Thursday 22 October 2015

A tendency to disagree: or Full Council, and how to kill a library service, the Broken Barnet way

Next door to the Town Hall, in the Burroughs, where all Barnet council meetings take place, stands Hendon Library. Another pleasing example of the buildings which are now part of a conservation area, and central to the history of our borough.

Not just in terms of the architecture, but because of the people who have worked there, over the decades, and played their own role in the story of what we are now, and everything we stand to lose, if the latter day heirs of our corporate administration are allowed to continue in their relentless policy of mass privatisation.

The Town Hall would have been sold off, had it not been listed, and protected from most forms of development, but now is a Town Hall in name only, used by Middlesex University by day, for council meetings at night. And next door's Library is about to become one in name only too, like the rest of our library service.

How sad to look at Hendon Library as it is now, and consider how it will be - and remember how it was.

Built in 1929, this was the borough's central branch, with a reference library, a music library- and of course a children's library.

Hendon's children's library was designed and developed by a pioneer librarian, and story teller, Eileen Colwell, the 'doyenne of children's librarianship' in Great Britain: a woman who devoted forty years of her life to her work at Hendon, and became widely renowned, and much respected for her professional achievements, on a national and international scale.

This is what the Telegraph had to say about her career, in the obituary published in 2002:

Eileen Colwell, who died yesterday aged 98, was an author and librarian and one of the founders of the children's library movement; her knowledge of children's literature was unrivalled and she was much consulted by book publishers, translators and library administrators who came from all over the world to study her methods.

In the 1920s, when Eileen Colwell first became a librarian, there were no children's sections in libraries, and the presence of children, especially young children, was discouraged. She considered it of vital importance that children should have access to books from an early age, and that their first introduction to literature should be a pleasant one.

The Guardian's obituary observed:

... in 1926 Eileen saw the answer to her prayers in a newspaper advertisement for a post at Hendon, in north London: "Wanted, librarian to found library system - especially for children." She applied and was accepted, but on her arrival found "no books, no shelves, just a room".

Ever practical, she hand-picked an initial stock of 2,000 volumes, chosen with the help of Eleanor Graham and other friends, and set about laying the groundwork for a welcoming, inclusive children's library, full of colourful and interesting books.

Before long, Eileen's reputation spread, persuading other boroughs to follow suit, and her library - "I saw it built from the first brick" - established itself as a showplace. "Visitors," she said with justifiable pride, "always had Hendon on their list." She also initiated clubs and storytelling, and encouraged the children to chat about their books and help run the library. One of her many helpers was a boy burglar; another became a professor in California ...

She was, in short, responsible for the establishment of something of immeasurable worth: the creation of the very idea of libraries specifically for children, that promoted a love of reading, access to children of all backgrounds, lifting children out of the limitations of poverty, and endowing them with the opportunity for something better, through the world of fiction, and imagination, and education.

The achievement of Eileen Colwell in her work at Hendon Library set a standard of excellence throughout the country - but I was one of the first generation in this borough to benefit from that standard of excellence here, in Barnet's children's libraries.

How grateful I am to her: coming from a home where reading was encouraged, but books rarely bought: how else would I have discovered the love of reading, and the world of infinite possibilities contained within the power of the written word?

Storytime in Golders Green library, pic credit Museum of London

And now, how truly angry am I, to see those opportunities stolen from the children of succeeding generations, the children whose parents cannot afford to buy them books, the children now to be barred from unstaffed libraries, or libraries only at a long bus ride's distance from home?

I thought of Eileen Colwell, last night, at the beginning of the council meeting, at Hendon Town Hall, next door to Hendon library, during the address made by the Mayor's chaplain, Dayan Abraham, a thoughtful, conscientious minister, who clearly takes his role very seriously, and actually tries to inculcate, in the withered black hearts of the Tory councillors of Broken Barnet, some sense of moral purpose in what they do, on our behalf, as our elected representatives.

As you will know, this is a thankless task, and one with little prospect of success.

Mayor's Chaplain, Dayan Abraham

Rather to the surprise of all of us in the public gallery, and certainly to the lost souls sitting on the Tory benches, Dayan Abraham decided to give a short sermon on the duty of the council to observe their responsibilities as corporate parents, and their duty to provide the education that our children deserve, that they require, in order to become good citizens, citizens who are, as we are, united in diversity.

It was an impassioned speech: political, by implication, and no less effective for that. More effective, perhaps.

He mentioned libraries, specifically, and alluded to contentious issues, that needed to be resolved ... invoking the story of the judgement of Solomon.

The Mayor looked on in surprise, but perhaps not without some sense of amusement, at his chaplain's speech: the Chief Executive, normally so inert during these meetings, turned round, and regarded him with a fixed eye, and an expression of barely concealed astonishment.

But it was well said: what could be more important, than the wellbeing, and the education, of our children?

Well, hang on, Mrs Angry, you may be thinking: this is Broken Barnet, and things are ... more complicated, aren't they?

More important, in Broken Barnet/Capitaville, than the wellbeing of our children, is money, profit, and an ideological opposition to the very idea of public service, service that is accountable to residents through the democratic process.

The Mayor's chaplain had pleaded with councillors to remember their duties to the borough's children, to their education.

Education, to Barnet Tories, is something they like to claim as something they provide, to the highest standard, in this borough. They sit smugly in the council chamber, and congratulate themselves on the wonderful schools we have here - as if they had anything whatsoever to do with it.

The truth is that there are some good schools here: either highly selective schools full of pupils from all over London, or faith schools, or - God help us - academies, or free schools.

The selective schools take the top scoring children from the widest catchment areas - thereby tending to inhabit the top of league tables, and of course not as a result of  any value added acheivement.

There are also some pretty awful schools in Barnet, to which the less advantaged children inevitably are sent.

And it is those less advantaged children who rely on public libraries the most, for books and for study space, and for help, from qualified librarians. If the library plans go through, it will be the education of those children that will suffer, as they will find little space in the newly shrunk libraries, and will be completely banned from the ludicrous, 'open' or unstaffed branches.

Our philistine Tory councillors, sadly, do not understand the importance of culture, or education, or literature, or the imagination - or anything else you cannot round up, and put a price on.

And so we found ourselves, last Tuesday, facing the inevitable approval, by the Conservative led administration of Broken Barnet, of the most savage plans to destroy our library service, which only a Tory councillor would fail to see as a vital part of the educational and cultural foundation of the intellectual development of our children.

In the judgement of Solomon, the baby was to be cut in two, and divided up between the two women claiming it as theirs. The real mother's conscience would not allow that, and the baby was spared, and returned to her. In Broken Barnet, the baby, the library service, is to be slaughtered, anyway, due to the lack of any conscience on behalf of our corporate parents, our Tory councillors. And the chaplain's words, needless to say, fall on deaf ears.

