The discussion on the future of Bexley’s libraries began before the mass
exodus of the Old Farm campaigners had completed so the beginning of Deputy
Director Tonia Ainge’s address to cabinet was lost beneath the sound of shoes on wooden floor and
the shrill but succinct shout of “absolutely wonderful to see democracy in action”.
Libraries do of course have to change with the times, few would dispute that. My usage has dropped from every Saturday morning, 30 odd years ago, to none at all. However Bexley’s choice of which libraries it should cut adrift was arguably strange, in Blackfen in particular.
Ms. Ainge said that the main proposals were…
• The New Generation Church would run Blackfen Library.
• Bostall Readers’ Group would run their local library. (Note: Otherwise known as Bostall Library Community Group)
• Eco Communities would take over in Northumberland Heath.
• Eco Communities and Age UK would take over Belvedere Library. (Note: Woodlands Academy Trust is also involved)
This is yet another service that falls within cabinet member Craske’s remit and he spent rather a long time thanking everyone who had helped him reach the present position and praising the track record of Eco Communities in Slade Green.
The New Generation Church was similarly praised to the heavens and the Reader’s Group had a number of innovative ideas including being a parcel collection point - for your Amazon book deliveries presumably.
Cabinet member Philip Read felt it necessary to say a few words. Spiteful words obviously.
He criticised the opposition parties for being sceptical about “viable community options”. They wished to see the libraries “fail or close”.
Councillor Alan Deadman (Labour leader, North End) said he was surprised no one had mentioned the issues there had been with the existing Eco Communities run libraries. He wasn’t very specific about those problems, only an unpaid phone bill was mentioned, but it has been reported before how Eco Communities open late and don’t pay bills on time. He urged the cabinet to allow Ms. Ainge to tell them the whole story. Fat chance!
Councillor Seán Newman (Labour, Belvedere) asked for clarification over the emphasis of the word Free in the Bostall proposals but not the others. What did that imply and what about non-core service including IT?
He was concerned too that a religious group may be tempted to not stock books that might offend the faithful. The church’s mission statement referred to sinners. There were also gender specific comments which might be worrying.
Ms. Ainge said all the libraries would offer free membership and she would ask the group about their gender specific activities.
Cabinet member Don Massey didn’t think the group, based on their activities in schools, would be be too strict on religious matters.
Councillor Colin McGannon (UKIP, Colyers) commended the proposals. Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) offered conciliatory words too. Eager to get in on the act, Councillor Melvin Seymour (Conservative, Northumberland Heath) said much the same thing. “It was a really good result for the borough.”
The vote produced unanimous assent because the cabinet always vote that way after discussing their own ideas, but this time, compared to losing a library, it looks like a very definite win win situation.