Category Archives: Libraries
“We were a group of adults and kids chanting outside the minister’s department, holding up our signs and singing through the megaphone. There were also kids who climbed up onto the stone wall and waved their signs and took turns with the megaphone, chanting.” — Raphael Marshall-Strang, age 9, describing the protest.
Children from Barnet with their parents and grandparents delivered an invitation to the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) to the new Culture Secretary, Jeremy Wright QC, to come on a tour of Barnet Libraries in September 2018. It was handed over to DCMS representatives Simon Richardson, head of libraries, who has been handling the Save Barnet Libraries’ complaint and his colleague Sheila Bennett, head of libraries strategy and delivery and head of the libraries task force team.
Erini Rodis of SBL, who attended the protest with her two children says:
“The protest went very well and we hope the new Culture Secretary will accept the children’s invitation to be shown around Barnet libraries. I think it would really help him to understand what it’s like when pin codes replace staff and children and many other vulnerable users have very little access to the library. We need the staff back”.
Rob Strang, who helped to draft the SBL complaint and attended the protest with his children says:
“We spoke to officials from the department who work on the libraries team, who assured us that they are taking our complaint seriously and treating it with care. But there is little evidence of those assurances in the actions of their political leaders. It has been 19 months since we made our complaint. The Council is in breach of its obligation to provide a comprehensive library service. The Secretary of State has a statutory duty to enforce that obligation. When will the Ministers observe the law and take up their legal duties?”
Emily Burnham of SBL who attended with two of her children says:
“We have submitted substantial evidence to DCMS and it’s time for an answer! We hope that the new Culture Secretary will realise that access to staffed libraries is a crucial issue. We know that library use has dropped drastically over the past year. Last year’s summer reading challenge failed – there were only 1500 entries compared to 4000 the year before the services were cut. Hugh Vivian, the head teacher of Hollickwood Primary in N10 wrote to DCMS saying that he had to send families to the libraries in nearby Haringey because of the lack of provision in Barnet! Of the 187000 library card holders in the borough, only about 18000 have applied for a pin code to use the unstaffed libraries– that really shows how off-putting the new system is.”
Emmanuel Amevor who attended the protest with his grandson says:
“My grandson was a regular user of our local library on Golders Green Road, before we were locked out. We were very happy to be part of the noise making on this protest. We hope the powers that be will take notice”.
Umeyma Sahal age 16, who has just finished at the Archer Academy, couldn’t attend the protest but is keen to show her support:
“In the house it’s quite noisy so the library would be the perfect place to study. I tried to use it but with the new pin code system I needed to get permission from the school and my parents before I could get in. I had enough to think about with studying for my exams and I ended up using the school classroom to do my GCSE revision instead.”
Children who attended the protest say:
“Before the demonstration all the children signed an invitation to ministers, inviting them to take a tour of Barnet libraries. We took it to the demonstration and gave it to the minister’s office.” Alma Marshall Strang age 11 from East Finchley.
“I hope the Culture Secretary comes down to visit us so we can show him around. I am about to go to secondary school but I still can’t get in to my library most of the time” Jake Moss, 11 years old, East Finchley
“Are we going to come and shout at the government every year? It’s not fair to be locked out of the library just because my mum forgot her card. My friend has a library card but his mum doesn’t go because she works so they can’t go into the library” Gabriel Rodis, age 6 pupil at Martin Primary School.
“I can walk home alone from school but I’m not allowed into the library on my own? Really? That’s so stupid!” Tommy Gubbins age 9 pupil at Martin Primary School.
“I’ve recently got back my GCSE options – now I need to put in hard work. I was hoping I could do it at the library but I’m under age and I can’t get in most of the time. And they’ve got rid of the study space too.” Sahr Kamanda age 14 pupil at The Compton School.
“My brothers and I used to do Kumon at the library every week and take out books too. Now Kumon doesn’t happen there anymore and I go to the library a lot less. It just isn’t the same as it was before. My mum ends up buying me more books but I can’t try them out first like I used to.” Siah Kamanda age 8 pupil at Martin Primary School.
“Libraries help kids to learn about the world and their imagination” Isaiah Akuffo, age 8, pupil at Wessex Gardens Primary School.
“Why is the library always closed? I hope they listen to us” Lottie Pearson age 7 Martin Primary School.
