Gunning Principles of consultation for libraries applied to residents.

 

Christina Burnett, a representative of Vauxhall Community Interest Company (CIC), raised the following points:

·         Generations of people had educated themselves by using libraries;

·         Carnegie, Tate and Minet Libraries provided relevant information for the community;

·         The Head of Libraries, Suzanna Barnes, had worked extremely hard to turn around libraries with attendance figures increased to 87%;

·         Despite the Head of Libraries putting forward a viable alternative plan this had not been considered.  Instead the GLL proposal to manage the libraries had been recommended;

·         Mutual trusts in order to preserve libraries were successful in Southwark and Devon and she believed this idea should be considered by the Council, instead of the business plan proposed by GLL.

 

Laura Swaffield, a representative from Friends of Lambeth Libraries, raised the following points:

·         Significant improvements to the library service had been made over the years, including activities which resulted in increased use by residents;

·         The GLL proposal to provide £1m towards the library service was not backed by residents.  Instead, the Council should consider finding time to support the library service;

·         Funding existed to support the library service;

·         She believed the decision should be referred back to Cabinet as the plan was unpopular with residents.

 

Ruth Cashman, representing Lambeth UNISON, raised the following points:

·         She read out questions raised by residents in relation to the library service and made reference that children would no longer able to study;

·         She circulated a document to the committee that outlined issues of legal jeopardy and financial probity threat that should be considered by the committee before making any decision and urged members to refer the decision back to Cabinet for reconsideration.

 

Marjorie Landels, representing the Friends of Minet Library, raised the following points:

·         She read out a statement from Kate Hoey, MP that outlined her concerns regarding the library service, which she entirely agreed with;

·         She believed that the funding of £3.5m provided by Lambeth for Garden Bridge (pedestrian bridge over the River Thames) should be set aside for libraries.

 

Collette Thomas, Chair of Lambeth Park Forum, also raised the following points:-

·         The Cabinet report had been produced without taking the Event Strategy 2015-2020 (produced by the Council and not brought to her attention) into consideration;

·         Proposals for parks and open spaces had received less publicity than libraries. Open spaces are not statutory provision but these are the places people will go if libraries are not open;

·         More information was needed pertaining to the income available for parks and open spaces which had not been considered;

·         The decision should be referred back to Cabinet for further consideration as further information was required.

 

The Chair expressed his thanks to all persons for their contributions.

 

The Chair invited Councillor Jane Edbrooke, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods to address the committee and she made the following points:

·         As a result of the unprecedented financial challenges facing the Council, a £4m cut had to be made within cultural services;

·         Paddling pools in some areas could no longer be kept open as a result of the available budget within the Council;

·         The decision had been taken to ensure gates in a number of parks continued to be locked overnight;

·         If we had just undertaken a blanket cut across all 10 libraries to make the savings needed some libraries would only be opened 15 hours a week, the decision was therefore made to focus on five town centre libraries for residents.

 

The Chair made reference to Councillor Ainslie’s call-in and raised the following points:

·         He queried how the consultation to install gym-libraries became a proposal, especially as no consultation had taken place; 

·         He expressed concern that the borough had a large number of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) persons that used libraries on a regular basis, as well as elderly and disabled people who use libraries to a disproportionate extent.  As the Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) clearly identified that these groups were already disadvantaged, he felt ample consideration should be made;

·         He also queried why the alternative financial model as suggested by the Head of Libraries had not been considered.

 

In responding to the points raised John Kerridge, Assistant Director Commissioning (Communities) highlighted that:

·         GLL currently managed the borough’s six leisure centres and booking arrangements for sports facilities in parks until 2022; 

·         As part of the consultation process GLL put forward the proposal to set up a not for profit Lambeth Cultural Trust to drive forward the Culture 2020 framework and assist with future cuts. 

·         There were two alternative proposal of significance from the consultation period. The first was from GLL concerning the Culture Trust and use of assets. GLL suggested that assets could be used differently to mitigate cuts and this is where the healthy living centre idea emerged.  At no stage did GLL express an interest to manage the library service, not have they been asked to do so. 

·         The second proposal was from for the spin out/staff mutual model delivery of the library service.  The proposal from by the Head of Libraries has not been rejected, the Council continue to be willing to consider a more detailed proposal and we are awaiting this information. The present proposal is not fit for purpose as the officer assessment has identified a financial risk of up to £800,000.  However, from 1 April 2016 the budget in cultural services starts to decrease.  The GLL proposal was currently on hold pending the decision of this call-in.

 

The Chair invited officers to respond to the questions and concerns posed by the committee.

 

Councillor Jane Edbrooke, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods explained that:

·         The decision was taken to keep the library service in-house as opposed to privatisation, in order to have direct accountability to residents;

·         The overall budget of £6.5m for culture services had already been agreed and consulted upon to decide how the money should be spent;

·         GLL was contracted to provide the management of the boroughs six leisure centres and sports facilities in parks until 2022;

·         To determine the future of Tate/Durning Libraries a further four week consultation commencing in November had been arranged.  The Council would continue to work with Carnegie Library;

·         From 1 April 2016 an independent library service would commence;

·         Following reflection on the consultation feedback, buildings including Minet Library would no longer be sold;

·         As a result of the new budget commencing on 1 April 2016, and with the previous consultation lasting three months, a second consultation was not feasible.  However, the Council welcomed other proposals during the four week consultation.