Yet they were so terrified, some of these councillors, last week, of being personally identified with what they know is a vote losing policy, this unparalled assault on our library service, with a budget cut of 60%, that they chickened out of approving the plans at committee level, and referred it up to Full Council.


At this week's Full Council, then, the ineffable Libraries head, Tory Reuben Thompstone, stared straight ahead, and repeated, like a dutiful schoolboy,  the proposals to cut staffing by 46%, and hand the library buildings over to Capita, leaving a nominal service, provided, in many branches, by unstaffed opening hours, and employing, if that is the correct term, the 'enthusiasm of volunteers'.

      Reuben Thompstone

Mrs Angry and fellow blogger Mr Tichborne had much correspondence with Cllr Thompstone, last weekend, on the subject of voluntary work, which you can read here. In short, it would appear that Cllr Thompstone does not agree that he should act in any voluntary capacity in regard to his civic role, or indeed his own job as a teacher - but everyone else may happily see their jobs replaced by 'volunteers'.

There were no easy options, he told us, with the air of someone who had forgotten that this was because of the self-limiting rules he and his Tory colleagues had invented in order to sanction this brutal assault on our library service.

There was a curious silence from the Tory benches: they squirmed in their seats, knowing perfectly well that what they were doing was shameful, and even, from their own point of view, risking significant electoral damage, and many of them have privately expressed dismay over the plans - whilst lobbying frantically behind the scenes to get their own libraries protected - successfully in some cases, as you can see.

One or two pretended after the event that they might have voted against, or abstained, but didn't because Labour did not have a full attendance - but they would say that, wouldn't they? Cowards, all of them.

Labour's Anne Hutton highlighted the lack of vision for libraries shown by the Tory administration, the lack of any coherent business plan in regard to the current proposals, and put forward an amendment asking for at least a delay in the process, and reserves to be used to keep the libraries going until an alternative solution to the funding problem had been found. Pointless, of course, as the Tories are simply not open to alternative solutions, and if they were, their own senior management team simply wouldn't let them proceed.

Having referred the toxic library cuts plan up to Full Council, to spread the blame, and try to protect GLA hopeful Dan Thomas from the electoral fallout, our Tory members now sat back and handed the poisoned challice of speaking in favour of the proposals to their least experienced councillor. A stroke of genius, keeping the more prominent members safely out of the picture.

Step forward Val Duschinsky, from Mill Hill, who was very proud to be making her first speech - a 'maiden' speech, by yet another of the type of Tory matron that the party tolerates, amongst its ranks, rather than any younger and potentially less obedient woman, or one who might actually have any driving political ambitions, or new ideas. Odd that in the six months since the election this was the first time she had spoken, but still: what a privilege to begin in this way!

Against a volley of heckling from the small number of residents who can squeeze into the public gallery (the large overflow room was, well: overflowing), Cllr Duschinsky prattled excitedly on, telling us, for some reason, that she had been a primary school teacher (then you should be ashamed of yourself, yelled someone. It might have been Mrs Angry. Ok, it was Mrs Angry.) ... and complaining about the 'relentless negativity' of the opposition, and by implication anyone who objects to the destruction of our library service.

Duschinsky claimed that when she held her councillor surgery at her local library, there was often no one else there. Mrs Angry resisted the temptation to suggest that might be because everyone was hiding in the bushes outside, too scared to come in, and instead reminded her that libraries had been underfunded and the book stock halved, deliberately, over the last few years - this making libraries less appealing and appear to be failing, of course.

Mrs Angry also observed that the residents of Mill Hill would be bound to thank her for her efforts, at the next election.

Mill Hill's other councillors are no better, of course. Cllr John Hart confessed to Mrs Angry's friend Alice, earlier in the year, that he was all for the proposals, saying:

"... the library purchases are mostly Millsey Boonsey rubbish; few people visit the book shelves; the premises need to be put to better use (plus library use on a reduced scale); premises may well be disposed of to raise capital for other uses (sadly, not for Conservative councillors’ emoluments)"

And Sury Khatri is the man who agreed with Mrs Angry this year that the proposals were awful, but voted for them anyway. After voting for the Capita contract agreement, he expressed grave doubts about the deal, and the way in which Tory councillors were distanced from the process - but only when it was too late.

This is how they are, the Tories.

That Duschinsky, a former teacher, who might be expected to understand the enormous need for public libraries, easily accessible to children of all backgrounds, could so readily support these appalling plans, is shocking - although perhaps not, in the context of Broken Barnet.

Labour tried to speak against the inevitable approval: leader Alison Moore as usual complained the Tories knew the cost of everything, and the value of nothing. Reema Patel gave an impassioned, tearful speech, clearly distressed by what was being forced through.

As is usually the case, the best opposition speech came from sole surviving Libdem, Jack Cohen, who, no blushing maiden he, (so rumour has it), was making his 800th speech.

He observed that the Tories had been trying to close libraries for thirty years. This is absolutely correct: when Mrs Angry worked for Barnet Libraries, they wanted to shut at least three branches, but backed out because - can you guess? They were in Tory wards. One of them, the vanity project that is now Hampstead Garden Suburb library, was always top of the list, and a waste of resources, now happily retaining a subsidy from the council, so as to satisfy the residents whose voice is so much louder, even, than the dreadful noise problem now causing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis amongst the massed ranks of millionaire suburbanistas.

Please give generously.

Unless, like Mrs Angry, you do not give a flying f*ck.

Thank you.

Jack Cohen remembered the days when Barnet councillors actually took an interest in libraries, and books, and reading. Mrs Angry thought then about the councillors' own little library that was set up, in the members' room, so that our elected representatives could have first run at the latest best sellers, before the hoi-polloi could get their hands on them. And they were of course only best sellers, rather than anything with any intellectual content: oh, come on, what did you expect?

And Councillor Cohen recalled with affection the late Labour councillor Ellis Hillman, (the only Mayor to have been rated by Barnet Council's in-house chorus of disapproval, Mr Shepherd, who likes to point at Hillman's picture in the rogues' gallery of corporate fame that hangs along the corridors of the Town Hall, and tell you, with glee, that he was the only Trotskyite Mayor of Barnet - (So far, Mr Shepherd, so far, Mrs Angry always responds, with hands clasped, in fervent prayer ...)

Mr Shepherd, and Unison secretary John Burgess

When he took office, apparently, Ellis Hillman's first act was to clear out all relics of the sainted Margaret Thatcher from the Mayor's Parlour: it was even rumoured that an old friend offered him a bust of Lenin, to take her place.

Hillman used often to come in and chat to Mrs Angry at work in Golders Green library, as it happened: the most erudite and well read of men, he had a brilliant mind, and a breadth of knowledge that was quite extraordinary. What would he have made of the Tory attacks on our library service? I think I know.