Over 30,000 children in Barnet can no longer use their library service due to cuts and obstacles prohibiting reasonable access. They want to participate in the Summer Reading Challenge but Barnet’s cuts make it nearly impossible and last year Barnet’s participation dropped 63% because kids can’t get into libraries. The new Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright QC has the power to change this. Barnet’s children and supporters are gathering to ask he read the Libraries & Museums Act (1964) and use his powers to enforce their rights. The children warmly invite him to come to Barnet and see the impact library exclusion is having on them.
This arose because the Council were slow in providing Fires Risk Assessments (FRAs) for Libraries and in complying with the actions resulting from these assessments.
During 2017 Library buildings were altered as part of the Library Program. This included internal structural changes and the installation of technology to permit unstaffed opening hours. These changes meant that the building’s Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) needed reviewing and replacing.
In addition a new Library, Finchley Church End was opened in September 2017 which also required a Fire Risk Assessment
UNISON began asked the Council for these Fire Risk Assessment prior to library staff returning to each site and before the Libraries opened to the public.
However the Council only produced these FRA weeks and months after library staff and the public were admitted to the Libraries.
1. North Finchley Library reopened to the public on the 12th June 2017
The FRA issued on the 24th August 2017
2. Golders Green Library reopened to the public on the 3rd July 2017
The FRA issued on 10th August 20.17
3. Osidge Library reopened to the public on the 26th June 2017
The FRA issued on the 16th August 2017
The FRAs when they were produced identified a number of actions for the Council to carry out. The majority of these were described as a
- “…..a potential contravention of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, or a high risk to Health & Safety from fire”
The deadline for complying with most of these actions was three months from the issue of the FRA.
A few of the issues are listed below:
- Replacing Fire Doors at some with doors with the required level of fire Resistance
- Fire Refuge Area communication system not working at a number of sites
- The Emergency Lighting untested at a number of sites
- No record of the five yearly structural inspection of the external fire escapes at a number of libraries
- Incomplete Fire Safety signage missing at a number of sites
- Smoke seals needed for doors at a number of libraries
- Insufficient numbers of fire extinguisher at one site
- Fire extinguisher incorrectly mounted at a number of sites
- Fire door not closing correctly at one library
- Basement area at one library requiring upgrading to required level of fire resistance
- Width of staff exit at one site below recommendations
- Confirmation needed that there is fire separation in the roof void between the library and the commercial use area at one site
Barnet UNISON have been inspecting Libraries to see if the FRA actions have been carried out. In most cases these have not been completed. UNISON have raised this at a number of escalating meetings to the highest level and in our inspection reports.
But no real evidence was presented to Barnet UNISON by the Council that most of the issues had been resolved. Barnet UNISON informed the Council on a number of the occasions that if this continued we would be compelled to contact the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to report our concerns.
Despite this the Council failed to meaningfully respond and with regret Barnet UNISON reported our concerns to the Health and Safety Executive.
The Council have since then provided UNISON with a plan of works to act upon the FRAs but while this is welcome. These action should have been completed months ago.
The Council inaction has in UNISON view being largely caused by various Council/Capita management teams’ failure to take responsibility to have the Fire Risk Assessment in place in good time and to respond in sufficient time to resolve the problems identified in these assessments.
Barnet UNISON do not believe these failures have been due to library staff on site, who have reported these problems according to Council procedures and to their Trade Union , and who have themselves been put at risk by the Council.
Barnet UNISON will continue in our campaign to make Barnet Libraries safe for our members, all Library staff and the public.
To this end we call on the Council to:
- Ensure that libraries and other Council buildings have up to date FRAs in place before staff and the public are admitted
- Act speedily and effectively to comply with Fire Risk Assessments
- Review the management of Fire Safety arrangements and monitoring within the Council
- Work with UNISON and other concerned parties in addressing the risks and hazards in identified in Fire Risk Assessments.
Please note: The following services are provided by #Capita:
- Health and Safety
- Project Management
Please share this & help Save Barnet Libaries gather evidence on the impact of the libraries cuts. The Government is considering whether Barnet Council has broken the law which requires them to run “a comprehensive & efficient” library service. This follows from a formal complaint submitted to the Department for Culture Media and Sport by the Save Barnet Libraries campaign.
You can help persuade the Government to rule against Barnet Council by filling out this form on the SBL website >> And SHARE it!
