Although our legal challenge through the courts has come to an end, it is not over. We are now going to challenge the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt on his department’s failure to investigate library closures for more than a year.
We will do this on two fronts. Today, our legal team has sent a letter demanding action. The DCMS met with Brent Council last year, but has so far ignored thousands of complaints made by us.
And tomorrow, the cross-party Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport is holding its enquiry into national library closures: Tuesday 7 February, 10.30am, Palace of Westminster, Committee Room 15 (it’ll be packed so get there early)
Over 130 submissions were made by all sorts of groups and people. It makes for very interesting reading.
You can find our 3 submissions at pgs 133, 366 and 544 as well as one from Barry Gardiner MP (pg. 583) and the inevitable defence from Brent Council (pg. 608). You can read them all here.
A packed out Windermere nestled in the snow was the perfect setting for us to celebrate Charles Dicken’s 200th anniversary. Following the children’s storytelling day at Preston Park school, it rounded off a hugely successful National Libraries Day, despite yesterday’s bad news.
Readings from the man of letters and Whitbread Prize-winner Paul Bailey and music from the inimicable CLOS made it an night to remember. Let’s not forget the children – and yet more distinguished authors, like Leon Rosselson, Kaye Umansky (below), Daniel Kitts, Dyan Sheldon and Jenny Newland.
Brent has no plans to ever hold an event locally here. That ended when they closed our only portal to the council, and lied to us that they would make it up via “outreach”.
The benefit of libraries to communities is harder to measure, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes, in libraries large and small, from Barnsley to Bermondsey.
Does this government see it? Libraries minister Ed Vaizey‘s stock line has been: “I don’t run library services. Local authorities do.” He has a point: libraries are run by democratically elected local governments, and they take the lead. But that’s no excuse for doing nothing. It may not be Vaizey’s job to micro-manage every library in the country – but it is his job to be their champion. And that is what he is failing to do.
Blaming the government for allowing them to close, he is silent on the fact that in Brent, it is his own party that has been fighting for the right to close libraries.
Last year, when trying to justify closing 6 libraries, Willesden Green was cited as the successful library, against which ours was a failure:
Councillor James Powney (Kensal Green, Labour), said: “Willesden Green is our most successful library
Ann John reiterated this just a few months ago:
The truth about the closure of the six libraries is that they were the least popular and least visited libraries in the borough…In contrast, the most popular – Willesden Green library centre – had 508,599 visitors.
Now the line is:
The council says Willesden Green Library has struggled to fulfil potential and is poorly designed.
The same people who have been grilling the Murdoch’s lately have turned their attention to libraries. This can only be a good thing.
PLEASE WRITE IN. Details below….
Committee announces new inquiry INTO LIBRARY CLOSURES
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee [not the DCMS] is today launching a new inquiry into library closures. The Committee is inviting written submissions and requesting views on the following issues:
what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century;
the extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Libraries & Museums Act 1964 and the Charteris Report;
the impact library closures have on local communities;
the effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention
under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964.
A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail to
firstname.lastname@example.org and have ‘Library closures’ in the subject line.
Submissions should be received by Thursday 12th January 2012.
Just back from court 63 where Lord Justices Pill, Richards and Davis have spent the last two days hearing the appeal against Mr Justice Ouseley’s decision in favour of Brent Council on 13th October.
After a slightly surreal start with the usher announcing a case involving the “London Borough of Trent“, conjuring up unlikely images of Ann John as Maid Marion, he corrected himself, and the hearing began. We have a new barrister – Dinah Rose – and she was very impressive. She opened the case yesterday with the complicated indirect discrimination point – but she explained it so well that I think all 50 or so supporters – (the court was packed and folding chairs had to be brought it!) may now be able to explain it to someone else. Continue reading →
The public gallery of Court 63 was crowded with Brent library campaigners today as the first day of the Appeal was being heard. The Appellant’s QC made it clear that the library campaigners’ case was based on the process that Brent Council followed in its consultation and decision to close the libraries, rather than whether it was right to close libraries as such.
