Labour’s spin on libraries is enough to make you dizzy

BY CLLR PHELIM MAC CAFFERTY

In 2004, campaigners breathed a collective sigh of relief when a proposal to close Hove Library and move the service to Hove Town Hall was dropped, following extensive opposition from local residents.  The campaign by Christopher Hawtree to Save Hove Library is remembered to this day.

At the time, the Labour Council recognised the strength of feeling on the issue, evidenced by a 4000-strong petition, and reversed their proposal, pledging instead to invest to bring the building up to modern standards.

Now 12 years later, we see another petition from 4,000 people, set to be presented to Council today, once again calling for this treasured cultural icon to be saved.

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The same rehearsed arguments are being rolled out by the Council in response – Hove Library is expensive to maintain, the library is moving not being closed, it doesn’t meet people’s needs.  Evidently over 4,000 people strongly disagree.

A closer look at the figures casts some doubt on the financial imperative for the changes.  A £750,000 figure for repairs includes a full historic restoration of the roof and several “desirable”, not “essential” repairs.  A more realistic appraisal may well see the cost pale into comparison with the £1.2million cost of extending Hove Museum to house the library.

Labour is not known for its clarity and transparency.  Just look at the 30% cuts to meals-on-wheels, which Labour branded as a “makeover”.  In a gaffe on a radio interview, Leader of the Council Warren Morgan told a resident that Hove Library cost £3.5million to maintain [1].  They are clearly spinning these figures to bolster their case.

Aside from Councillor Morgan’s ill-informed contributions, running costs of the library are actually estimated by the Council to be £500,000.  But let’s be clear, only 15% of this is building costs.  53% of these are staffing costs and 30% is the bookfund [2].  Making savings here require substantial reductions in both librarians and books, both of which are expected under Labour’s Libraries Plan.

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Councillor Morgan has also decried the Hove Library building as “not fit for purpose”.  This despite the fact that the building was purpose-built as a library, and has done so very well for over 100 years.  It has also seen substantial investment since 2005 to bring it up to modern standards.  Closing it now will have made that investment pointless and will lose substantial value.

I have been really moved by the massive amount of correspondence I’ve received from residents who are desperate to keep Hove library in its current location. Particularly moving have been appeals from parents who know what this fantastic and welcoming environment does to enhance the learning, imagination and creativity of young minds.

Sadly, this Labour Council is not known to be good at listening.  Just look at the 87% consultation responses against cuts to children’s centres or the 94% of young people against Youth Services cuts [3][4].  Yet both of these continue unabated.

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Image credit: Satoshi Kambayashi

Keeping libraries open has always been a big priority for the Greens as they play such a vital role in supporting both children’s and adult education. Libraries help beat isolation and act as community hubs where residents can access advice and information. These are some of the very reasons we kept libraries open over the last four years, and opened new libraries in Woodingdean and Mile Oak.

Residents have major concerns about the loss of a building with incredible historic and heritage value, as well as the reduced level of service expected from a library in Hove Museum if Hove library is sold.  108 years after Hove Library was opened from a generous donation from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to explicitly advance the most disadvantaged and working people in Hove, we want the library to continue serving our community. The myopic government cuts are harming our community and we say ‘enough is enough.’

Notes:

  1. Warren Morgan radio interview: https://audioboom.com/boos/4222784-save-hove-library
  2. Hove Library running costs: p56, http://bit.ly/1VFIFd7
  3. Children’s Centres Consultation: http://bit.ly/1ZtCwkr
  4. Youth Consultation: http://bit.ly/1U9Hsvg
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