The Council may not plan to close any libraries in the short or mid-term but what is being proposed will reduce their quality, accessibility and safety and to closures in the long term,
The Council are proposing to cut the staffing budget by 46%.
This means that around 30 library workers are now learning they will lose their jobs. These are men and women who have given years and sometimes decades of service to the people of Barnet.
This is poor reward to a workforce who have consistently achieved percentage scores in the high 90’s for good public satisfaction.
Such a cull of the library workers means that libraries will only be staffed for 30% of the opening times at the most. The Council claiming that self-service machines and to a less extent volunteer are adequate replacements.
The Council are relying on technology to control access to libraries.
People will swipe their library cards through an automatic gate to gain access during these times.
But under 15 years olds unaccompanied by an adult won’t be able to do this. So young people access to our libraries are being severely curtailed.
Leaving libraries unstaffed will put those using them at risk.
Monitored CCTV with a response time of thirty minutes is not a sufficient replacement for having staff on site who can prevent incidents escalating and who can respond immediately to emergencies.
But not only are human assets of the libraries being lost, the physical space is too.
Barnet libraries are to lose between 15 to 90% of their space. This means fewer items to borrow. Less space for computers and less space to host events such as story times or author events.
The people of Mill Hill, East Barnet, South Friern and Childs Hill will not even have the limited access library service available in the rest of the borough. Their libraries are to be handed over to voluntary groups, who will only be obliged to open for 15 hours a week.
The Council justify the wrecking of Barnet Library Service by a claimed need to save money. The intention being to reduce the library budget by 1.6 million pounds by 2019/20.
Yet the Council originally allocated over 6 and a half million pounds to restructure the library service. Recently we have learned that over 14 million pounds are to be spent on library procurements in the next financial year. This is a lot of money to be spent on reducing the assets, efficiency, accessibility and safety of a service.
These changes will lead to a decline in use.
Why would you use a library that won’t have the books you want, where no help will be available, not enough computers available, where there will be no room to sit and study and where you will feel unsafe?
Barnet UNISON hope that this decline will not be used as an excuse by the present administration to close libraries a few years from now.
Instead we ask that the Council withdraw the plans for restructure and to engage in real consultation with library staff at all levels, and the people of Barnet on how to provide a Library service fit for the 21st Century.”
Barnet Council Policy & Resources Committee meets at Hendon Town Hall at 7 pm on Thursday 2 December 2016.
It is Agenda Item 10 – Annual Procurement Forward Plan which has caused anger and dismay and disbelief.
Scroll down to point 17 in the procurement plan it reveals proposed spend on Libraries construction of £12 million with additional items 18-25 showing an additional £2.125 million for additional associated costs:
Making a total of £14.125 million.
A quick recap on other Barnet Council spend.
Below are the Agency/Consultancy figures for the last four years.
Making a total of £59, 747,631 million
In the first two quarters of this financial year Barnet Council has spent £9.3 million which, if it continues at this rate, will bring the total spend for this year to over £20 million on Consultants/Agency.
Barnet Council claims it is being forced into the Library changes by a need to cut £2,162 million from the Library Service budget by 2019/20.
Members and Barnet UNISON have been asking a very simple question:
“Is it true that in order to save £2,162 million Barnet Council are spending over £6 million (which does not include redundancy costs) on a project to close four public libraries (by handing them to volunteers), on a project that will restrict access for disabled people and children under 15 and are now planning to spend an additional £14,125 million on construction and associated costs (making a grand total of £20.125 million)?”
This latest revelation seriously calls into question as to why staff are being made redundant and why a service with a 97% Customer satisfaction is being brutally dismantled.
As far as Barnet UNISON is aware the £14.125 million construction and additional costs have never been disclosed in any of the reports going to previous Children’s Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committees.
What can we do?
There is still time to stop the destruction of the Barnet Libraries Service. Barnet UNISON will be speaking at General Functions Committee on Tuesday 6 December at 7 pm at Hendon Town Hall. The Leader of Barnet Council Richard Cornelius is on this committee. The committee could refuse to implement the redundancies which would save the Library Service.
Join Barnet UNISON on #6December
The next picket line by Barnet Library workers will be on Saturday 12th of November, 9am until Midday, at Hendon Library.
All friends and supporters of properly trained library staff for proper libraries should head along whenever you can on Saturday morning and show your support!