He was also, as Jack reminded us, President of the Lewis Carroll Society, which was fitting, as last week's library committee had been apparently entirely enacted in the style of Alice in Wonderland, with Cllr Tombstone happily empowered by his own ability to believe at least six impossible things before breakfast, hence his keen support for the library proposals, based as they are on a fantasy business plan, supported by made up data, assumptions, invisible risk assessments, and crapitorial assurances that aren't worth the paper that, well - they're not written on.

They voted then, and not one Tory councillor abstained, or opposed the proposals.

Morally bankrupt! shouted the man next to Mrs Angry, in the public gallery.

He was right. He is right. They looked on, silently: knowing they have done something awful, and not one of them with the courage to follow their conscience.

The Tories tried to redeem themselves, in the latter part of the meeting, by a joint motion welcoming a small number of refugees to the borough - fifty in total. Big deal.

Mrs Angry noted, with wry amusement, that several of the Tory members kept looking in her direction, as if to say, look - see, here we are, demonstrating our compassion, even as we continue in our agenda of relentless war against the poor, here in Broken Barnet. Forget about the libraries, and the terrible thing we have just done: look at us, wringing our hands over an international crisis.

Some of the more politically sound Labour members tried hard to give the wider context to the refugee issue, and the failure of the Tory government to respond effectively to the international crisis, but of course this was not welcomed by their Conservative colleagues.

Tory leader Richard Cornelius made one of his curious speeches in support of the motion, an incoherent stream of pasted together phrases that meant nothing much at all, and in fact, on closer scrutiny meant nothing whatsoever. And unusually for the Leader, he ran out of things to say, and was clearly not inspired enough by the issue to have to worry about the red light ending his speech. Meh.

Still: We all come here from somewhere else, he said, rather mysteriously. In his case, it probably means he moved from St John's Wood to Totteridge - a journey of perilous danger, and hardship, for sure.

And - being nice to fifty people from Syria did not mean, he observed, with soothing words to those whom he thought might be worrying about it, that we were 'importing terrorism'. Phew!

The prematurely festive theme of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, however, clearly does not extend to women, that is to say German women, as the Tory leader now deviated into a swipe at the awfulness of the European Union, which is all the fault, of course, of a woman, and a German woman, at that, or 'Frau Merkel', as he likes to refer to her.

Cornelius, with masterly understatement, remarked on the novelty of a motion to council supported by all three parties. Well quite.

In fact, he reminded us darkly,  at some meetings, rather than what he would clearly prefer, a submissive consensus - there can be snipers ... and often, he added, somewhat sniffily - A Tendency to Disagree ...

Well, if only we would all just agree with them, our Tory councillors, and do as they say, without argument.

If only we could stop sniping, and being negative, and support their betrayal of the best interests of the people of this borough, their abandonment of the principles of public service, their fawning facilitation of private profit, at our expense, without complaint.

As Mrs Angry arrived at the Town Hall, on Tuesday night, one of the Tory councillors, former leader  Brian Salinger, was standing on the steps, sharing a joke with staff.

Mrs Angry had met Councillor Salinger in the supermarket, a few days earlier, (you can't push a trolley round Waitrose, North Finchley, without being pounced on by a Tory councillor: she once had a memorable encounter with veteran Tory Cllr Marshall by the nut counter, for example) - and had given him, at some length, the benefit of her views on the library cuts he and his colleagues were about to approve, despite the secret misgivings of many of them about the proposals.

He had had no real argument to offer, in defence.

As he stood on the steps now, she offered to take his photo, and he stood to attention, showing off his tie (he prides himself on his ties, and is always fondling them in front of Mrs Angry, for some reason), which was hand painted, you know, on silk. From somewhere in the Baltic. Lovely.

Mrs Angry admired the tie, but suggested the photo, bearing in mind the forthcoming vote, should be a commemoration of his status as library killer. He made the following gesture: Mrs Angry, having been educated in a convent, has no idea what it means, so please do let her know, if you do.

Councillor Salinger thought this was awfully funny, of course.

But the truth is, in regard to the library issue, as to all the other contentious issues that our Tory councillors vote through, in loyalty to party, rather than to their residents - they simply do not care, and here we see a moment's careless gesture speak more eloquently than anything else, as to exactly what they think.

Look at their faces, in the photo above, where they vote through the cuts. Some hiding their faces, others laughing. They know what they are doing, and they just don't give a damn.

This is not the end of the library story, however, quite yet.

Barnet will shortly begin another round of pointless 'consultation', after which, whatever residents say, they will go ahead, and force through the plans, more or less as they are now: brutal, mindless: the devastation of a once magnificent library service, destroyed by the policies of barbarians, at the behest of their own senior management, and the army of outsourcing consultants who plague this easycouncil borough. Remember this post, back in January, with the alleged overheard conversation regarding plans and yet more business opportunities to be screwed out of our libraries?

They will try to force the plans through: there will no doubt be attempts at legal challenge, and protests from residents, and perhaps some light tinkering with the plans, to make them appear less awful than they really are. But they will still be really, really awful.

Barnet Tories like to see our borough as the flagship of privatisation: a beacon of enterprise, in the evergrowing market that our plundered public services now provide.

Once upon a time, as Eileen Colwell might have begun one of her storytimes, in this borough, we were the flagship of something rather more worthy: the creation of a library service that excelled in giving the very thing Conservative philosophy pretends to want, the opportunity for children to learn, and play, and grow into happy, well educated and resourceful adults.

That was a dream, that became a reality, here in Broken Barnet.

Now we are living in Capitaville, and even our libraries must be turned to profit, or die.

Well: next May, voters will have the chance to express their views on library cuts, via the ballot box.

And this is one issue that will hang around the neck of Councillor and GLA candidate Daniel Thomas, right the way through his election campaign.

The Tory voters who are now coming to all the library meetings, and marches, and protests, are not going to forget what they have done.

And nor will the rest of us.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Point me to the skies: in which Mrs Angry goes to a council meeting, and pays tribute to Margaret Thatcher

Bloggers Mr Reasonable, Mr Tichborne, Mrs Thatcher, and Cllr Devra Kay

Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies; 

Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; 

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me. 

Last night's library cuts meeting presented something of a challenge, for Mrs Angry. Or rather, more than one challenge. 

How to write, and then present, a three minute speech, in defence of our library service, and deconstructing the sham reports and weasel words of the case for the destruction of said library service, at the committee table, without laughing, surrounded as she was by squirming Tory councillors, and grinning senior officers, while outside the window, library campaigner Polly Napper and her brass band played a particularly mournful version of ... 'Abide With Me'? 

Oh, and - dressed in Tory blue, whilst singing the praises of Margaret Thatcher.

Yes, this is still Broken Barnet, written by swivel eyed Trot, and Domestic Extremist, Mrs Angry. 

There has, however, been a problem with our standards of service delivery, and it is true to say that we have failed to reach our Key Performance Indicators. 

This will in no way necessitate any mitigation, in terms of our (non compliant) contract with Barnet Council, however, and the usual £32 million annual fee will be expected, plus a gratuitous, gainshare payment for value added, gratuitous innuendo. 

Read on.

The tune, of course, as Mrs Angry gleefully reminded the Tory members, played on the Titanic, as it sank slowly into the icy waters, on that fateful night, so long ago.

Libdem councillor Jack Cohen, sitting with Mrs Angry and Barnet Eye blogger Roger Tichborne, between reading the Racing Times on his ipad, and discussing onesies on twitter, could not help, at this point, reviving the long standing argument he has, with Mrs Angry, as to ... whether or not it was a problem with being wrongly riveted, or screwed, that spelt disaster for the Titanic. 

Can't remember which way round it was, now, but - whichever way, of course, Mrs Angry was right, and Cllr Cohen wrong. 

Still, riveted or screwed, last night, were we, Mrs Angry, you are wondering? 

Neither, as it happens. After a meeting attended by a huge number of angry residents, staff and library lovers, it was clear that our quivering Tory councillors, pale with fear, just wanted the night over and done with, and the blame taken out of their hands, into the collective responsibility of approval at Full Council.

As blogger Mr Reasonable so perfectly describes here, the meeting was not a forum of debate, nor intended to be: the Tories had decided their strategy beforehand, and went through the motions of the committee as peremptorily and quickly as possible, guided by the usual dismissiveness of Tory Reuben Thompstone, whose style of chairmanship is best illustrated by what happened at a meeting attended by disabled children whose respite care funding had been slashed by Tories, shortly after their pre-election council tax stunt.

Before the meeting, Tombstone had gone around with a clipboard (of course) checking on those of us who intended to speak, or had put questions to the meeting. Mrs Angry admired his new handlebar moustache, with curling ends, and enquired, with great curiosity, as to whether or not he waxed it, on a regular basis. 

The moustache, that is.

Like similarly handlebar moustachioed octogenarian Tory councillor, and silver fox, John Hart, a great admirer of Mrs Angry, and indeed, her friend Mrs A. Fulbright. So is Reuben Thompstone, for that matter. Or they were, until April 1st.

Tombstone looked at Mrs Angry warily, and indicated that he did. Wax it. 

Salvador Dali, commented Mrs Angry, mindful of the surrealist circumstances of this somewhat unexpected dialogue, but trying to be helpful, used to use jam

Or was it marmalade? Or, she thought, luckily before she said it out loud, was it something else entirely? 

No, that was a scene from one of your favourite films, Mrs Angry, and best not repeated. Do try to stay focused.

Barbara Jacobson, from Barnet Alliance, was up first, with her three minutes, which you can see here:


As usual she tore through the reports put to councillors, and as usual, the Tories simply failed to listen, with any objectivity, to the reasoned arguments she made.

Councillor Thomas, obviously desperate for ideas, poor boy, asked for help from Mrs Jacobson in finding alternative methods of finding the money he has apparently lost down the back of the corporate sofa, meaning that he now cannot cough up the dough to keep our library service going. She did her best to oblige.

As he spoke the band outside, in a rather unfortunate choice of music was playing: 'Oh Come Let Us Adore Him' ... Well: let's see, Come Next May, shall we, how Adorable you are, Cllr Thomas?

Then it was Mrs Angry's turn.


Here is the three minute speech, for what it is worth.

"This report before you, and its recommendations, are based entirely on a foundation of false assumptions, projections, and flawed evidence.

‘Modelled data’ – made up data - false assertions about ‘open libraries’: all of it carefully crafted to promote the argument, clearly rejected by your constituents, for savage cuts, despite the horrible truth, hidden from you, even as you go through the motions of scrutiny, that the savings you’re promised, and the standard of performance, never appear.

Yet again you’re asked to approve, in the pursuit of savings, huge outlays of capital in preparation of further privatisation of local services. Now it’s £6 million to cover a budget cut, made out of political choice, rather than necessity, of only £2.85 million. 

It is simply madness.

Why are you so easily persuaded by your officers, and the legions of consultants whose fees you so happily endorse, that it’s necessary to destroy our library service?

Because that’s what you’ll be doing: handing over 14 buildings to Capita, to be used for commercial purposes, with only a nominal service retained, excluding reasonable access to the vast majority of current users.

With this flawed report, if you approve these recommendations, you will make the authority vulnerable to lengthy, and costly legal challenge.

Why are you all so easily persuaded to act against the very principles in which you, as Conservatives, claim to believe?

Sanctioning these draconian cuts, Councillor Thomas, will expose you and your Conservative colleagues to the real risk of electoral failure in next year’s elections. (Not all bad news then).

Councillor Cornelius: you and your husband became involved in local politics because of proposals to shut your library, in affluent Totteridge. Now you are about to sanction the removal of library services from so many less fortunate residents, who so badly depend on access to books, and help from librarians.

Councillor Hart: after the death of Margaret Thatcher, you stated you were proud to be known as an ‘unreconstructed Thatcherite’. Well, tonight, I think it is fair to say that I am the real Thatcherite, sitting at the table.

Margaret Thatcher was of course the champion of ‘aspiration’, that ideal to which you all subscribe. 

In her memoirs she revealed that, in the era when she became the ‘milk snatcher’, she refused to allow library charges to be introduced, preferring to cut welfare spending:

I knew from my experience in Grantham, she wrote, how vital it is to have access to books

Her father was an ‘avid reader’, a ‘self taught scholar’ and Chairman, Cllr Thompstone, of the local Library committee, who would borrow a ‘serious’ book from the library every week for himself – and his daughter.

As a result, she wrote, I found myself reading books which girls of my age would not generally read …’

You’ve resisted any real threat to your own library in Edgware, Councillor Hart - the branch I depended on, as a child, in a house without books: every word I write now, as it happens, was formed by the reading material I found on the bookshelves of that library.

The price of maintaining your library, however, is that the children of the poor, in East Finchley , for example - in Strawberry Vale, the worst area of social deprivation in Barnet, and one of the highest in the country - will lose all but token access to the vital support that a library brings. 

Is that fair?

What would Margaret think about that, I wonder, Councillors?"

Well, Mrs Angry felt quite pleased with herself, to have out-Thatchered an Unreconstructed Thatcherite, and there was much amusement in the public gallery, and applause, and it was clear that when directly addressed, and held to account, the named Tory members were ... deeply uncomfortable. 

Mrs Angry also felt uncomfortable, in truth, having had to appeal to the very thing she detests the most: the cult of Thatcherism, whose shrine is here, in Broken Barnet, amongst her heirs and successors, who stalk the corridors of the Town Hall, still living, in their minds, in the glorious era of her ascendancy.

It should be noted, readers, that in order to research the material for this speech, Mrs Angry was obliged to read the early chapters of several biographies, and the autobiography, of the young Margaret Roberts. 

