Bad-tempered public meeting on future of West Ealing Library

This was about the most bad-tempered meeting I’ve been to, though I’m told the Northfields Library meeting was worse.

The meeting was part of the Council’s consultation about its new library strategy. Underlying the strategy is the need for the Council to make expenditure cuts in order to balance its budget. (Quite a lot of the argument was about whether the Council needs to do this and heavy criticism of its dealings with developers over how much they pay the Council for maintaining and improving local infrastructure – doctors surgeries, transport, leisure facilities, libraries, parks etc).

The meeting was facilitated by an outside organisation.  Carole Stewart from the council who is Asst Director for Libraries and Cllr Jasbir Anand the cabinet member responsible for libraries were both speakers at the meeting.

These are the points I noted;

  • The consultation runs until 17th May and the cabinet will  decide on the final strategy on 16th July
  • Expressions of interest from community groups interested in running a library open on 29th April and  close 31st May
  • For every £1 in 2010 from central government the council now gets 36p
  • In 2017/8 the total cost of running the library service was £3.9m.  In 2018/19 it will be £4.4m.. I don’t know why the increase.
  • The library service must reduce its costs by £1.142m over the next 4 years.  Moving to the community managed libraries would save about £800k
  • The council will keep running 6 libraries and seeks to have 7 community managed ones including West Ealing. The 6 are town centre libraries in Acton, Ealing Broadway, Southall and Northolt and two in areas of greatest social deprivation – Southall and Northolt.
  • The council will be responsible for the books and adding stock etc, the IT and computers, and will have a support team from the council run libraries to help the community managed ones.
  • One of the audience said there are 400 community managed libraries in the UK – out of a total of just over 4000 ie 10% are community run
  • 13 London boroughs run 37 community managed libraries between them. (So Ealing looking to have 7 is a high figure in comparison.  A number of people pointed out that some London boroughs were investing more in libraries and not less.)
  • A prospectus for each of the 7 libraries will be issued next week beginning 1st April.
  • There will be a conference about community managed libraries on 3rd April at University of west London
  • The current cost for running West Ealing library is £258,000 with £123,000 for staff and £25,000 for rates.
  • Carole Stewart talked about future costs for the library of £13,000. ( I don’t understand how she gets to this figure and it seems to exclude the cost of utilities, insurance, cleaning and so on.  The figure stated in the Council’s strategy document for what is called indicative costs is £98,158 for rent, rates, utilities, cleaning and overheads)
  • If no community organisation comes forward then the library will close

We need to wait for the prospectus about West Ealing Library to be clearer about the costs involved for any organisation wishing to run it. However, we do know some information about how many people use the library:

In 2017/18 there were 128,811 visits, 48,640 issues, 11,050 registered members,, 4,278 active users and 12 public computers.

The way the library is used is changing. The number of people borrowing books is dropping but the number using the computers is increasing.

One powerful message from the audience was the importance of the library to schoolchildren, people who are disabled and to many older people. It is very easy to access and has good transport links. It is also seen by many as the beating heart of our local community.

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