Having previously promised that residents would be able to choose between keeping Gants Hill Library as a library or replacing it with a Hub, the Leader of Redbridge Council is now seeking to renege on his promise to hold a Consultation which gives residents a real choice as to whether they want the hub or retain the library, by not including the option to retain the library in the ongoing consultation. Will you stand up for Barkingside residents and, in keeping with your promise to protect culture including libraries in your answer to question 2019/9294, seek to persuade Redbridge Council to keep the library? Will you also provide further support to the library via the Good Growth Fund?
Thank you, Chair. Libraries across London play a hugely important role in local communities, offering places to meet, learn and connect, often supporting some of our most vulnerable Londoners. Local authorities have a statutory duty to provide a library service. It is a matter for each authority to decide how this is delivered.
However, achieving this has been made hugely challenging due to swingeing cuts to councils’ funding. The Government has reduced funding by close to 60% since 2010. Rob Whiteman, CEO of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accounting (CIPFA) recently said that libraries are - and I quote - “a canary in the coalmine for what is happening across the local government sector” and - and I quote - “a lack of funds is forcing many councils to be creative in how they deliver their services”. Just under 1,000 of the country’s public libraries have been closed since 2010.
Despite this, the London Borough of Redbridge has pledged to retain all 12 libraries in the borough. With such severe Government cuts, innovation and modernisation is vital to ensure residents have access to libraries in the future. It is worth reminding the Assembly that Redbridge Council is keeping more of its libraries open than its neighbouring Havering Council and Redbridge has not closed a single library despite Government cuts.
I am assured by Redbridge that Gants Hill Library will not close. It will become part of a community hub, bringing library services alongside other council services under one roof, and benefiting many more people. The local community is actively involved in the hub. The City Hall Social Integration Design Lab is providing support for the new space, as well as for four other community hubs in Redbridge.
My Good Growth Fund has awarded £51 million since 2016 and has recently reopened, making a further £20 million of funding available. I have already funded two projects that support the development and innovation of additional services linked to libraries through my Good Growth Fund. Any council is welcome to contact my team, who will provide support and advice to all Good Growth Fund applicants in developing their proposals.
While libraries play an important community role, they are also an economic enabler. Earlier this week, working with the British Library, we launched Start-ups in London Libraries, which supports aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs across 10 London boroughs. I remain committed to supporting them to innovate and deliver for their communities.
Could I ask you, Mr Mayor? I know you are very friendly with Councillor [Jas] Athwal [Leader, Redbridge Council] and that is a good thing. Could I ask you to encourage him to keep the promise that he made to the people of Redbridge that when he did the consultation on the library, one of the options would be that the library be kept as it currently is? The consultation that is out at the moment does not give people the option to retain the library as it is. It talks about all the good things that the hub may provide and I am not against the hub. I am just saying that people were promised that there would be a choice of either having the hub and the extra 100 apartments and the other facilities that that might provide or keeping the library and the carpark. That is not in the consultation.
I am asking you, Mr Mayor, if you would use your good offices to have a friendly word with your friend Councillor Athwal to see if they would redo the consultation but include in that consultation a real choice of either keeping the 1930s library and the carpark or going for the offer that is the hub.
Chair, the Council is consulting on its plans but, as I have explained, the economic context is one that it has to take into account. One of the things I would hope it would do is to make sure that the offer local residents receive is better after the plans are developed rather than less good. I understand that libraries are crucial lifelines for many, particularly poorer people who do not have space in their homes for books and all the rest of it. It is really important that there is an improved offer if possible. I hope any consultation is meaningful and genuine and I am positive that this very good Council Leader will make sure he listens to his constituents. I also am aware that the excellent local MP Wes Streeting is also working with the Council to make sure residents have their views heard. I am sure that working together they can get the best deal for local residents in the context of the massive cuts since 2010.
The question I put to you again, Mr Mayor, is: will you speak to Councillor Athwal and ask him to redo the consultation with an option to retain the library so that we have a genuine consultation? I am not saying we should keep the library. I am not saying we should not do the hub. I am just asking for a genuine consultation that gives people a choice.
Sure. Let me be clear, Chair. Chair, it is my fault. I did not hear properly the question.
I have no intention of asking the Council to redo the consultation. It is really important that the consultation is done properly. I hope it is done properly the first time around.
What I would recommend to the Assembly Member is to respond to the consultation to make sure he has his views heard by the Council and tries to influence the consultation. While he is at it, can he also speak to Havering, where there are fewer libraries than there are in Redbridge?
I am saying that it is really important, Chair, for the people of Redbridge and neighbouring boroughs who use the library to respond to the consultation. It is really important for them to be aware about some of the tough choices made by good councils in the context of 60% cuts since 2010.
I am really reassured by the fact that no libraries have been closed despite massive cuts from central Government. I am reassured by the fact that local authorities have to be creative when it comes to keeping libraries open. Also, as I have announced in my original answer, from City Hall, we are trying to help libraries do even more by having facilities for entrepreneurs to be in libraries to start up businesses. That will be another service that libraries can offer, which provides a revenue stream and support for libraries to be even more successful going forward.