Having sat down to pre-order these volumes at the British Library, and finding them already in use by some other deluded reader, Mrs Angry was very grateful to find them ... in her local library. Where else?

And by the way: one of the very first speeches Margaret made in Finchley, you know, in February 1959, was in ... North Finchley Library. 

Oh, and Mrs Angry did some 'volunteer' shelving, while she was in her own local library, in Church End, just to show willing.

Back to the meeting. 

The aspirational Dan Thomas was clearly wishing he was not taking part in the proceedings, and was uncharacteristically quiet all evening: when Mrs Angry pointed out the impact that the Tory library cuts would have on his attempt to take the GLA seat from Labour's Andrew Dismore. 

The look on his face said it all: he knows it, and not even his half hearted comment, sotto voce to her at the table, you said that last year, was expressed with any conviction. 

He knows the truth, that although in the end the Tory MPs were returned in the last election, the library issue lost them many thousands of votes, caused them to panic, in the run up to polling day, and indeed, in the public gallery last night, and even outside in the demonstration, there were, quite astonishingly, perhaps, numbers of Conservative voting residents who not only objected to the library cuts but for the first time had come to a library meeting to witness their elected representatives in action - and taken part in a protest.

After Mrs Angry's speech, Tory chair Reuben Thompstone put the same question he had put to Barbara Jacobson, in boorish manner, demanding to know ... if we were going to volunteer at our local library. Outside, the band reverted to the beginning of its musical medley:

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me ...

It demonstrated, with perfect clarity, that he simply does not understand the objection to volunteer run libraries: that he and his colleagues have no grasp of the professional skills needed to run a library service, of their vital role in supporting the needs of users, and that no one with any decency wants to play their part in turning library staff out of their jobs, into a desperate future of unemployment and loss of livelihood.

Barbara responded in no uncertain terms, taken aback by such an aggressive and misjudged question: Mrs Angry, forewarned, suggested immediately that Reuben Thompstone might like to consider performing his role as councillor and chair of the committee on a voluntary basis, rather than raking in the massive allowances he enjoys, reminding him of one of his Tory predecessors, the widely respected Councillor Sussman, who gave years of service to the borough, seeing it as a civic duty - but never claimed a single penny in allowance.

And further, Mrs Angry, who, unlike Reuben Thompstone, has worked in public libraries and knows exactly what a difficult, but rewarding job it is, reminded him, she did enough voluntary work by the means of producing this blog, with all the lovingly chronicled reports of incompetence within the ranks of the current Tory administration. Reuben appeared to be less than grateful for this example of Big Society enterprise in action, it must be said.

Two questions from Labour councillors: what did Mrs Angry know about the claims made in the report regarding Scandinavian libraries, and the open model it describes, falsely, as being the 'standard approach' there. Mrs Angry pointed out that only one country in Scandinavia used this model, that is to say Denmark, and out of 500 libraries, only around 180 are of this type - and only in isolated rural communities. Nowhere comparable to the scheme proposed by this report, in terms of the context of an urban environment, or on such a scale, has ever been attempted - for good reason.

Another Labour councillor's question asked if she thought the earlier proposal to shrink libraries to 540 square feet had really been a serious consideration. Mrs Angry replied that it was quite obviously a scare tactic, meant to make the current almost equally bad shrinkage appear more acceptable - which of course it is not.

There was little time to put supplementary questions, to 134 written submissions, but we tried. Despite desperate attempts at evasion, it emerged that - yes, Crapita are in line to boost their profits from the already burdened taxpayers of Broken Barnet, by getting gainshare payments on top of their contractual fees, for managing the former library buildings, when they get their sweaty little hands on them. Kerrching! As for the new idea, by our warm hearted council, to make the children of Broken Barnet pay daily fines on overdue books, they hoped to make as much as £25, 000, in the next financial period. 

Marvellous: and how, asked Mrs Angry, will you enforce this? Will you annexe their pocket money, should they refuse to cough up? Or send round the Capita bailiffs? And what if there are not enough naughty children in Broken Barnet, keeping their books out too long, and you fail to squeeze enough cash out of them? What is the risk assessment in terms of such failure, seeing as your revenue projections depend on such certainties?

Ah: risk assessment ... for some reason, officers were markedly reluctant to answer any questions, no matter how many times you repeated the question, about this subject. It then emerged that the full risk register would now have to be made public because someone had FOI'd it. Good. Because really, it should have been part of the report, shouldn't it, so councillors could judge the case for the proposals.

Oh dear. A thought, readers: how awful it would be, if the reason the risk assessment was not made available was because ... the risks are ... sshhh ...  TOO HIGH!

The other glaring omission was anything other than a draft EIA, ie Equalities Impact Assessment. Whether this was deliberate, as clearly would be very useful, in getting the proposals past a committee, or just incompetence, is hard to say: more likely, this being Broken Barnet, to be sheer indifference.  

The greatest flaw in the report lies here, however, and for whatever reason. The impact of the proposals, especially the open library nonsense, will, without question, make a profound impact on the groups to which the Equalities Act extends a duty of protection. Young, old, sick, disabled, poor, or just different in some way: your rights to access to a library service are about to be stolen from you, courtesy of your Tory councillors. 

Some councillors are not fazed by the potential risks posed by open libraries, however. Dan Thomas dared to venture a point, not very strongly, as he was trying hard not to put his head above the parapet, that student libraries that are open for use when not staffed were ok, and therefore an unstaffed library in an urban part of London, late at night, was comparable. 

Councillor Helena Hart, however, having, as Mrs Angry pointed out in her speech, made sure her own library in Edgware was going to be just fine, was keen to try to present the open system as perfectly acceptable. Edgware, in a nice leafy suburb, had piloted a scheme of this sort: it has only run for three months, has had a pathetically low uptake, and yet was offered as proof of satisfaction.

Although there was some dissatisfaction expressed by the senior officer, regarding the exclusion of children from the open libraries, and some handwringing about perhaps it might be possible, in some future proposal, to address this; the safety aspects were dismissed by Councillor Hart, by implication, and on no good reason. That there have been no incidents yet is hardly evidence that bears relying upon - and residents in the room were furious. 

What will happen, if there is anti-social behaviour, or some sort of assault, or medical emergency: and there will be, as anyone who works in a library can testify?

How can lone women feel safe in such an environment, especially at night?

Who will help, should there be any sort of trouble?

There is CCTV, we were told - well, yes, but not live, shouted residents.

Councillor Hart did agree, somewhat primly,that it was unfortunate that there would be no toilets available in the new open libraries. 

But she wanted to make the point that Even Before the pilot scheme had been in place, the toilet had often been out of order because ... because ... and here she prepared herself for an immersion in vulgarity, like a staff nurse putting on rubber gloves, to clean out a bedpan ... because of ... Misuse.

