UPDATE: An earlier version of this article had misidentified Councillor Lynn Senior for Councillor Lynn Moore.
The Conservative government are literally starving local authorities of the finances they rely upon to provide public services, and unfortunately, instead of fighting back, Leicester’s Labour-led Council is doing the Conservative’s bidding for them.
Labour have thus recently embarked on a “consultation” to determine how they are going to cut 30 per cent of the funding for a variety of libraries and community buildings. This phase of the cuts affects the following essential community hubs/buildings: St Matthews Centre, the African Caribbean Centre, Highfields Library, St Peters Neighbourhood Housing office, Knighton Library, St Barnabas Library, Coleman Lodge Community Centre, Humberstone Neighbourhood Housing Office, Rowlatts Hill Neighbourhood Housing Office, the Coleman Neighbourhood Centre and Evington Library.
According to the Council officers who are overseeing this disastrous transformation of our neighbourhoods, the current consultation is only concerned with reducing the number of buildings run by the Council, not the number of staff. In fact, around a year ago the Council reviewed library staffing costs and forced through various changes to their staffs terms and conditions.
As far as our Blairite Council are concerned, they feel duty-bound to reduce expenditure on buildings by merging various facilities and sell-off the buildings previously inhabited by the evictees in question. In the case of those community centres which are not in the close vicinity of other buildings — like for instance Evington library and Knighton library — it is fairly clear that these buildings cannot really be axed.
But the same cannot be said for most of the other buildings currently under review, and no doubt the Council will attempt to repeat “Plan Rushey Mead” — where the Council have a “consultation,” then ignore the consultation, try to shut a library, and then squeeze its staff and books into a nearby community centre that is both heavily-used and very small. A farcical “plan” that has been, and will continue to be opposed by massive public protests!
So despite the fact that Knighton library is not presently under threat of closure, the three local Labour party ward councillors, Patrick Kitterick, Lynn Senior and Deborah Sangster, were evidently worried (arguably with good reason) and collectively distributed a leaflet titled “Save Our Local Library.” This leaflet called upon people to take part in a consultation to save Knighton library and stop other library cuts that are taking place across Leicester. Councillor Kitterick, who took a lead on this leafleting endeavour wasn’t to know that the Council never had any plans to close Knighton library. Nevertheless City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby was clearly pleased to put the boot into Kitterick during last week’s Overview Select Committee meeting, where Soulsby said:
“I know of no proposals at all to close Knighton library. I have remarked that the very best political campaigns are those waged against things that you know are not going to happen. The great advantage of doing that is you can draft your victory leaflet with lots of time to spare. I think this is one such example.”
When the Leicester Mercury (February 9) reported on Soulsby’s attack on Kitterick and company, it was deeply ironic that is was Leicester’s lone Tory, Councillor Ross Grant (Knighton ward), who attempted to make the argument at the Overview Scrutiny meeting that the Labour leaflet was Labour fearmongering pure and simple (“Row over the future of Knighton library”). But organising against potential library closures is not Labour fearmongering: it is facing the reality of massive council cuts. I say this because later in the same meeting the handful of Labour councillors present voted to sell-off the building that presently houses Rushey Mead library. Caring little for library closures Councillor Grant chose to abstain on this vote.
Another irony was the Leicester Conservative party complained to the Mercury that the leaflet that had been distributed by Kitterick and his fellow councillors was another example of Labour fearmongering. The Mercury observed:
“The leaflet said in Tory-run Leicestershire ‘scores’ of libraries have closed or had their full-time staff taken out. Leicester’s Conservatives said the leaflet is misleading because 35 county libraries have been off-loaded to volunteers to run but just one – in Barwell – has closed.”
So in denying the content of the leaflet’s statement, the Conservative’s managed to pretty much confirm it. Just under two score libraries in the country have sacked all their paid Council-employees and handed their libraries over to a precarious and volunteer-run future.
Leicester Conservatives spokeswoman Mina Sharma plumbed the depths and found the gall to add:
“How can they be trusted to run public services when they are peddling lies to residents? Instead of continuing to blame Government cuts at every opportunity, it is about time Labour faced up to their own financial mismanagement and take responsibility for the savage cuts they are proposing to vital services.”
The Conservatives proudly cut government funding for local authorities by almost 50 per cent, and then they have the cheek to say that it is Labour, not themselves, who can’t be trusted to run public services! The only thing the Conservatives can seemly be trusted to do is to run public services into the ground!
About the only part of what the Conservatives have to say that I can vaguely agree on is that Labour must now “take responsibility for the savage cuts they are proposing to vital services.” And once Labour recognises that- locally- it is they (not the Tories) who are passing on savage cuts to the people of Leicester, they may begin to act to ensure that they stop making such cuts to our vital services and help lead a fightback against all cuts!