·         Lambeth’s Physical Activity and Sports Strategy identified key persons whom the Council should work with which included, the elderly and young persons.

 

Adrian Smith, Director Strategy and Commissioning explained that the Council was duty bound by law to ensure that the budget must balance.  The Council had no flexibility to borrow money elsewhere.  Councillor Jane Edbrooke added that otherwise the Council would have to use its reserves.

 

Guillotine

 

During the discussion of this item the guillotine fell at 09:00pm.

 

MOVED: by the Chair, and,

 

RESOLVED: That the meeting continue for a further period of up to 30 minutes.

 

John Kerridge, Assistant Director Commissioning (Communities) explained that:

·         The Council currently managed ten library buildings.  Under the proposals   three of our smaller libraries are to become healthy living centres as part of the GLL leisure management contract.  The original consultation proposal carried out between 30 January-24 April 2015 was to remove all revenue out of neighbourhood libraries.  However, GLL came forward with a proposal to keep the buildings open beyond withdrawal of revenue.  Therefore, from 1 April 2016, the Council would no longer have a base budget to manage the library service in neighbourhood libraries;

·         The proposal suggested by the Head of Libraries was not considered a viable option.  Adrian Smith, Director Strategy and Commissioning, further explained that the suggestion by the Head of Libraries relied upon using up to 50% of surplus share from the leisure management contract, which is no longer available and is factored into the overall Culture 2020 budget.  The Council endeavoured to work with GLL.  As the proposal would commence from April 2016, the Council had insufficient time to continue to pursue another policy.  The buildings would be leased to GLL for 25 years with a break clause.  The report clearly addressed the issue why the Head of Libraries’ proposal could not be accepted at this stage by the Council;

·         Regarding the EIA further work was required to understand the impact that would be caused to the community, especially the disabled and put mitigations in place;

·         The Council would continue to support Parent Toddler Groups in libraries from a budget provided to the Lambeth Library Service.  Also the Council worked with the London Community Foundation to create a grants programme for local charities to bid for funds.

 

Alastair Johnstone, Lead Commissioner, explained that extensive market testing and descriptive costings for parks and open spaces had been carried out to ensure that it could be delivered.  Therefore, the Council were confident that what was proposed for parks and open spaces could be delivered within the budget.  Income based on events also depended on the success of the forthcoming Events Policy.

 

The Chair invited Councillors Scott Ainslie and Tim Briggs to comment on whether they believed the reasons for their call-in had been sufficiently answered.

 

Councillor Scott Ainslie concluded by making the following points:

·         He believed his points raised had not been sufficiently addressed;

·         The Council received a proposal from the Head of Libraries and failed to process it and deliberately delayed plans;

·         No consultation with friend groups who suggested ways to support the libraries had been held;

·         He believed that sufficient money was available to support libraries;

·         He made reference to the statement  from Kate Hoey, MP which clearly outlined her concerns regarding the library service;

·         He felt for the reasons raised, that the decision should be referred back to Cabinet.

 

Councillor Tim Briggs concluded by making the following points:

·         Although he was grateful for the work undertaken by officers, their hands had been tied, as the council had no idea how to bring in income elsewhere, like other local authorities;

·         He also expressed concerns regarding not considering the Head of the Libraries’ proposal but instead decided to bring in a not for profit provider to support libraries;

·         He urged the committee to refer the decision back to Cabinet for consideration as a number of unanswered questions remained and for the proposal to be reconsidered by the Council.

 

The Chair advised that there were three options open to them and the vote was as follows:

·         Councillors Edward Davie, Andrew Wilson, Christopher Wellbelove, Rezina Chowdhury and Danial Adilypour voted on option two: “not to refer the decision back to the decision-maker, but to make such recommendations to the decision maker as it sees fit”.

·         Councillors Matt Parr, Jacqui Dyer, Amelie Treppass and Louise Nathanson voted on option three: “to refer the decision back to the decision-maker for reconsideration”.

 

The Chair clarified that as 5 members voted for option two, and 4 for option 3, the decision of the call-in would not be referred back.

 

RESOLVED:

 

Not to refer the decision back to Cabinet but nevertheless to highlight the following matters for consideration and formal response:

 

1)    Further examination of the impact of the proposals on, and mitigations for, people with protected characteristics is needed. The committee notes that children, younger, older, disabled and Black and Ethnic Minority people use libraries to a greater extent than the rest of the population and therefore proper consideration needs to be given to ensure they are not unduly disadvantaged.

 

2)    Urgent work should be done to explore viable alternatives to deliver library services within the defined financial envelope. In particular further work needs to be done on working with the library service’s management and staff on the proposed staff mutual (as put forward by Susanna Barnes) to look at making that proposal viable within a practical time frame. To support this work the council might wish to reference similar models (such as the York staff/residents model).

 

3)    Consideration should be given to including early break clauses with GLL so that any alternative model that may be developed can be introduced as early as possible.  

 

4)    Clarity is needed on the balance between library provision and the fitness services available under the GLL model.

 

5)     It would be desirable that the number of internet access points for residents should be at least at the same level as the current provision.  

 

6)    Assurance is sought that the level of park and green space maintenance will continue to be sufficient to allow parks and open spaces to fulfil their function.

 

 

 

Supporting documents: