Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat MP for Brent Central and a minister for “privatising education” (sorry, running our schools) in the coalition government which has slashed Brent council’s budget by a fifth, is now campaigning to save some of the borough’s libraries that may be forced to close as a result of her government’s imposed cuts. Not content with backtracking on their pledge not to raise VAT and after raising tuition fees by 300% after campaigning against them, the Liberal Democrats appear to have no concept of taking responsibility for their actions.
Local Government Association Chair, Baroness Margaret Eaton, has described the cuts as “the toughest local government finance settlement in living history”. Brent Council receives most of its funding from central government grant which is being cut by £37 million in this financial year (almost 12%), and a further 7.4% cut in the following year. The two years after that will see further reductions, totalling £100 million over four years.
Councillor James Powney explained that “the Council is being forced to cut spending in every department, including in the library service. Whilst we are doing everything possible to save money through greater efficiencies, the scale of the government’s cuts inevitably means reductions in service. There were no library closures during the ten years when Labour previously ran Brent Council (1996-2006), and they would be unlikely to be proposed now if the central government were not forcing cutbacks across all our public services”. As a result of the cuts it is estimated that 1 in 5 libraries nationwide will be forced to close.
Queens Park councillor James Denselow explained how “we were not elected on a platform of closing libraries, they are critically important components of a community and for the government to slash and burn their funding and then have Liberal Democrat MPs attack the consequence is rank hypocrisy. We are doing everything we can do come up with alternative solutions to ensure as few of our libraries as possible have to close”.
Much of the campaign has been directed at saving Kensal Rise library. Its future is complicated by the fact that it is operated by Brent Council under a 100-year-old covenant from All Souls College, Oxford. The building can be used only as a library, otherwise ownership reverts to the college. A similar covenant applies to Cricklewood library.
One of the alternatives Cllr Denselow has in mind is to approach All Souls College, to see if they support possible funding of the library or allowing the community to take over its running. The college is said to have a £230m endowment fund and although you would think otherwise from the noise they make, Oxbridge colleges are incredibly wealthy.
Cllr Denselow and his Queen’s Park colleague Cllr Michael Adeyeye have written to All Souls.
They have asked the college either to make a contribution from All Souls could keep the library open or to help with the costs to for it to become volunteer-run.