Saving Public Libraries

by Nigel Bakhai on 5 April, 2011

Here is a copy of the text of my speech below to the April 2011 council meeting on the future of public libraries in Ealing:-

Mr Mayor, as the ward councillor for Elthorne where Hanwell Library is situated, I rise to second the Lib Dem amendment to this motion. While we accept that the council needs to make significant savings over the next 3 years, the Lib Dem proposed amendment to last month’s council budget showed that the council could refurbish Hanwell and Perivale Libraries if there was the political will to keep these libraries open instead of borrowing £5.5 million to build a car park in Southall. However, at the time Cllr Johnson and the Labour group accused us of scaremongering that these libraries were under threat.

One month on, the Council has now released its consultation for the future of the library service, and not only were we right about Hanwell and Perivale libraries but this council proposes to go even further. Northolt Leisure Centre library, Northfields Library and the Mobile Library service are also under threat. Rather than a meaningful consultation about the future of the library service in the 21st century, we have a loaded sham of a consultation designed by a short-sighted council’s desire to cut costs or to make a quick buck from selling these prized community assets to developers.

The consultation is designed to lead residents participating in the survey to believe that the only option is to close libraries, end the mobile library service or for libraries to be run by volunteers. Almost every question begins: “Given the need to make significant savings to Ealing’s library service” do you agree to consider closing those libraries?

The council has made significant investment on its libraries with almost £1 million spent on Northolt Leisure centre Library only re-opened last January, £610k on Northfields, and it would be a tragedy for that investment to go to waste. However, Hanwell and Perivale libraries are under threat because they have not had the same kind of investment. Hanwell Library which I know well has been seriously under-funded in terms of maintenance of the building, staffing and service provided, by successive Councils over many years. Poor maintenance has led to the upper floor being closed to the public on health and safety grounds for some years which is a waste of a community space that could easily be used to bring in additional services and more potential users to the library.

The need for local libraries is vital for improving literacy rates of all ages. The UK Literacy rate among children leaving primary school must be improved: nationally around one in five children do not reach the required standard of reading and writing at 11 yrs old (Key Stage 2) and around one third families of younger children do not have access to Internet. Hanwell Library is within easy walking distance of five Primary Schools, four Preschool Nurseries, and three High Schools. The Preschool Nurseries and Primary Schools arrange outings for their pupils to Hanwell Library, a practice which breeds an early familiarity with books. Easy access to libraries is essential to encourage children to develop a life long interest in reading.

Furthermore, adult literacy is also a problem for one in six people in the UK. Men and women with poor literacy are least likely to be in full-time employment at the age of thirty. 92% of the British public say literacy is vital to the economy and essential for getting a good job – and as the local economy recovers it will be important to have a highly skilled and educated workforce.

Mr Mayor, I would like to conclude by urging residents and ward councillors where libraries are threatened to do their utmost to campaign against these closures, to fill in the consultation and tell the council what they think of these proposals, and to tell them in no uncertain terms that we the people of Ealing value libraries over car parks.

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