Barnet’s Tory councillors, determined to push through devastating cuts to Barnet’s libraries, were met with a lively and defiant protest on Monday 12 October.
An alliance of public service campaigners, library users, residents’ groups and Barnet Unison organised the mass lobby of the Council’s “Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding” (CELS) committee meeting to pile the pressure on the “flagship” cutting and privatising Tory council.
Loud chants led by John Burgess, Barnet Unison branch secretary, along with Christmas carols with improvised new lyrics of “Save our Libraries!” (repetitive but never boring!) lifted the spirits of campaigners and projected an unequivocal message.
The protest later reconvened in the public gallery of the Town Hall’s largest committee room which quickly became full up, leaving some campaigners waiting in the lobby for news.
Following a sham consultation in which Barnet Council tried to manipulate local residents into choosing between three options, all of which involved cuts to library staffing levels and floor space, the Council is proposing 46% staff redundancies and a 70% reduction in staffed opening hours.
Barnet, like other boroughs, wants more self-service and volunteer-run libraries. 10 out of 14 libraries will have massively reduced staffed hours (but an increase in unstaffed hours) and the other four have no paid library staff at all. Responses to Barnet’s consultation have overwhelming rejected the proposed cuts — in any option — and have called for a fully-funded, professionally-staffed service with no cuts or closures.
In the CELS committee meeting, Tory councillors failed to answer the objections and concerns raised both in public questions and by Labour councillors on the committee.
They pressed ahead with their brutal cuts proposal using their majority on the committee to pass it by 5 votes to 4.
However, pressure from the campaign pushed them into referring the proposal for a decision at a full meeting of Barnet Council on 20 October. If it passes, there will follow a 12-week consultation on the proposal and a final decision at another meeting of the Council.
The Tories have a wafer-thin majority of one seat on Barnet Council.
Library campaigners are hopeful that more pressure over the next few days may bring a much-needed victory in the fight to save Barnet’s libraries from the destruction the Tories seem determined to inflict.
• Save Our Libraries: Mass lobby of Barnet Council, Hendon Town Hall, NW4 4BQ, Tuesday 20 Oct, 6:00pm (Council meeting starts 7pm)
• For Barnet Unison’s response to Barnet’s Library Review see here