She focused particularly on the Council’s failure to recognise that its own data signalled the possibility that the closure of the six libraries would indirectly discriminate against the Asian population of Brent. The figures showed that whilst Asians constituted 28% of the Brent population, they accounted for 46% of library users while the white population of 45% accounted for only 29% of users. As 3 of the six libraries that were closed served areas with higher than average Asian population, they were left with only Ealing Road library in the ward with the most dense Asian population. (Before the closure of the other libraries more than 60% of Ealing Road users were Asian) So not only were people deprived of their own libraries but the remaining library at Ealing Road, as later evidence testified, had become over-crowded as a result of the closures.
Brent SOS library campaign will be at the High Court to appeal against the unnecessary closure of 50% of Brent’s libraries by the Labour-run council.
10.30 am at Courtroom 63 – The Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand, London.
Rally from 9.30am – Nearest tube: Temple, Holborn and Charing Cross (in that order)
The hearing will last 1 ½ days, possibly extending a little into Friday afternoon. The Appellants’ (i.e. Margaret, Steve and Nipuni’s) new QC, Dinah Rose, will open and close the case with the Council’s QC making her own submissions half way through. Dinah will argue the Council:
did not appreciate the likely impact of its plans to close libraries on particular groups in the community, such as Asian people, and without understanding this impact properly could not make a lawful decision compatible with its Equality Act 2010 duties to eliminate discrimination;
did not assess need for local library services, especially that of children; and
was unfair to community groups who put forward proposals to save the threatened libraries.
We cannot say for sure when there will be a judgment, but it is likely to be forthcoming very quickly – the Court fully appreciates the importance and urgency of this case.
Details of July’s Judicial Review and outcome here.
Thanks to Wembley Matters blog for the account of today’s Walk to Save Preston Library. Locals from children to octagenarians walked en masse to their “next nearest library” in Kingsbury from South Kenton. With no direct public transport, the walk highlights how the new library system in miles out.
The march took about an hour, excluding a short refreshment stop. As one of the slower ones said, “By the time we get there are books will be gone!”
It’s not just to residents that Brent has been lying to. Ann John and James Powney have been blithely telling the national press the same thing for weeks – in the Guardian, Independent and Telegraph no less.
The retraction was only made after a direct challenge. In private. Don’t expect Brent to be nearly as public with the truth. It’s not their way.
According to the “apology”, it seems we used to be within 1.5 miles from a library when we had them, but not anymore. King John used to tell us that most people don’t live within walking distance of a library (when we had 12 local libraries). Now that she’s closed half, suddenly we do.
We should be used to it. Whether it’s telling us our library was poorly located and low usage (it was neither), or that they are forced to make budget cuts, or that we are getting a better service… its always the same. But then, as we take our Appeal to the High Court next week, there is – sadly – no law against politicians lying.
Why? Because it was (whisper it) PERFORMING POORLY. Unlike Preston. And it was supposed to be the place Kensal and Cricklewood users were to go to.
With costs of around £560,000 a year, closing it early would have saved all 6 libraries and then some. Something we proposed in March. Instead the council has decided to keep spending the same amount of money – without the library.
Brent Council’s dismal record of misinformation and disinformation over public libraries, which started of course with the misleadingly named ‘Transformation Project’, has been highlighted again today.
The Brent Magazine, which is still flopping through letter boxes, claimed that all Brent residents were 1.5 miles from a library. Toni McConville, Director of Customer and Community Engagement for Brent Council said:
The information about the 1.5 mile distance that residents would need to travel to a library was provided by the Library Service. An assumption was wrongly made that this meant one of the council’s remaining libraries rather than a library in the vicinity.
I’m sorry for the error and have pointed it out to the communications team so that the mistake is not repeated
At 10 am, we went to the DCMS in central london to present 12,000 signatures and hundreds of letters to the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt. 400 were by kids alone. We demand he fulfil his responsibility to.investigate whether Brent’s new library service is “comprehensive and efficient” (as it should be under Museums.and Libraries Act 1964).
He met the council in June, but has he heard our side? Nope. The sheer volume of complaints to him should persuade him to do so.
Philip Pullman has lambasted Brent council for its comment that closing half of its libraries would help it fulfil “exciting plans to improve libraries”, describing the statement as a “masterpiece” which “ought to be quoted in every anthology of political bullshit from here to eternity”.
“All the time, you see, the council had been longing to improve the library service, and the only thing standing in the way was – the libraries,”
The people who thought it would be easy to deprive us of our last remaining service, who thought we don’t care enough, never expected their Wall of Shame would be transformed into our community message board, telling Ann John that we want our library back.
