There was a big turnout tonight for the Hanwell library consultation meeting.
There were about 70 seats laid out, all full plus another 40 or so standing, so maybe 110 in all. To confuse matters a protest march of trade union types set off from Ealing Hospital and arrived at the meeting just before it started, maybe some 60 shown in the picture above. Most of these stayed for the meeting and are included in the 110-ish.
There was a good turnout of councillors including all six Hanwell councillors except Labour’s Yoel Gordon.
The meeting lasted an hour and a half and started off with council leader Julian Bell doing his 20 minute “I didn’t come in to politics to do this” speech. He talked about the £65 million savings the council needs to make without explaining that £7.3 million of that was his own growth (decisions to increase expenditure) and that the previous Conservative administration had taken out £60 million relatively painlessly in the previous four years.
A couple of factoids emerged during the course of the evening. The consultation is costing £12,800 in external costs. Cllr Bell indicated that they were looking for £500K of savings from libraries.
Cllr Bell reported that they had researched the council’s legal position regarding the Carnegie library bequest and that “there is no restriction on our ability to dispose of the library”. He went on to say “We have actively searched for documentation”. Such comments will make people ask if this expensive consultation is real.
Elthorne LibDem councillor Nigel Bakhai wanted to better understand the capital cost of putting Hanwell library right but just got a cheap shot from Cllr Bell suggesting that he should write to his party leader. The room was not impressed.
When challenged by Conservative Hobbayne councillor Colm Costello about the rather stark juxtaposition of a Hanwell library closure against a new build multi-storey car park in Southall Cllr Johnson talked about the later being a manifesto commitment and said “We are not going to give up the idea of a car park in Southall”. Costello reasonably asked why the Southall car park could not be delayed to save the libraries.
The two Labour Hobbayne councillors present kept their questions to themselves. Two ex-Labour councillors spoke for the library and one failed Labour candidate asked about alternative provision on the Uxbridge Road. None got much of an answer.
The low point of the evening was the Unison rep for the library service, Steven Ellis, suggesting that the council just overspends. Ellis is a Socialist Worker Party activist and supporter of direct action. He was put down by Cllr Johnson, the Labour finance chief, who didn’t want to see the council run by its chief accountant in the event that she failed to set a balanced budget.
Being a bigger meeting than last week’s Perivale meeting there was less opportunity for constructive debate. It was too much of a statement making exercise on all sides. That said the level of public anger was clear.