Sunday, 15 July 2012

Libraries and the Cuts

There's a standard "evil Tories shutting down schools, hospitals, and libraries" line that is forever trotted by the Left that I reckon needs challenging. The story of the closure of Kensall Rise Library got my interest as the campaign against the closure got some fairly high profile backing. There has to be more to it then just ideological Tory cuts surely? Well of course there is - I dug out the consultation responses and replies to those from Brent council and the background and reasons for the closure can be summed up as follows:
  • It costs £186,100 to run the library (staffing and premises costs) and in 2009/10 45,755 people visited (came through the door). This equates to £4.00 per visit to the library.
  • By contrast Willesden Green Library costs just £0.90 per visit. 
  • In 2009/10, compared with other libraries, both attendance and book issues were low.
  • Kensal Rise is the least used library in the borough, the most expensive to run and it is also very close to Kilburn Library on Salusbury Road [just over a mile if you walk it].
  • Kensal Rise is also the library most in need of repair and the estimated costs of that over the next twenty years come to nearly half a million pounds.
  • Only 9% of our budget is spent on books because we are delivering services from poorly used buildings, which are expensive to run.
It should also be noted that the building is owned by All Souls College Oxford and provided rent free to the council.

The Kensal Rise close is one of several as part of Brent's Libraries Transformation Project. The point of it, apart from to save money, is to bring the remaining libraries up to scratch getting new books and facilities in as well as fixing up the buildings. Without knowing the overall cuts that Brent were making and the decision process behind them, it is difficult to put the library closures into context. What is does reveal is that the same services are being provided at Willesden Green just over a mile away at less than a quarter of the cost per visit, and even sharing staff with Kilburn and no rent to pay, facing an average annual cost of £25k for building maintenance, there doesn't appear to be a way of making it more efficiently run. The justification for closing Kensal Rise looks sound but why cut libraries? Context is important here as it would be interesting to know what was saved over what was cut. For that, Labour-controlled Brent council will have the answers.

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