It’s half term, the weather was very nice today and we plan to stay put, collecting letters and signatures to demand the government intervenes – they will only do this if we bury them in letters and petitions. We are running a rota, so if you fancy volunteering an hour of your time this week, please let us know. There is food, chairs and plenty of friendly people to meet. It’s actually really good fun!
A judge has fast-tracked an urgent hearing of an appeal against Brent council’s closure of six libraries.
Lord Justice Elias granted an appeal against a ruling made last week in the high court that Brent council’s decision was lawful. He ordered that attempts should be made for it to be heard before the court of appeal on two days early next month.
Brent council has agreed, in the meantime, to take no irrevocable steps to prevent the libraries reopening in the event of the appeal being won.
Campaigners have mounted vigils outside two of the threatened libraries, Preston Road, which has already been boarded up by the council, and Kensal Rise, to ensure they are not emptied of books or computers while the legal dispute continues.
The valiant campaigners who have braved the cold outside Preston night and day since Monday can breathe a small sigh of relief. You have made national news and we salute you.
The day the council came to cart away our books, a plucky band of Preston-ers were there to stop them…including:
My favourite photo
Geraldine Cooke, a publisher just back from the Frankfurt Book Fair, stood close by, honking defiantly on a red horn
given to her in Germany by a US erotica publisher in a gesture of intellectual solidarity. Every now and then, her honks were answered by passing cars.
Cooke, who, along with her fellow campaigners, has been organising petitions and raising £30,000 for a legal fighting fund, said she had no plans to give up the battle. “I think we’ll do it for as long as it takes, even though we’re not many people down here,” she said, nodding at the seven other protesters. “There’s no doubting the passion of the people here.”
Volunteers urgently needed to keep an eye on the library – spare half an hour and keep watch through the day.
This morning valiant Preston locals stopped Brent Council removing books and equipment from the library – a step which could be considered irrevocable ahead of a planned appeal to be lodged this week. In other words, we need to stop anything else happening to our library, or it may be impossible to reverse even if we win an appeal.
Today we got our verdict on Round 1 of Brent residents v the Labour Council. Mr Justice Ousley today dismissed a judicial review brought by campaigners seeking to overturn Brent Council’s decision to close half of its public libraries.
“Today’s judgement means that half of Brent’s libraries remain under threat and has very troubling implications for library closure decisions nationally. That is why Ms Bailey, Ms Desoysa and Mr Lester will be pursing an appeal and the local campaign will renew its efforts to expose the senselessness of Brent’s decision. It cannot be right to decimate the library service of an inner London borough whose children are desperate to read and study but whose parents cannot afford books nor the transport costs of regular access to distant libraries. Nor is Brent right to say the threatened libraries are unnecessary to meet local needs. The passion and commitment of the community campaign to keep them open shows that is nonsense.” (full press release here)
We are not just a bunch of NIMBYs trying to save a defunct service, this is the biggest campaign Brent has seen in half a century – 10,000 + signatures, 82% opposition to the closure plan, including almost every school in the borough. We use our libraries, we value them, and we need them. Brent Council can easily afford to keep them open, and their loss means a decimated, two-tier library service that will fail residents.
Margaret Bailey, on behalf of Brent Libraries SOS campaign said:
As Brent Council slashes library services in half, telling people to “buy books in Tesco” and “get on a bus”, little do residents realise that of the 6 remaining libraries, only 3 are ‘fit for purpose’. Kilburn “needs major upgrade”, Willesden Green is set to be knocked down and rebuilt and funding is being sought for Kingsbury to be rebuilt/enlarged. That leaves just 3 usable libraries in Brent Council’s vision of a “21st century library service”.
Preston users have been told to go to Kingsbury, but this is clearly not big enough. So where will they go? The new £ 3 million mega-library our cash-strapped council found money for. How convenient. At least for the council. It’s too far for children, the elderly and disabled (who most use the existing library) , there’s no parking and rising public trasport fares make this ‘free’ service, not so free.
Our judicial review – the first in the UK – took place in July and the wait for a verdict is almost over. This Thursday 13th October at 10 amat the High Court (Strand), we will find out just what Mr Justice Ousely has to say about library closures in Brent in a ruling that could affect local councils across the country.
