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A big thank you to everyone who has read this blog over the last year. I’ve been looking over our stats and am pleased to say we’ve had heaps more people reading this year than last – and using the blog to get in touch or comment on local issues.
We set this blog up to make it easy for residents to see what their local councillors are up to, and to be a community resource for local news and views. Hopefully you’ve found our posts useful – but we’re always keen to hear feedback so do get in touch if there’s anything you’d like to see more/less of, or that we can do better.
Meanwhile, (drum roll please), here’s our top 5 most read stories of 2011:
(2) Camden comes together after riots - there was huge distress and a hunger for updates and information after Chalk Farm Road found itself at the centre of riots in Camden.
(3) More than a Pizza Express – the campaign to save the old North London Polytechnic assembly hall brought together residents from across Kentish Town. We learnt we had been successful just before the Christmas break.
(4) Voting to save Camden’s libraries – Labour’s threats to the borough’s libraries has been a long running political battle this year, with lots of public support for the Liberal Democrat motion to reject closures. Queen’s Crescent Library may have been saved, but not all libraries are yet in the clear.
(5) How Chalk Farm survived the riots – after the immediate shock, lots of people tried to make sense and draw lessons from the riots. I penned a piece for the Spectator website reflecting the experience in Chalk Farm.
Schools and children’s services look set to be hardest hit by the strike action tomorrow, while many other services in Camden will remain open or partically open.
In Haverstock the notable exceptions are Talacre Sports Centre and Queen’s Crescent Library, which both look likely to remain closed for the day.
I’ve reproduced the council’s full summary below, but it’s worth keeping an eye on Camden’s website for further updates. For more information on the background to the strikes and the government’s most recent offer on pensions, the Guardian has a pretty balanced report, here.
Children, schools and families services
- Schools – most schools in Camden will be closed. Parents will have been informed by their child’s school.
- Integrated early years– parents will have been informed by their Children’s Centres. Most will be closed.
- Family services and social work– we will deal with cases on an emergency priority basis.
- Integrated youth support service–YOS Highbury court and essential services will be open.
- Children, schools and families customer service and complaints– will offer a reduced but open service.
- Welfare, inclusion and support in education– will offer a reduced but open service.
- Children’s social work and QA – an emergency service will operate.
Housing and adult social care services
Most of our housing and adult social care services are expected to remain open or partially open, including some of our frontline adult social care services. We are not expecting any of these services to fully close.
Please see a summary below, which will be updated on Wednesday morning:
- Assessment and care management service (this team assesses people’s social care needs and arranges services accordingly) – will be open.
- Careline telecare (our 24 hour telephone support service for vulnerable people) – will be running
- Temporary accommodation (hostels) – will be open
- Residential care homes – will be open
- Supported living services (support services provided to vulnerable tenants) – will be open
- Housing repairs and improvements – will be partially open. We are rescheduling planned work so that we will be able to respond to emergencies and urgent repairs
- Passenger and accessible transport service – is expected to run as usual but will be assessed on Wednesday.
Culture and environment services
- Libraries– we expect to open Swiss Cottage, Holborn and St Pancras libraries, however activities planned for 30 November will not be taking place. All library activities and services will run as usual from Thursday 1 December 2011.
- Camden transport services – there is likely to be considerable disruption. Demand for services will be assessed on the day.
- Environment services – there may be slight delays but most activities will not be affected.
- Leisure centres – Talacre Sports Centre as well as Cantelowes and Camden Town sports pitches will be closed.
- Registrars will be open for the registration of deaths.
Last night the Labour Cabinet placed Camden libraries on “death watch”.
In a rare glimmer of good news, it was at least confirmed that Queen’s Crescent Library seems to be safe following a huge local campaign which saw the establishment of a new Friends group. But the council plans to wash its hands of much loved Heath, Belsize and Chalk Farm libraries, with Highgate massively chopped down; Camden Town and Regents Park left with very uncertain futures, and opening hours slashed across the board.
This is all despite a massive campaign that saw thousands of petition signatures and dedicated library users marching on the Town Hall. At a special meeting on libraries called by the Liberal Democrats, every single Labour councillor present voted against our motion to keep libraries open, even those who had a library on their patch. So perhaps, sadly, we shouldn’t be that surprised at this final blow this morning. In fact, the true picture is not that far away from council officer’s original plans to scale down to just four libraries, dismissed by Labour as wild rumour at the time.
So, what next for our libraries? The campaign will continue, and rightly so: public pressure has helped save some libraries. It may be some local groups can scrabble to put together a convincing case to run a library on their own.
Most importantly, we have to keep challenging Labour’s assertion that there is no other way. Camden people are savvy enough to see through this spin. There is no law that says councils have to close libraries: indeed every single Liberal Democrat authority, and many Labour ones, have been able to protect their library services. Camden needs to go back to the drawing board and do the same.
In a packed meeting room, the very first Friends of Queen’s Crescent Library was set up tonight. This is great news and means that Queen’s Crescent users will now have an even stronger voice in Camden.