Councillor Hart's face indicated, in no uncertain terms, that this ... misuse ... amounted to some unmentionable horror, possibly worse than, say ... the toilet seat left standing. 

Perhaps  ... an act of contempt, left on the floor, as a souvenir, in time honoured fashion?

Still, thought Mrs Angry: if so, a perfect metaphor, in its way, for what the Tories want to do to our library service, is it not?

They never shit on their own doorsteps, after all, but prefer to leave the dirty stuff dumped on those whose opinions count for nothing, in this borough.

(Mrs Angry was educated by nuns, you know. Almost made a full recovery, as you can see).

If the Tories think that, by referring the library report to Full Council, the matter will be at an end, however: they are mistaken. 

As Mr Reasonable put it: 

Barnet is a great place to live because of the people who live here, the people who care, the people who are passionate about their community ...

These are the people I love:  the ones who stand up, and speak out, when they see injustice, and inequality, and a democratic process held hostage by commerce, and self interest; who see elected representatives who betray them, betray us, and our best interests, rather than protect us, and the things we need, just to get by, to live, not according to our worth, our status, but as families, individuals, friends, comrades: old and young, straight, gay, able bodied, disabled, rich or poor, citizens of the world, residents of Broken Barnet.

It's no wonder they want to shut the libraries, and hand the buildings over to Capita, as part of its failing empire: a last trophy, perhaps, for the outsourcerers.

But this fight, over our library service, is about so much more than that. 

And that fight continues.

Monday 12 October 2015

The hollowed out library: Barnet Tories' war on public services continues

What is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversation?” 

- Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland


"And what is the use of a library building', thought Mrs Angry, "without a library service?"

- Mrs Angry, Broken Barnet. (or: Through the Looking Glass).

There was a strike, here in Broken Barnet, last Wednesday, by council staff, organised to show their opposition to the relentless privatisation of our local council services, and the loss of local jobs.

The new Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, came and stood in the early morning rain at one of the three picket lines, to show his support for council employees, observing that Barnet's programme of outsourcing had been the most brutal of all. 

And indeed it has, and continues to be.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell with Barnet Unison leader - and General Secretary candidate - John Burgess; Labour councillors Houston, Langleben and Or Bach - and token woman, Mrs Angry.

Another picket line was at East Finchley library: see top, strongly supported by staff, local residents, Labour councillors - and passing traffic.

On the day of the industrial action, ten out of fourteen libraries were shut - quite an achievement, and demonstrating the show of feeling amongst library staff, 46% of whom had learned, only days before, that they will lose their jobs, as a result of savage cuts in budget about to be approved by our Tory councillors.

Inconvenient, no doubt, to find your local library shut for the day.

But soon, thanks to those Tory councillors, and a committee that includes new GLA candidate Daniel Thomas, it is likely that there will be only ten library buildings in the borough - and no library service, in the sense that we have known. 

Barnet Council has tweeted that there are 'new proposals to maintain 14 libraries', to be discussed at tonight's Children, Education, Libraries and Safeguarding Committee.

This is of course not a true representation of the facts.

The proposals, in their entirely, may be read here.

The proposals does not maintain libraries, but rather retain 14 buildings, hollowed out buildings, handed over to Capita, in which only a nominal library service will be available, to some extent, but relying on the use of volunteers - and a controversial plan to install 'open library' technology in place of staff. 

Libraries will be mercilessly shrunk in size, paying guests within their own homes, the service becoming, as we are told 'a user of the physical building', reduced into a travesty of their former selves, and the freed up space, we are informed, to be relied on for income generation, from letting to as yet unidentified tenants.

Hidden away in the report is an admission that there will be some 'temporary' closures of libraries, in the process of converting them into part time libraries, and full time council buildings up for rent. 

Mrs Angry predicts, with a fair amount of confidence, that some will close, perhaps never to open again, as the mythical volunteer teams intended to take on the jobs of qualified, professional librarians and staff fail to appear, or other 'unforeseen' problems occur. 

Remember the fate of Totteridge Library, the library that so many Tory councillors tried to protect from closure? The very reason, in fact - irony of ironies - that Tory leader Richard Cornelius began his political career (if that is what one must call it)?

This report thinks that revenue of more than £546,000 can be made from pimping out our library buildings in this way: leaving a token area of shelving, and minimal resources, whilst creating space for rental - but to whom, and on what basis, is such massive financial dependence to be invested? We do not know. Because of course it is utter nonsense.

The open libraries will not only mean half of the librarians and staff members losing their jobs, but that libraries, for much of the time, will have NO STAFF at all present in the building, and residents will have to let themselves into the facility they want to call a library, using a pin number.

No, that is not a joke.

If, as is certain, not enough volunteers are found to run four of the libraries, then those libraries will be abandoned, and shut permanently.

Where to start? 

At the very beginning, Mrs Angry. At the very beginning - and the tale of Friern Barnet Library, the library that wouldn't lie down and die, that refused to close, despite being shut, and put up for sale by Tory councillors.

If you recall, the library was taken over by Occupy, who, in partnership with local residents and campaigners, re-opened the building, filled it with donated books, and obliged the Tories, in the end, to acknowledge defeat, and recognise the new enterprise as a community library.

This was in many ways a triumph for residents and campaigners, and a humiliation for the Tory council, and proof of the power of direct action - but in the long term, of course, as Mrs Angry warned, the willingness of some campaigners to accept the designation of a 'Community' library, rather than see the branch brought back to the council's own public network, created a dangerous precedent, and a template for further Tory assault on our once magnificent library service.

And here we are, in 2015, presented with the ultimate assault: the complete destruction of the service, under the guise of necessity, but really an ideologically driven policy for the Barnet Tories, obsessed as they are with the mantra - private sector good, public sector bad

Powered by the carefully orchestrated 'guidance' of the senior management team, and made mad by the actions of the leech like consultants who feast off the body of the public sector, promoting more and more outsourcing of our local services, until they are sucked dry - our Tory councillors are set on privatising as much of the council's function as possible. 

They present the need for such wholescale privatisation as the consequence of austerity, but in truth this obsession was imbedded in their policies long before the current economic 'crisis' - it was seeded there by the 'easycouncil' model, years ago, a half baked philosophy that appeals to their small time, neo Thatcherite vision, and also eases the burden of responsibility from them, into the eager hands of the outsourcerers. 

An ideologically driven programme has been pushed through, more latterly, by the pretext of making 'savings': savings for which there is no real evidence, and how could there be, in a pair of contracts with Capita for which we have handed over our services for them to make profit, at our expense?  And indeed while the Tory council has continued to throw many millions of pounds of taxpayers' money away on, for example, free land for private developers, the panicked purchase of a £13 million depot - an approval based on inaccurate information supplied by senior officers - and other misjudgements, such as ... cutting council tax, as a pre election 'gesture'?

Once returned to power, as predicted, our Tory adminstration set about drawing up plans to cut and privatise even more services: including libraries.

