Community engagement 17th July: the real story

posted 14 Aug 2012, 12:08 by dartmouth park

If you visit Camden Council’s website and go to the library savings section (see previous post) you will find the official version of this meeting.  This is the view from the Friends of Highgate Library.


In the absence of Councillor Tulip Siddiq ,away on Olympic duties, the meeting was chaired by Councillor Valerie Leach with Councillors Sally Gimson and Maya de

Souza also present. Up to a hundred local people attended as the Friends had publicised it as widely as possible by posters and emails


The meeting opened with a brief introduction from Councillor Leach and a presentation from Mike Clarke, Head of Libraries and Registration Services, Camden Council.  It was clear that the saving now required of £110,000 was more than that expected. The Report that was agreed by the Council last autumn, following the flawed consultation , recommended a 50% cut from £180k to £90k, with the rest being found by Camden by using the building to house other services.  Now the C Camden is looking for greater cuts and Council representatives at the meeting had no solutions to suggest to make up the shortfall. 


Current costs were given as Staff - £118k, Building - £20k, Central services e.g. Finance, IT, HR - £17.5K and management, goods and services £7k.  Mike Clarke reported that potential lease income for some of the building might raise from £15k to £35k per year.  So Highgate Library currently costs £160k to run, £110k is to be cut and lease income could raise up to £35k at best!

Despite these figures both Cllr Leach and Mike Clarke gave assurances that the Library would be kept open after April 2013. 

The Engagement Meeting Plan was to split the audience into small groups to discuss ideas for the use of the building to raise money and put ideas on post-its.  However the community had other ideas and began to ask questions.   If you read the Council version of the meeting there were detailed and coherent answers – that is because the Friends and supporters had answers!  For example:

Please can you put the level of savings required by Highgate Library

into perspective with other premises – will Highgate be worse hit than

other sites?

Mike Clarke tried saying that all libraries were affected and Highgate was part of the general programme. The real answer was of course that 3 libraries have been cut off, Regents Park has a very limited future and Highgate has lost more than half its funding.

And :

Is there a legal framework that may bind new users of the Highgate

library premises – for example the covenant as a Carnegie library? This

is the only library in Camden stock with such a covenant.

This questioner asked only whether there were legal restrictions on the use of Highgate Library and Mike replied he would have to seek advice – although the information was in the Report to Council last autumn.  There is in fact a Victorian covenant covering the land and Andrew Carnegie provided the money to set it up. (You can see the Covenant on the FOHL website).  One of the reasons that Highgate survived the first cuts was this protection – and the Grade 2 listing of its building.

The meeting did break up to view the now empty space which until recently housed the mobile and home library stock.  This splendid space with a parquet floor and art deco style roof lights was once a purpose built children’s library and is the main space which could generate income.   There is a photo of this room in with Walter de la Mare speaking on our website. Many attending did fill in post its with ideas and these are on the Council website.

The meeting requested some interim funding until 2014 to allow alternatives uses and ways of raising money to be developed and Councillor Leach undertook to pursue this request among her Cabinet colleagues.

The final outcome was the setting up of a community working group, to be supported by Council staff and with Friends and other local representatives. to work on a way forward. The Friends favour a management group to organise use of the space within which library services continue to be run by Camden. The initial meeting is set for September 11th.