London library closures cost local council three times more than keeping them open
Two London libraries which temporarily closed in March due to budget cuts are currently costing up to three times more to guard than they did to keep open, according to a Freedom of Information request.
Lambeth council paid private security guards £2,212 a day to secure the two sites, when previously the running costs – according to the council’s budget – was just £874.
This didn’t include spending on books and computers services, but those expenses are taken out of another budget, according to the Guardian which obtained the data about the Carnegie and Minet libraries.
The FOI only covers the time from 31 March, when the libraries closed, and 15 April, when the request was made. But in those 16 days alone the Labour-led council spent £35,392.68 guarding the two sites.
However, a council spokesman says the claim is inaccurate. He said: “We are working across the board to achieve the huge savings required in response to a 56 per cent Government cut to our core budget.
“To balance the books, between 2010 and 2018 we’ll have had to make savings of more than £238 million, and in the last financial year Lambeth council cut 500 jobs.
“That programme includes saving £800,000 from our annual libraries budget this year. Fortunately we have found a variety of ways of keeping all our libraries open, including handing the running of one branch to a community trust and potentially adding a gym to two others which will re-open, for longer hours, as soon as possible.
“We acknowledge changes to library services have raised concerns, including a costly library occupation, but the council is doing what it can to maintain services, protect those most in need and make the required cuts.”
Initially the majority of the security costs – £25,000 – were spent at the Carnegie library in Herne Hill, south-east London, as local residents were occupying the building, the Guardian says.
However, even when the occupation ended the daily security cost of £,1382 was still apparently three times higher than the daily running costs, while guarding the nearby unoccupied Minet library were almost double the previous running costs at £677 a day, the paper said.
The two sites are intended to be re-opened next year as “community hubs” – part private gym, part unstaffed library, but the Guardian says building work on the two sites has yet to begin.
The closure of the two libraries was widely criticised, in part because of the timing, just ahead of the exam period for students, and also because many feel an unstaffed library hardly fulfils the role of a staffed one.
The 40 people who were initially occupying the Carnegie library received a letter of support at the time from 220 writers and illustrators, including Nick Hornby, David Nicholls, David, Ian Rankin, Sandi Toksvig and Sophie Kinsella.