Barnet Library service had already been subject, at the hands of the Tories, to years of slow death by a thousand cuts, by a cull on qualified staff; a policy of underinvestment: virtually halving the spend on books, dvds etc between 2005/6 and 2011/12 - and a lack of promotion: the traditional way of running down a service so as to make it ripe for destruction, or privatisation, of course.

Last year, plans were published setting out a number of equally awful options for cutting the library budget, in order to make £2.85 million: a small enough sum, by comparison with the often profligate expenditure on consultants and agency staff, for example, but representing a massive 60% of the library budget, from a service which has always been recognised as delivering value for money, at a high standard. Clearly this punitive proposal was about more than budget savings, and meant to be a fatal blow to yet another public, in house service.

But these plans represented a serious political miscalculation, and one which was to cause the three sitting Tory MPs much fear, in the run up to the General Election, being overwhelmed by protest from normally naturally conservative residents, outraged at the threat to the local public library service.

The idea of a public library, and its significance in terms of cultural or social value, is something utterly alien to the sensibilities of the Tory administration in Broken Barnet. 

Almost none of the Tory members use libraries, or indeed, have any pretensions to any degree of intellectual ability, let alone a love of reading. And the wider range of needs that a modern library provides, of access to IT, to information, as a focus for the community, and a resource for those groups more likely to be excluded from society's mainstream, are matters of little or no interest to them. 

Where is the value in a library building, except as a potential for development, and capital profit? Why give ordinary people the means to educate themselves, without charge, to enjoy reading, without buying a book? To think, and perhaps challenge the status quo, rather than accept the injustice and inequality of their lives?

The proposals now created which would destroy our library service were put out to consultation -  the 'nonsultation' of last year, in which, and in the loudest, clearest voice possible, residents rejected the plans, demanding that the council leave libraries as they are, and find the money they claim to need elsewhere.

Consultation, of course, Barnet Council learned, the hard way, is something you ignore, at your peril.

The Judicial Review of One Barnet, the last incarnation of 'easycouncil', would have been successful, if not judged to be out of time: successful because of serious failures in the statutory requirement regarding consultation.

Barnet has therefore tried awfully hard to look as if it has followed the rules, and consulted its residents, informing them fully of the proposals, and asking their opinion.

They don't give a flying fuck what that opinion is, of course, and are gambling that the process of consultation is in itself enough to ward off any legal challenge.

Hmm. I don't think so, Tory councillors, and senior officers of the London Borough of Broken Barnet. 

And I speak as someone who, probably unlike the majority of lazy Tory councillors, if not the senior officers, has read all of the reports. In detail. And taken part in a previous JR.

Oh dear. 

So many slip ups.

The best, most thorough rebuttal of the Tory cuts proposals is here, in the detailed report commissioned by Unison: please take the time to read it.

Barnet's report admits that the consultation has only been used to 'inform' a final decision, on what they charmingly insist on calling the future shape (hello, that rings a bell) of the, please excuse me, the 'library offer'. 

In other words, they have followed the duty to consult, ignored the overwhelmingly negative response to their shabby little plans, and crafted a set of proposals in the pretence that by retaining the library buildings, whilst destroying the service, they are somehow doing what was asked by the residents and taxpayers of this borough.

The report is curiously coy about what is referred to as 'Phase Three', and the decision over the future provider of the service. 

An in-house option, of course, for service provision, based on the previous history of outsourcing in Barnet, is unlikely seriously to be considered; that is to say, the option to retain our library service run by Barnet Council, as it is. 

It will be palmed off to an outside agency of some sort - yes, privatised. But there is no firm information on this point, which leads us to wonder how on earth the other recommendations can be formulated, with any certainty. 

Except of course the proposals are wincingly short on certainty, and almost entirely dependent on convenient 'assumptions'. Assumptions not supported by any reliable evidence - and in some cases on faux 'evidence'  - artificial, or 'modelled' data.

Let us look at some of the detail in the report. 

The response from residents who completed the questionnaires is, without question, furiously against the proposed 'options' put forward by the council. Yet so much more weight is given to the mysterious 'panellists' - Barnet's own tame Citizens' Panel, whose membership we have little knowledge of, but is clearly preferred to the opinions of those who actually use the libraries. 

Barnet claims the Citizens' Panel consists of randomly chosen residents, but of course even if this is true, we do not hear how many are then filtered, and removed from the panel - like Mrs Angry herself - wonder why?

Our 14 libraries have been divided up into three groups: 

Core libraries: mostly losing half their space, to commercial activities -

Burnt Oak
East Finchley
Golders Green
North Finchley

Core Plus Libraries: the favoured few, two of them not built yet: 

Chipping Barnet
Church End
Grahame Park

Partnership libraries: to be run by 'volunteers' - and therefore likely to close, or never to open:

Childs Hill
East Barnet
Mill Hill
South Friern

Staffed opening hours, provided by a team of employees that will be halved in size, will be savagely reduced from 634.5 to 188: in some cases, libraries will only have 15 hours staffed opening hours a week, other volunteer assisted opening only.

Very interestingly, just by coincidence, the libraries worst affected are almost exclusively in opposition wards, or marginal wards, or where tame Tory councillors are least likely to kick up a fuss about the cuts.

The Tories think that because this emasculated 'service' will take place in former library buildings, residents can be fooled into thinking they have 'maintained' the service. 

This is completely untrue. Furthermore the new arrangements will, it is arguable, place the authority into question as regards its requirement, under the  Public Libraries and Museums Act of 1964, to provide a service that is both 'comprehensive and efficient', accessible to all residents, using 'reasonable means'.

The service that will be provided in Barnet Libraries in the future, if these proposals are approved, will rely on the use of volunteers: around seventy, we understand, would be needed permanently to staff the four 'partnership' branches.

The report admits, however, that currently the service has only 38 volunteers - who are bound to be only part time, and probably work very few hours a week. This number of 38 should be compared to the average of 193, which is the CIPFA benchmark, and clearly indicates the unlikely prospect of the four libraries they claim can be run by full time volunteer staff ever actually taking off, or remaining as viable ventures.

Goodbye then, to Childs Hill, East Barnet, South Friern and Mill Hill libraries. 

Extraordinary, is it not, that our Tory councillors, who only five years ago, whilst lecturing us on the need for austerity and cuts in services, voted themselves a big fat increase in their allowances, feel no remorse about taking public funding for what used to be seen as civic duty, an unpaid voluntary role, yet expect others to work for free in the new library system, forcing qualifed librarians to face a future of unemployment, and loss of income.

The other crucial factor in these proposals is the reliance on something few people in this country know about: the idea of 'open' libraries. 

This means libraries without staff, accessible only by smartcard, or pin number entry systems. Or, as one reader put it - robot libraries. At the consultation meetings, we were consoled with the prospect of a holographic librarian, or a remote librarian on a screen, as well as (non live streamed) CCTV, to record any muggings, assaults, or any other form of anti-social behaviour.

