BY CLLR PHÉLIM MAC CAFFERTY & CLLR OLLIE SYKES
Hove Library is saved! Earlier today, Greens secured the future of Hove Library in its present home, while committing the Council to keep ALL of its libraries open for the foreseeable future.
Following a joint amendment submitted by the Greens and the Conservative Group (Addendum Two Pack 09.06.16), the city’s libraries were preserved with a £100,000 investment from an unexpected underspend in Council finances this year.
In their report to today’s Policy, Resources and Growth Committee, Labour proposed to axe the Hove Carnegie Library and we have stopped it. This report was scandalously and mysteriously withheld and we had just over 24 hours to absorb its findings before today’s committee. It follows a weekend where Labour Councillors delivered leaflets across the city which tried to lay the blame for library cuts on the Green Party. Greens were the only party to vote against Labour’s budget in February that proposed cutting the libraries budget and closing the Carnegie.
This morning Labour made a last-ditch effort to amend their own report, after seeing which way the wind was blowing, yet made no effort to tell us they had abandoned their plans to cut Hove Library. We listened to their arguments today, but on consideration at committee, we chose to stick with our joint amendment which specifically pledged to keep all libraries open in the city.
The irony of working with the Conservatives is not lost on us. This is a party whose national austerity agenda has created the local government finance crisis in the first place, and who are directly responsible for the threat to libraries and a host of other services. Yet Hove Library was an issue where rising above our political differences was necessary to secure the best outcome for the city.
It’s disappointing that we have now come to a position where the only threat to the city’s libraries is the local Labour Council. We’ve pushed from day one to get Labour to stop and listen, to consider alternatives and to get real about the true costs and risks of their plan. Yet we’ve been constantly rebuffed.
In November, Labour presented their ideas for transforming libraries. They had some innovative ideas we could get behind, but proposed to move Hove Library to Hove Museum, a questionable plan which from the start was riddled with inaccuracies and misleading figures.
Greens were the only party to oppose the plan at this point, and launched a petition to Save Hove Library, maintaining a much-loved community resource in its current location, the prestigious Carnegie building.
Labour and Conservatives passed the plan to consult on the proposals, and there began a misleading exercise in spin where residents were presented with a host of leading questions designed to garner support for Labour’s plan.
Greens continued to campaign actively against the plans, submitting a formal question to Council in January (Council minutes, p11) asking why the results from the libraries consultation would only be revealed after the libraries budget was set. There was no satisfactory answer from Labour.
At a Council meeting in March (minutes, p24) where the libraries plan was discussed, the Conservatives began to see what we had been saying all along – there was no case for selling Hove Library and opening a reduced service in Hove Museum. Our analysis indicated that repair costs for the library had been exaggerated while those of Hove Museum were played down. The council’s own analysis of the proposals (p36) considered it highly likely that construction costs for a Hove Museum extension would exceed estimates and lead to delays and additional costs.
Labour continued to plough on, refusing to listen to the now 4,500 strong petition or massive amounts of community correspondence to save the library. We thought we had finally made some headway when the report was withdrawn in April, but Labour returned to today’s committee meeting still peddling the same proposal, with the same inaccurate information. The only way to stop these plans was to work across party lines.
Our amendment will keep all libraries open in the city, and uses an unexpected underspend to do so, rather than taking it from other vital services. This is a huge victory for the city.
We appreciate we may take some flak for cooperating with the Conservative Party. Yet it truly shows how poor Labour’s proposal is when two ideologically opposed parties agree it’s not something they are willing to support.
The main story here is not a political one, it’s about a victory for residents, and it’s a credit to the thousands of people who signed the petition or wrote to their local councillor opposing the move. We know the people of Hove love the Carnegie library: so do we. Libraries are like communities around the city. It’s why we have fought to secure a deal that keeps every single library open in the city. It’s just a crying shame that Labour wouldn’t listen in the first place.