Libraries Consultation Meeting with Cllr Oliver Lewis 12th April 2021

Minutes of Croydon UNISON Libraries Consultation Update Meeting

(Meeting recorded)

Date: Monday 12th April 2021 10am to 11am

Attendees: Cllr Oliver Lewis, Yvonne Green (Chair), Dawn Gibbons, Angela Mayers

Apologies for Absence: Dominique Andrushkiv

  1. Libraries Consultation Update

Cllr Lewis said that the consultation was a two stage process. The first stage being from early Jan to mid-March. There was a council scrutiny meeting last week where the 4 options were discussed and a 5th option which would be a mixture of some of the 4. Cllr Lewis hoped that the outcome would be less painful than closing all 5 libraries. It was due to go to the cabinet meeting tonight asking for a delegation to be formed to discuss further as the DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport) want to move forward with 2 of the 4 options.

However, due to the pre-election period known as purdah this cannot be discussed until after the local elections on Thursday 6th May. This can then be discussed at a delayed May cabinet meeting or may go to June.

Action Point:  Dawn asked for Cllr Lewis to confirm the date of the next relevant council meeting.

The four options were discussed:

  1. Close five libraries (Bradmore Green, Broad Green, Sanderstead, Shirley, and South Norwood).

Yvonne stated that UNISON did not want the 5 libraries to close and also did not want any job losses.

  1. Reduce hours across all libraries sites by one/two days per week.

Cllr Lewis discussed options about reducing library opening hours as an option however he felt that this may then lead to further requests to make reductions in the future. However, Dawn felt that it may provide an opportunity to raise income for the libraries on the days we were shut.

Angela talked about raising income through renting out libraries when closed to including tutoring services. Cllr Lewis said that libraries were already available to rent out space and felt they would be difficult to rent out in the future but he did not rule it out. A coffee shop for example in South Norwood Library wouldn’t be able to raise enough income to cover overheads.

It was discussed that a licensed bar provides added income for events. Dawn mentioned that we already had a bar in the Croydon Clocktower linked to Braithwaite Hall which the library could make more use of.  Also what was happening with Level 3 of Central Library? There had been plans to move Level 3 and incorporate into Level 2. Could Level 3 be used to hire out for larger functions?

Dawn mentioned that Upper Norwood library had been successful in raising income from paid activities. They were currently visiting Croydon Libraries to put their ideas for fund raising.  Cllr Lewis was unaware they had been to Croydon Libraries.

Action Point:  Dawn asked Cllr Lewis if he could get feedback from management about the visit by West Norwood Library and report back to us of their findings.

Angela mentioned the cinema club at Ashburton Library which ran 2 sessions one in the morning and one in the afternoon. They were very popular and attracted customers.

Could we contact local celebrities such as Stormsy to support us at events? He had attended Thornton Heath library homework help club as a child.

Dawn also mentioned that at her meeting with Joan and Rob Hunt last week she had raised ways of raising income from events. Rob has said he had spoken to Ian McDonald whose name Cllr Lewis corrected as being Ian O’Donald. He was a financial consultant not directly employed by the council. Cllr Lewis was unaware that he had been contacted about libraries and how they could generate more income.

Action Point: Dawn asked if Cllr Lewis would get an update from Rob Hunt about the conversations he had with Ian O’Donald and if so, could UNISON have any feedback from this meeting or Dawn could contact Joan directly if he preferred.

Yvonne Green asked who currently does promotion of room space in the libraries. Cllr Lewis replied that he was unsure and didn’t know if there was a specific person but could come under the SDS remit.

Dawn said that she had been told by Richard Pearce, Library Buildings and Systems Manager, in the meeting last week there were currently 2 rates for renting out Level 2 training room. These were £15 for a community group not charging an entrance fee and if a commercial company charging an entrance fee this would be £30 per hour. She was also told by Richard that the rates had not been reviewed for quite a while and so this may need to be done going forward.

  1. Community run models at five libraries

Cllr Lewis said that different models had come forward which were currently being discussed.

Dawn mentioned that Coulsdon Primary school had shown an interest in sharing space with Bradmore Green Library. This may be by the school using the library in the morning when it is fairly quiet. Cllr Lewis said he had no more details relating to this at it was still in initial discussions as was other models brought forward by others groups. These include Friends of South Norwood and the Museum of Diversity (South Norwood Library), West Wickham Baptist Church (Shirley Library), Sanderstead Untied reform Church (Sanderstead Library) and the Asian Resource Centre (Broad Green Library).

  1. Outsource to a social enterprise the whole Libraries service.

Cllr Lewis replied that he wouldn’t want to go back to the days of Carillion which resulted in resources from the service. Carillion ran the libraries from 2012-2018. He did say that if we shut libraries that it was unlikely that we would open them again.

Yvonne Green agreed with Cllr Lewis that the outsourcing of libraries with Carillion was a painful process and if the only option for the council was to outsource again and in order to protect the rights of staff, would this involve a service level agreement. Cllr Oliver Lewis said that it would be more than a service level agreement. It also had to be competitive for interested parties to take their cut.

Dawn asked if it was just GLL who had shown interest in this option. She was aware GLL had been visiting the libraries over the last 2 weeks. Cllr Lewis said as far as he knew it was. Dawn mentioned some of the problems caused by Carillion including wage differences with new staff not on the London Living Wage and repairs not done to buildings.

Yvonne asked which options are going forward. Cllr Lewis said that politics have changed over the last 6 weeks and there needs to be discussion with the whole Labour group.

  1. Funding Update – Cllr Oliver Lewis, Croydon UNISON

Yvonne asked if any of the £120miilion that the council had received from the government as a loan could be used to stop the library cuts. Cllr Lewis said this loan had already been allocated to cover the budget deficit for the 2021/21 year and the reminder to go to meeting the budget for the forthcoming 2021/22 year. Hence there was no surplus money to go to the library service.

  1. Q & A – Cllr Oliver Lewis, Croydon UNISON

 

  1. The Community infrastructure levy – developers have to pay into this when a building project is undertaken. How much is in it at present and can any of this be used towards library repairs etc.

Reply: Cllr Lewis said that the council use CIL quite a lot for funding library projects. The funding of the Norbury Library refit came from this. Cllr Lewis stated that around £8 million a year was collected through CIL.

Action Point: Cllr Lewis offered to send a statement with details of CIL to UNISON.

2.  The Levelling Up Fund – this was published in March 2021 by Chancellor Rishi Sunak. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/levelling-up-fund-prospectus Are you aware of this fund? If so, have you had any discussions with Hamida Ali on how we can get support for Culture as this is an area included in the fund?

Reply: Cllr Lewis was aware of the Levelling UP Fund but thought that it may be slanted to other areas of the country. Dawn said that Croydon was included and was Priority 2 out of the 3 levels. There was a specific section for Culture. Yvonne informed the meeting that she had feedback from the leader, Hamida Ali, Leader of the council that she would be following up on an earlier discussion on the subject with the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

Action Point:  Cllr Lewis has a meeting with Hamida Ali tomorrow so he said he would raise the Levelling Up Fund re Culture with her as he had not done so before.

3. There are 3 government investment programmes: The UK Community Renewal Fund, The Levelling Up Fund (as mentioned above), The Community Ownership Fund – could a community group like Friends of South Norwood apply under the Community Ownership Fund while the library is kept under council control? https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/new-levelling-up-and-community-investments

Reply: Cllr Lewis replied that it would be better if a group like Friends of South Norwood Library (FSN) applied for this themselves and for them to get more information. Dawn was unsure if a group like FSN Library could receive any funding if the library kept under council control.

4. The outsourcing of the library services – is there any update on this as GLL have been visiting libraries over the last 2 weeks?

Reply: As discussed above under option 4.

5.  West Norwood Library – they have been visiting libraries this week – any feedback? Apparently, they have been good at raising income from activities.

Reply: As discussed above under option 2. It was noted that West Norwood Library was helped by the fact that they have a cinema in the same building and also a licensed bar area.

6. Equalities Impact Assessment – has this be completed yet?

Reply: Cllr Lewis said it had not been done yet as they were waiting to see what 2 options were going to go through to Phase 2 as Phase 1 was only an information Phase. When Phase 2 is announced there will be a further consultation with the public and an equalities impact assessment will be published then. Dawn asked if there would be further webinars as in Phase 1. Cllr Lewis there would be either online or in face to face format. 

7. Since receiving the government loan of £120 million can any of this be used to stop library closures?

Reply: As discussed above under Agenda Point 2.

8. What library projects are being discussed to generate income in the future – eg more fee charging events on popular subjects with well-known speakers to attract more customers to the library?

Reply: Cllr Lewis had only overseen libraries in his role as councillor when under Carillion and in the post period so did not have much knowledge before this. He felt that we had the opportunity to have such events before but perhaps they had not been promoted enough. Cllr Lewis did mention an event before lockdown when the library had been open in the evening and had attracted good numbers. Dawn said she had attended this and helped at the event.

9. Could we accept flyers from commercial companies in return for a charge? At present can only accept those from community and charity groups.

Reply: Cllr Lewis said this could be looked at but there would have to be guidelines about what could be accepted and this was agreed by all. 

10. In the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums act it states libraries are a statutory service and should be free and properly funded. In the library consultation proposals how has he demonstrated he has taken this into account?

Reply: Cllr Lewis said there was a problem with the definition. Does having 13 libraries in the borough meet statutory obligations or does that mean we are going above that?

11. What are the long-term plans to avoid further library cuts?

Reply: Cllr Lewis said that we were offering more online library services. 

12.  Has the fair funding review of local government postponed due to both Brexit and COVID19 now become the Levelling Up Fund?

https://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/our-key-themes/local-government-finance/fair-funding-review

https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Discussion%201%20-%20The%20progress%20of%20the%20Fair%20Funding%20Review.pdf

Reply: Cllr Lewis said these were separate projects. The Levelling Up Fund was about short term funding. The Fairer Funding Review would be ongoing.

  1. AOB

Yvonne asked Cllr Lewis what is the council doing to put pressure on the government to get more money from them for Croydon. Cllr Lewis informed the meeting that the Labour group is putting as much pressure as they can to increase the level of funding from the government.

Dawn mentioned that Croydon Central was a marginal seat and that it could go against the Conservative councillors if they are not fighting for funding such as the levelling Up Fund and fairer long term funding as well.

Dawn asked if Cllr Lewis had seen the email that she had sent with regard to the “A Fairer Deal for Croydon” petition and asked if he would sign the petition. Cllr Lewis said he had seen the email.

https://croydonunison.co.uk/2021/04/08/a-fairer-deal-for-croydon-campaign-petition/

The direct link to sign the petition is http://chng.it/5QHk4qgXNK