A couple of hundred residents gathered on the town hall steps from 6.15pm yesterday to protest about the threatened closure of four of the Boroughâ€™s libraries plus the mobile library service. It was a good natured but serious group of people. Many trooped into the gallery above the council chamber to hear the libraries debate. Just as I went in to the chamber I heard one of the security guards report that there were only two places left.
At the start of the council meeting the Mayor received seven library petitions from 8,000 residents.
Conservative leader, Cllr David Millican, presented an online petition gathered by Sean Ashcroft with 437 names regarding the whole closure programme.
Conservative Cllr Eileen Harris presented a petition with over 600 names gathered by Conservative activists working in the Northolt Mandeville ward regarding the leisure centre library.
Conservative Cllr Justin Anderson presented a petition of over 450 names gathered by Peter Fry regarding Perivale library.
The redoubtable Carolyn Brown of Hanwell Community Forum presented an awesome petition of over 2,900 names regarding Hanwell library.
Conservative Cllr Anita Kapoor presented a petition of 1,579 names gathered by Conservative activists in Elthorne ward regarding Hanwell library.
Sue New, an active Northfield resident, presented a petition of over 1,000 names gathered by her outside Northfield library.
Finally, I presented a petition of over 1,000 names on behalf of residents of Northfield and Walpole wards who use Northfield library. Much of the work collecting signatures was done by the Northfield councillors but we got a lot of help from traders on Northfield Avenue who gave up selling space to make room for the petition on their counters. We are very grateful.
The last four of these petitions, having crossed various thresholds, triggered a debate and I was able to speak for four minutes. Once I had finished the new portfolio holder responsible for libraries, Labourâ€™s Cllr Ranjit Dheer, stood up to reply and promptly announced Labourâ€™s U-turn. The four conventional libraries would be saved at which point there was a huge celebration in the gallery and on the opposition benches. Cllr Dheer did caution though that the council was still looking at alternative methods of delivery of the library service – and it seems the Labour councillors have all committed themselves to volunteering for two hours a week in the libraries.
Cllr Dheer announced that the mobile library service would not be saved and quoted a figure of Â£16.47 per book as its cost. As it happens he got this wrong. The mobile library service cost only Â£5.20 per book in 2009/10, it cost Â£16.47 per visitor but clearly these visitors are hard core readers who borrow roughly three books per visit. Cllr Dheer is new to this brief so can perhaps be forgiven for misleading the council on this occasion.