As expected Councillor Powney’s explanation for the library closures in Brent has caused a fair few responses.  As promised, this post publishes them all.  Taken together, they show how far apart the two points of view are in the borough and the depths of feeling caused by the closure of libraries.

Kensal Rise

There is a sense from the Kensal Rise campaigners of, shall we say, a certain lack of disbelief in the genuineness of Brent Council’s willingness to listen to local people about what they need and desire. Margaret Bailey from the Save Kensal Rise campaign notes that:

“There are so many elements in his interview that sound ‘reasonable’ until you remember the last two years. The … ‘consultation’, their constant justification for their own behaviour/plans, their constant  denigration of people in this community, their apalling vindictiveness which seemed to be the major motive behind their actions, especially their actions about making sure the library returned to All Souls rather than letting the community have it (with All Souls blessing). Never was there any attempt at sitting down with us and working out a solution. It was hostility all the way, and I notice in his interview he still can’t refrain from that distancing description of us as ‘some campaigners’ etc.”

Another Kensal Rise campaigner responds:

“Brand values are irrelevant in social service and gives an indication of how misguided Brent’s library ambitions are. For perception and not community benefit. Also at the end he “points out” that the transformation project was not purely budget driven (duh!). This simple admission contradicts his entire introduction where he patronises us as not understanding the depth of the cuts. This (as we know) was an ideological decision about an idea for bigger, better, and fewer libraries. And exactly why, when the financial burdens were removed from the equation, we were all denied an opportunity to keep our libraries. And why we were not even given a chance. Powney has forgotten that he is a servant of the people and that our voices deserve respect, consideration, and not ridicule. Our disagreements deserved dialogue and not disdain. His behaviour towards us, his constituents, has been shocking. “


Philip Bromberg, Chair of the Friends of Preston Library and a member of Brent SOS libraries writes:

“I agree with Mr Powney that libraries must remain a free and universal service. Can a service really be described as universal when it is clearly unavailable to large numbers of its former users? We now have usage figures for the eleven months since Brent closed six libraries last October: numbers of visits, and of books issued, are consistently down. Between October 2011 and August 2012, Brent libraries issued some 200,000 fewer books, and received some 300,000 fewer visits than in the same period the previous year.

Powney may (or may not) be right in saying that as ebook lending increases, visits will become a less valuable indicator of performance. But, as things stand, ebooks form a tiny part of Brent’s lending (three or four hundred a month, or around half a per cent of the total), and the 25,000 lost visits per month represent people who have simply been deprived of access to the library service. A telling figure here is that a majority – 54% – of the active borrowers from the six closed libraries have not used another Brent library since the closures.

Mr Powney favours ‘excellent buildings in accessible locations’, and I don’t disagree with him. My own local library at Preston Road, a purpose-built 1960s building next to a busy shopping street served by several buses and a tube station, used to receive some 2000 visits per week, and had a very high rate of book issues. A high proportion of users were elderly people and children; some will take the tube or the bus to another library, but many won’t. The library building currently stands empty, and this is in an area (the NW of the borough) with (as Mr Powney accepts) increasing population density and increasing levels of deprivation. Very similar considerations apply to Neasden Library, which Brent refurbished at a cost of (from memory) over £300,000 shortly before closing it.

Brent (as Powney points out) is not unusual in having to make huge and painful cuts in spending, but unlike many other councils (Labour Lambeth springs to mind) Brent has chosen to completely ignore the clear views of its library users. I’m not aware of a single significant change made to Brent’s plans as a result of its ‘consultation’. Instead, Brent has given away buildings in Kensal Rise and Cricklewood worth several million pounds. The building in Barham Park, whose use is restricted and which Brent cannot dispose of, stands empty. And in the NW of the borough there is now a huge hole in library provision, and a correspondingly huge drop in library usage. The good news is that Mr Powney is now an extremely isolated figure who enjoys virtually no support even within Brent Labour Party. We will get our libraries back.”

Brent Library Campaigner Francis Henry of Daniels Estate Agents has criticised James Powney for his arrogance and lack of understanding of the local communities across Brent who are determined to reopen their local libraries for the benefit of local people:
“As a parent I know how important it is for my children to read and how valuable the local library is. Our small Barham Volunteer library in Wembley High Road proves the point by attracting children and their parents keen to enhance their childrens’ knowledge and reading skills”.
In responding to the Labour Councillor’s points Francis Henry said:
Q1. The Labour policy of closing half of Brent Libraries has left large areas of Brent WITHOUT the community space, study space, venues for arts and centres for advice that Powney talks about. Why should local taxpayers in Sudbury, Neasden, Cricklewood, Tokyngton, Preston and Kensal  Rise be asked to pay for Library Services when they have been taken away from them!
Q2. The ebook issue is irrelvant. Libraries are much more than just about books. It is the wider ‘community centres’ that have been lost as a result of closing 6 community libraries.
Q3. How did Labour managed to find an extra £420,000 for ward working funding in its last Budget and at the last moment – while claiming that there was No money for libraries? The money argument was just a lie.
Q4. As over 50% of the active users of the closed libraries were children and young people it is NOT acceptable that they should be asked to travel 1.5 miles each way to access a library. In any case 1.5 miles was never an acceptable distance standard and only a figment of Powney’s warped imagination.
Q5. The great majority of the people responding to the Council consultation were opposed to the Labour library closure plans. Why bother to consult if you have no intention of listening to local people.
Q6. Local Volunteers are just as capable of providing an excellent service as paid for staff. The Labour Council’s refusal to support library volunteers is a disgrace. Powney deserves to be sacked for his insulting behaviour towards library campaigners.
Q7. Sadly the figures speak for themselves. Since Powney closed the 6 libraries the number of visist and loans in Brent libraries has gone down. Many thousands of past library users have lost out and stopped using Labour’s elitist service.
Q8. Jeremy Hunt has been more than useless and hopefully the new Secretary of State will recognise that Brent cannot provide an acceptable library service from just 6 libraries. One thing is for certain and that is the library service is NOT safe in Powney’s hands.
Q9. It is pointless to open the few remaining libraries for 7 days per week when most people cannot get to them. Labour have made a pigs breakfast of the Willesden redevelopment costing us one of the few bookshops in Brent, a great deal of uncertainty and delays. Once again local people are not being listened to as Powney is allowed to do as he pleases to the detriment of the services to local people.
What local people actually need is a local Library that serves the local community and provides a range of shared service supported by local volunteers. Supporters of Brent Libraries are united in their wish to see the back of Powney and his destructive library policies.

