you really need to know about the future of Bexley’s Libraries is listed in the
panel alongside. They are Cabinet Member Craske’s proposals but like all
proposals they are adopted unanimously because Public Cabinet is a bit of a
sham, everything is rehearsed and agreed beforehand.
Just as well perhaps or they would continue into the early hours.
Councillor Craske covered the main points in ten minutes with only minor repetitions and deviations from the theme. Just imagine what a meal Councillor Leaf would have made of it. To his credit Councillor Craske made his points without a prolonged slagging off Labour Councillors, something Leaf failed to do later.
So what did the old rogue have to say following the 2,461 representations from members of the public? He began by thanking all and sundry including the unions.
He claimed to have read all the public comments and 56% of people didn’t like the proposed loss of evening opening so it is retained. 47% of people were happy to see Central Library shut on Sundays but 14% didn’t care either way; so it shuts. No one much liked self-service libraries so that will become a feature of Saturday only but some staff will continue to be on site. To pay for these ‘improvements’ over the original proposals, libraries other than Central will be closed on two days a week Monday to Friday instead of just one.
He said that 98·5 % of residents live within a mile and a half of a library and reminded everyone that books and newspapers can be downloaded via Apps (Libby and Press Reader respectively) at any time. Libraries per capita is the third highest in London.
For reasons unknown Councillor Craske compared present day libraries favourably with Erith’s library in the 1920s where book browsing was not permitted. Interesting but barely relevant to his proposals.
Another sting in the tail is a grant reduction of 20% to community managed libraries instead of the proposed 100%. Was that a preposterous ‘Aunt Sally’ set up by Councillor Craske to be ceremoniously knocked down? He has form for that sort of thing. (There are more!)
The overall savings will be £575,000. Since that calculation was made four library posts have been hit under the Medium Term Financial Strategy.
Deputy Leader Louie French spoke briefly on the same subject and seemed to be a little upset by “people who play political games” with libraries. He mentioned them twice but we were left to guess who they might be.
Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer reminisced about the last Library changes when he was in charge and said that Bexley Council always listens to its residents. True maybe in this case.
Other Councillors who spoke in favour of the changes, two weekday closures excepted perhaps, were Seymour (Conservative, Crayford) and Hackett (Independent, Thamesmead East) and Diment (Conservative, Sidcup).
Councillor Stefano Borella broadly backed the changes on behalf of the Labour Group although didn’t miss the opportunity to say that the revisions are cuts which add to the the cuts made last year and earlier. It’s true; and so is Covid and Bexley’s past financial mistakes.
Note: The percentage figures above are taken from Deputy Director Ainge’s report to better illustrate Councillor Craske’s report. Toni Ainge who has featured on these pages for more than ten years is leaving the Council for pastures new in Southwark and various Councillors paid credit to her work.