A diverse crowd well and truly busted the patronising myth that only the middle class care about libraries. The great thing about libraries is they are one of the few council services equally loved by young, old, rich, poor and everyone in between. Spend half an hour sitting in Queen’s Crescent Library and you really see all of Camden.
The first job for the new users group is therefore, of course, to fight off the closure threats coming from the council. It is incredible that local libraries could be boarded up, especially in places like Queen’s Crescent where they sit at the heart of the community. More visits to the library means more visits to the Market, which can only be good for the local economy in an area that Camden desperately wants to regenerate.
We will be backing the new users group all the way. Lots of people were signing the petitions – one organised by Unison, and one by CPLUG (the Camden wide library users group) – and will be presenting it to Camden Council at the meeting on April 11th. Local people have successfully fought off Labour threats to Queen’s Crescent Library once; they can do it again!
With the future of Camden’s libraries hanging in the balance, next week backbench Labour councillors have the chance to vote to keep every local Camden library open.
The maths is simple. Just four Labour councillors would need to vote with all opposition councillors for the motion to pass. Twenty-two Labour councillors have libraries in their wards. If every Labour councillor who has a library in their ward voted for the motion, Camden’s libraries would be saved.
Of course, we do need to make savings, but closing libraries is the lazy and most damaging option. We need to start by getting a firm grip on back room costs and investigating partnerships with other councils or local groups.
When I was growing up, libraries were simply a part of my life. I used to pop in with my Dad on a Saturday morning to choose a new book for the week. When I was a little older, I would sit for hours in the peace and quiet of our local library to do homework. These experiences fostered a love of books and reading that has set me up for life: and this opportunity should be available for the generation of Camden children growing up today.
It’s fair to acknowledge that councillors of all parties have expressed solidarity with those residents who are fighting so hard to save their local library. However, it’s votes in the council chamber that really count. Let’s hope Labour councillors have the courage to vote with their convictions on Monday.
Camden Liberal Democrat Leader, Keith Moffitt, had a (significantly slimmed down) letter published in the Camden New Journal this week, setting out an alternative approach on libraries. I’ve re-produced the original, full text, of Keith’s letter below.
Monday night’s meeting of Camden Council demonstrated once again that the Labour administration is full of empty rhetoric and slogans and completely devoid of any constructive ideas about how to deal with the impact of the spending squeeze on local government. They seem to have no vision for the future beyond hurling insults at the coalition government that is battling to deal with the consequences of the world banking crisis and years of Labour profligacy. Actual concrete solutions to the problems facing Camden and its residents seem to be thin on the ground if not totally absent.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Labour’s lack of clarity over the future of our libraries. Residents across the borough are fearful for the fate of their local libraries bearing in mind Labour’s track record in attempting to close libraries. Community groups, library friends groups, individual residents and councillors who know the true value of their libraries have every reason to suspect that the consultation due to be launched in early February will be a sham.
What we and they want is a genuine debate on the future of our libraries which does not assume that the inevitable outcome is library closures or drastic cuts in opening hours, but considers a range of options already being looked at by other local authorities. These could include libraries run by community groups or in conjunction with schools, cutting overheads by sharing services with neighbouring authorities, encouraging the use of volunteers, and a host of other ideas.
Liberal Democrats believe in the value of libraries as a focal point for local communities. They provide much more than just a place to borrow books – from access to information and literacy to sessions for children and their parents. We recognise, of course, that our libraries need to adapt to a changing population, including those for whom English is not their first language, and that e-books and other new technologies will have an increasingly important role to play.
Closing libraries for good or shutting their doors for much of the week should be the very last resort. We call on Camden’s Labour leadership to make the library consultation a genuine dialogue with the public and not to embark on this consultation with its mind made up about the outcome – and its ears closed.
The public will not forgive Camden Labour – in this area or in the many others where bold and imaginative solutions are needed – if they hide behind party-political slogans. This is a time for innovative deeds not empty words.
Cllr Keith Moffitt
Leader, Camden Council Liberal Democrat Group
With pressure growing on Labour to protect local library services, the friends of our libraries have organised two events in the next few weeks. 5th February will see a peaceful “sit-in” event at Belsize Library, and on 8th February there will be a public meeting at Hampstead Town Hall.
The Friends of our libraries are absolutely right to be making their point in this way. In fact, the Camden Public Libraries Users Group (CPLUG) was set up as a direct response to Labour’s plans to close libraries the last time they were in power in Camden. With the council having banned petitions or even surveys in libraries, for reasons unfathomable to me, residents are having to shout louder and louder to make their voices heard.
Instead of trying to stifle debate, the council should be encouraging it. We need to work with the community to look at how library services could be delivered differently. More than a third of the libraries budget is currently spent out on back room, central costs – a far higher proportion than in the rest of London. This should be the first place to make savings, rather than reverting to the misguided, knee-jerk solution of boarding up our libraries.
Drop me a line if you’d like more information on the events that are planned.