Children under sixteen years old will not be allowed in the open libraries, despite the fact that at the last census, 0-14 year olds accounted for 21% of the borough's population, and clearly the impact of loss of access to books, IT and studying space will fall heaviest on the most deprived and dependent children.

Banned now, from open libraries - oh, unless they are accompanied by a parent, teacher, or 'adult friend'. Who will check that the companion of any child is a parent, teacher, or 'adult friend'?  

Older children who may have wished to come to the library and study, or carry out research, with the guidance of a qualified librarian? They are told to stay at home, and use a digital library. 

And in the new open, unstaffed libraries: will elderly and disabled people, and lone women, be safe, feel safe, in such an environment?

The promotion of open libraries has been based on assurances in the report and elsewhere that, as it states in Section 4, Item 4.2.6 - 

"This approach is standard for public libraries in Scandinavia ..."

Erm ... well, except that ... it is not, as far as Mrs Angry can see, and she has made enquiries of various library professionals with knowledge in this area, to try to clarify the point.

It is true to say that open libraries have been used in one country in Scandinavia, ie Denmark, but even there it is inaccurate to say it is a standard approach, or in a context comparable to the UK, let alone an urban London borough.

Of 500 libraries in Denmark, perhaps less than 200 work on the open system: and they are largely in rural areas; the few that are in urban settings are in places with low population and levels of crime that contrast sharply with London.

Nowhere directly comparable to this borough has run an open library system, and the one pilot scheme which has been tried, to much fanfare, but with little analysis, has only been in place since the end of June: even this report agrees there has not been time enough to evaluate the system, which only generates around 80 users a week.

Apart from the safety and safeguarding aspects of this scheme, the absence of trained staff on site to help residents and provide any sort of real library service is simply unacceptable, and the consultation made it absolutely clear that no one wants to see this imposed, yet they have ignored the outcome and gone further, in fact, than most expected, in the extent to which they are determined to force through the open policy.

Of course this new system, and other radical changes, will have the greatest impact on protected groups covered, in theory, by the Equalities Act. Barnet has a duty to consider this impact, but here in fact, is the greatest weakness in their report. 

An admission that there is no data held by libraries regarding the demographic characteristics of users. 

They have therefore resorted to a reliance on 'modelled data', or, as we would call it, more precisely, in the context of Broken Barnet: 'made up data'. 

The true impact, therefore, on groups to which the Equalities Act applies, residents who are affected by age, disability, sex, or sexual orientation, gender reassignment, race, religion, belief, unemployment, deprivation, and even students in further education: all of their requirements, in the creation of the library proposals, have been based on ... guesswork.

As an example, one might consider what the report has to say about the impact on LGB residents. No, not LGBT: no T, even. The library service, we learn, does not collect data on sexual orientation, or transgender status, but ... we are told, has a few books that are 'tailored' to LGB people, whatever that means. 

Talking to Nicola Field, (above) from 'Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, as featured in the film 'Pride', recently, who came to join us on the children's March for Libraries, she emphasised strongly how important libraries were to the LGBT community, a place where they felt safe, and able discreetly to access the information and support they need, especially as young adults, exploring their sexuality. 

But how would we know, in Barnet, to what extent those needs should influence the library proposals? What sort of impact will the cuts have? They have failed to assess this and other needs with any accuracy, or care.

And what of elderly residents, in an ageing population, who are least likely to be able to use new technology, or feel safe in an unstaffed environment? Those surveyed made it clear they did not want the changes proposed, but have been ignored. Their needs too, have not been considered in any real depth, or with evidence backed assessment.

Just think of this most fundamental part of the proposals, the effect of withdrawing services, and staff, and accessible libraries, from anyone from these groups: the immeasurable impact in terms of the increase in exclusion and social isolation, the loss of supportive relationships between vulnerable users and staff members, the increase in loneliness, and despair, for those for whom a visit to the library might be their only point of contact in the day. 

The comments contained within the group, from library users of all ages and backgrounds dependent on their local library, again and again praise the kindness, patience, dedication and of course professionalism of staff who help elderly people learn to use computers, children to find books suitable for their interests, or job seekers to search for work, or refugees to improve their language skills, or vulnerable residents to find the right support for their needs.

In terms of accessibility, the blithe dismissal of concerns with an assurance that no journey by public transport to any library will be more than half an hour is meaningless, on close inspection. 

Barnet is relying on the thirty minute limit, as this was central to the finding of a legal challenge to Lincolnshire Libraries' proposals for their own service.

But what might be reliably claimed as a thirty minute journey in rural Lincolnshire is hardly comparable to travel time in London, especially when so optimistically measured by Tfl, and as the report admits, not taking into account the impact of local issues such as the likeliness of delays, diversions, crowding etc.

And of course the impact of travel on protected groups has not been accurately measured.

How will the unemployed, facing brutal sanctions, should they fail to print out evidence of their job seeking, afford to travel around the borough, in search of a library with facilities and librarians to help them?

How will school pupils whose families cannot afford a home computer do their homework, when they are not allowed to enter their nearest, unstaffed library? 

The final madness, in these proposals, is that in order to 'save' £2.85 million, your Tory councillors are about to sanction capital expenditure of more than £6 million. Yes, you read that right: £6 million.

And yes again: it seems they can find the capital necessary to destroy a vital service, but not to maintain it. In fact it is quite reasonable to conclude that they are yet again, as they did with Hendon Crematorium, spending capital money, taxpayers' money, in the course of a process of privatisation, in order to make that service, or those assets, more appealing to potential contractors.

This is the 'library offer', then: an offer, they hope, that you cannot refuse. 

Because they think they have it all stitched up, don't they? 

They are wrong.

The threat to libraries was the cause, in the run up to the general election, of incalculable damage to the three local Tory candidates, who were inundated by complaints from residents - middle class, natural Tory voters, enraged by the proposals.

We are now in the run up to another election, here in London: for the GLA, and the Mayor. The Tory candidate, Daniel Thomas, is a member of the library committee that sits tonight, and is expected to approve these awful recommendations. 

The last GLA election was won in Barnet and Camden by Labour, with the help of a mass movement to remove former Tory AM Brian Coleman from his seat. This time round, no doubt local Tories fondly imagine they can regain their loss. 

If the library proposals are approved tonight, however, they will have sealed their own fate, and given a gift to the Labour campaign, as this issue, of all issues, will pursue them into the polling stations and remind every voter, especially the middle class voter on whose loyalty they depend, to put their crosses elsewhere on the paper, or even not vote at all. 

But that is in the future. 

Tonight there will be a demonstration, from 6.30 onwards, outside the Town Hall in the Burroughs, NW4: please come along and add your voice to the protest against the destruction of your library service.