This is the speech I gave last night in the council chamber:
Mr Mayor I am pleased to present this petition from over 1,000 residents of the Northfield and Walpole wards. These signatures were collected by ward councillors supported by a number of local businesses who gave up selling space for the petition.
When Northfield library was re-opened in July 2007 after a £610,000 refurbishment its visitor numbers shot up by 65%. Local people thought that this would be a new start for a neglected corner of our neighbourhood. Local councillors have been working for two years to ensure that the Log Cabin charity next to the library is housed in a new £2 million building that also accommodates a children’s centre and the Scout hut and integrates with the library. The councillors have also led a £200K project to improve the adjacent Bramley Road Open Space and integrate that with the library and the new children’s centre development and residents have been happy to support devoting a large part of our ward forum budget to the project.
Residents were flabbergasted to hear in March that the council was considering closing our well-used and well-loved library. The 1,000 names on our petition show that these are not hollow words.
Picking on libraries is not new. Council officers have had some of the smaller libraries in their sights for some years. In the 2007 budget round they came for Hanwell. The Tories said no. In the 2008 budget round they came for Perivale. The Tories said no. Now they are back for four libraries and the mobile library service.
Northfield library is very cheap to run. It only employs 3.6 FTE staff. Closing it would only save £89K a year. It only takes about 50 of the 10,000 council taxpayers of Northfield and Walpole wards to pay their council tax to raise that amount of money. If we are not careful to protect universal services we will bring into question the legitimacy of taking £1,000 or £1,500 or £2,000 per household in council tax. The saving is only 1.3% of the £6.7 million cost of the entire library service. According to the council’s own consultation document Northfield is the 3rd cheapest library in terms of cost per issue and 5th cheapest in terms of cost per visitor. The staff in this tiny library match the productivity of the 27 staff at Ealing Central without the benefit of RFID automation.
There are other ways of taking costs out of the library service without closing libraries. There are something like 125 FTE staff still in the library service of which some 21.5 FTE are back office staff. Seven of those back office staff are very expensive managers who in turn report up through another three layers of management within the council. There are 62.7 FTE working in our four largest libraries compared to only 11.5 FTE working in the four slated for closure. It is very strange that we try to run what is in essence a retail business with staff on 35 hour weeks who expect special payments to work outside office hours. I know where I would look for the bulk of my savings and it is not in the small libraries. It is in staff Ts & Cs, large library productivity, the back office and the management.
There is a saving we could make in the small libraries. I think most Northfield residents would rather have a single-handed library than no library. Going back to our local businesses. They have to run their businesses single-handed most of the time. Why can’t the council run the small libraries that way?
Northfield has an identity of its own – it needs its own library. Its businesses need the library. This afternoon I took photos of 22 businesses on Northfield Avenue that were still sporting Save Northfield Library posters in their window three months after our campaign started. The businesses know that losing the library means a reduced footfall. Even though Northfield Avenue is a relatively robust shopping parade we still have 8 empty units. This Labour council is happy to give with one hand and spend £5.5 million to regenerate Southall with a car park but it wants to take with the other and degenerate Northfield by closing our library.
The council does have a choice. It needs to make the right one. Thank you.