Ian Clark

My fellow Voices for the Library campaigner and Infoism blogger comments:

Powney: “But you should not refuse to do something because you are afraid of controversy. You should only refuse to do something if you think it is the wrong thing to do.”

Ian Clark: What about democracy and representing the will of the people?

Powney: “Brent Libraries will have more book loans and library visits in 2014/15 than we had in 2011.”

Ian Clark: In terms of visits, if the libraries are shared services, how will you possibly be able to tell that the actual library has had more visits than in 2011?

Trevor Craig

“How about Brent sharing a chief exec with neighbouring boroughs rather than paying theirs 194k a year? Or how about cancelling the LGA subscription, which is one part of government lobbying another with our money? I would imagine those would save a couple of the Libraries. It must be great for Labour they know they can close libraries, blame the Tories and get away with it. To many career politicians with no experience of the real world, that the biggest problem we face, not the cuts.”


The case presented above is quite frankly, a joke.
I used to live very near to Brent (fortunately not in it) but used their libraries. I note these points:
– The six remaining libraries are WAY too small to run a decent service from. For example, Kingsbury Library Plus (opened only a few years ago) is very small and built in two/three shop units knocked together. This provides only a small number of books, and most importantly, no room for expansion. All the books I wanted from here I had to get ordered in from Wandsworth/Redbridge/Hackney etc. (Every time at a cost of £1) I feel this is similar picture for a number of the remaining libraries. I’ve been in to some of the libraries remaining. There’s no study space. Two of the libraries are in the process of being replaced (Town Hall and Willesden), therefore giving a complete gamble as to whether these libraries will be a success or not. The new Civic Centre library, in my opinion, will be in a rather isloated location not near to shops etc. I’m not sure about the entire country, but I like to visit the library when doing other business in town, for example visiting the bank or the supermarket. It’s not too often I leave the house with the sole purpose of going to the library. You’re running a complete gamble over the success of the service.
– Many councils (Southwark, Lambeth…) are facing similar, if not deeper cuts but are retaining their libraries and finding other ways to save
– The council were determined to CLOSE all the libraries. Camden had tough cuts, too, but allowed the communities to take over the three libraries it wanted to close, this is similar to cases in Lewisham and controversial cases, eg. Gloucestershire. Why couldn’t Brent have handed over libraries to the community? I can’t see any need for the council’s determination to close the libraries other than to make a political statement.
– The council didn’t have to go for the most closures – few other options were considered. (Privatisation/other cuts/combining services with other boroughs…)
– Brent have recently splashed out on an expensive, and rather ugly new logo. For what purpose?! I don’t understand why they can afford to do that but not invest in key public services.
– It is stated that the decline in visits etc could have been bigger if opening was cut. There is no evidence for this given. I can provide evidence to the contrary – Hertfordshire cut opening by about 30-40% but haven’t noticed this sort of decline. If the council consulted properly with communities to find the best opening hours, they could have cut at times not being used so well, minimising the impact.
– You say that Brent has good public transport. True, in some ways, however, even in the report given to cabinet, you admit Cricklewood library was in a more isloated area near very limited public transport.
Also – do I really want to go to the expense of return bus fare (£1.35 each way) just for a trip to the library?
– 82% of people said THEY DIDN’T WANT THIS. What kind of democracy is this when the VAST majority of people are ignored?
– Court costs in crushing the protestor’s case were a significant fraction of the “savings” produced by closing the libraries.
– Neasden was recently refurbished so would have counted, in theory, as one of your new libraries. Despite spending tax payers’ money, you still closed it.
– Your figures about people living within 1.5 miles of libraries in a neighbouring borough don’t seem to take in to account the fact that these boroughs have similar cuts and may close libraries. There was no clear research in to plans for closures (eg Ealing was considering closing Perivale) Also, Barnet requires you to live/work/study in Barnet to join. Why should these other councils pay out so you can cut costs?

Shame on you Brent. Why aren’t you working WITH communities to provide them what THEY want?”

Christopher Pipe

With the one positive comment on the piece, Christopher says;

“I am not at all familiar with the geography of Brent, so cannot comment on the branch library closures, but how one wishes that councillors in other authorities had half the understanding of library matters that Cllr Powney evinces!”