Leicester’s Labour Council has a real battle on its hands if it thinks that we will let them close any of our city’s amazing libraries.
Indeed, Leicester’s love of libraries was demonstrated once again this week when more than a hundred people protested against the proposed closure of Rushey Mead library, first on Saturday, and then again on Wednesday night — when nearly 150 people came together to discuss what we were going to do next.
Speaking on BBC Radio Leicester, just minutes before the start of Wednesday’s inspiring public meeting, Councillor Kirk Master (who is the assistant city mayor overseeing the planned closure) attempted to undermine the community campaign by launching into a bizarre defence of the Council’s ‘plans’ (which make no sense).
It seems the Council want to close the library, replace the caring and dedicated librarians we already have with machines, and then squeeze part of the library into the nearby (small and heavily used) recreation centre. “In fact it will be a better service for users, there will be more space, more hours, and more facilities,” Cllr Master lied to the people of Leicester live on the radio. He concluded: “I think they are getting an excellent offer… It’s a better offer.”
Thankfully, local campaign coordinator Jotie Popat was also interviewed on BBC Radio Leicester, and she capably demolished the deceitful web of nonsense put forward by Cllr Master, before then going on to help organise the empowering public meeting at Rushey Mead Recreation Centre.
Although Cllr Master likes to pretend that the closure of Rushey Mead library will only improve service delivery, he also said the cuts were “inevitable” because of the slashing of government funding for local councils. Cllr Master’s is evidently a very muddled man! How does he expect us to believe that service cuts are a “better offer” than what we already have? Furthermore — and let’s be clear about this — there is nothing inevitable about cuts; making cuts is a political choice.
Labour councillors need to get a backbone and pretty soon. Shaking with passion and indignation, one local campaigner made just this argument: “This Labour Council are not strong enough to stand up and say ‘WE ARE LABOUR’ and that we won’t make any cuts!” Quite right! And as another person added, City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby should be “embarrassed and ashamed for even trying to close a single library.”
In contrast to the freezing conditions through which people journeyed to attend the meeting, the mood in recreation centre was heated, and the crowd, which spilled beyond the confines of the room, shouted in unison, that yes, we were ready to fight back against the Council!
During my own brief contribution to the meeting, I highlighted the public meeting I had attended earlier this month, which aimed to discuss how people might call upon our Labour Council to oppose service cuts. I noted how I was pleased that Councillor Ross Willmott (who also spoke at the recreation centre meeting) had been present at that earlier meeting, where myself and others had raised the potential of our Labour Council standing up to the Tories. The suggestion being that they investigate using the £142 million they had in the bank to prevent ALL service cuts.
It is clear that we must campaign to stop all library cuts/closures, whether they be in Rushey Mead, in Evington, or anywhere else for that matter. But despite the successful campaign to stop the closure of Belgrave library, the Council have already made it clear they intend to revive their plans to close the library at the soonest possible opportunity! Therefore, although local campaigns are critical, to be successful in the long-run we must be able to force our Labour Council to be strong enough to stand up to the Tories and to refuse to carry through their cuts.