Another example of Brent Council wasting our money – read the article in here.
Campaigners have almost reached the target £30,000 to fund the legal action against the closure of 50% of Brent’s libraries. It would cost just £1m to keep them all open, and a reduction of hours across the board would achieve the same savings (according to the council’s own figures) – yet the Council ignored massive opposition from residents and ploughed ahead with the cuts.
Boyd Tonkin’s feature in today really tells it like it is:
Talk to activists about library closures, and even those most upset by the cuts will often accept that local authorities have to make tough choices in taxing times. Sometimes they merely question the direction of the axe, as the year-on-year squeeze enforced by Whitehall leaves councils no option but to reduce expenditure.
However, what if another explanation applied: that some benighted councils actually dislike libraries, distrust their users, and in particular loathe those uppity campaigners who dare to question their decisions? After all, they can and do dismiss these trouble-makers as “middle-class” (however blatantly misleading that is, especially in city centres), as if that amounted to any sort of argument. They may also claim that people can now buy all the books they want cheaply from Asda or Tesco; that everyone reads on computers or Kindles; that paper books mean nothing to fully-wired youngsters.
Don’t miss the 2nd Preston dance…with added Karaoke! Such a success the last time around, we’re doing it again.
8pm @ The Windermere Pub
Just £5 entry.
Noel the landlord has kindly invited you to bring a plate of nibbles to share. Maybe some more gingerbread councillors? Or some SOS scones?
Otherwise known as a Book Club – it’s a chance for reading enthusiasts to get together and discuss that thing Brent Council says is “obsolete” – books!
It has been set up by an active Preston Library Supporter – a local version of an international idea: regular and friendly meetings to talk about a favourite book. There will be opportunities to buy and sell books too.
For more information and ways to get involved see their website here.
Cruel Separation is the award-winning story of General Pinochet’s American backed military coup in Chile in 1973, told through the eyes of four women who lived through it and narrated by Donald Sutherland.
The film covers the coup from different perspectives and how the four women survived, picked up their lives afterwards and carried on in exile and back in Chile, to tell their stories of love and loss.
In today’s Evening Standard, Brent admits it has written off £millions in uncollected debt:
Campaigners today condemned town halls for not doing enough to hunt down “every penny” that bailiffs and debt collectors failed to trace.
An Evening Standard investigation found that in the 2009/10 financial year Tory-run Westminster council wrote off the most at £20.6 million.
This included £19.4 million in unpaid parking fines, which the council said was accumulated over several years and included foreign cars and embassies that refused to pay tickets and fees under diplomatic immunity.
Second highest was Labour-run Brent, which had £17.3 million uncollected, including £9.7 million of council tax. Hackney overpaid £2.58 million in housing benefit which is now lost.
It’s the 4th Great Preston Pub Quiz. If you haven’t already been, this could be your last chance to experience the most talked about events of the year (in Preston) – prizes to won and a right-proper quizmistress, the wonderful Frances!
Bring friends, or just yourself!
£5 (£3 concs)
@ The Preston Pub, opposite the library – MAP HERE
“The effect on children will be the worst. Books are so important, now more than ever. People are so cash strapped that books will be one of the first expenses to go.”
She added: “For boys it’s particularly important because what’s the alternative? Roaming the streets or sticking them in front of the TV and condemn them to not having the vocabulary to express themselves.”
Kathleen Frenchman, chairman of Libraries for Life for Londoners, said: “There are more and more children who cannot afford to buy books. Children will be greatly deprived.
The government is to decide in SEPTEMBER whether it will intervene in Brent. It is absolutely vital you ALL write to Jeremy Hunt (at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport) and demand an enquiry. This could save our library, but it needs hundreds of letters and emails to be sent as soon as possible – they said they would make a decision by September, this hasn’t happened, so we still have time.
Thousands are affected by the closure of Preston Library, thousands of letters must land on Jeremy’s desk.
It takes 2 minutes to write a short email. Do it now. Get your neighbours and kids to sign it.
tell the Secretary of State why you will not be able to use another library if we lose ours – they may be too far, you may have small children who cannot go on their own, you can’t afford the bus fares, you have a disability and can’t travel easily. How will the loss of Preston Library affect YOU.