Wednesday, 16 January 2013

To the Councillors of Westminster City Council.. From the staff of Westminster Libraries

From the staff of Westminster Libraries...

To the Councillors of Westminster City Council,

Westminster Libraries currently uses less than 1% of the council’s overall budget. We have 11 libraries, an archives service, a reference library, a music library, a home library service and the largest online database for any public library service in the UK. We provide books, DVDs & CDs, Internet access, CV building workshops, Under 5s sessions, class visits, language and computer courses, community groups and workshops and engage teenagers through projects like Fast Forward which has taken over from the connexions career Services: We promote health, community and citizenship and provide a free space to work, socialise and study for residents and visitors.

We now have Parking, Council tax, Rescard, Housing and OneStop services incorporated into our day-to-day duties with no additional funding as a service or as employees; In fact we’ve provided all these services at this low cost whilst going through 5 years of cuts that has already closed libraries, reduced our budget and decimated our staff levels each and every year.

When employment goes down, our workload goes up, and as homelessness increases and incomes plummet, our footfall increases. Year-on-year we've risen to the challenge of providing all these services for that ever shrinking less than 1% of the council’s budget.

In 2011, Westminster Council hired two new department directors at the rate it cost to run St James’s library which they were closing at the same time.

In that same year, Westminster councillors refused a 5% reduction to wages above £100,000 to save £3.5Million because the saving would be too insignificant to justify; but library staff have been asked to bear double that cut for only 10% of that saving.

The solution to unemployment cannot be to fire people, and the solution to debt is not to cut income generating, job creating, and crime preventing services.

Not only is it a statutory requirement to provide this service, it is our moral obligation to do so.  With new challenges, we need new ideas, not old mistakes and any further cuts to our library service budget would be a drop in the ocean compared to almost any other department in a council that has often stood in the spotlight on the international stage.

We ask that this race to the bottom is brought to an end; and that Westminster council commits to investment rather than cuts so we can continue the good work that we do for the small budget we have.

The Staff of Westminster Libraries

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Tuesday 13th March 2012: Lobby Parliament to Save Our Libraries

As another push to defend public services, there’ll be a Lobby for Libraries on Tuesday 13th March 2012 from noon onwards at Central Hall, Westminster.
Supporters of the public library service from all over the country will be meeting to Rally support for the great work of library staff and the services they deliver.
It was legislated that maintaining a comprehensive library service was a vital responsibility of the state in our democracy. Although genuine philanthropy is always welcome, the responsibility falls on the state as the body that is responsible for the most vulnerable members of our society and as the body accountable to this democratic process to ensure that regardless of circumstances, any individual can empower themselves, educate themselves and contribute to society at any point in their lives.
I’ve never been a fan of party politics as I believe the issues should be considered on their own merit, but it is clear to see that this government has not been acting in the best interest of the electorate. Why should they? They were by no means voted in by the electorate so maybe this is some form of resentment for being unpopular.
I might sound paranoid but why would a government, reduce opportunities for education by increasing tuition fees and making cuts to schools, reduce the number of people in employment by almost 1 million and encourage the erosion of terms and conditions so working families cannot support themselves. Further, reduce welfare while encouraging what almost amounted to slavery through companies like Tesco and Poundland under Big Society and reduce funding to the police force so the inevitable increase in crime would go unchecked.
How does this relate to libraries? Libraries educate, libraries help people get back to work, libraries support community business and take children off the streets. Libraries relate to us, they’re a significant part of the antidote to the ignorance; poverty and chaos that this government is creating. And you’ve already paid for it. Unfortunately they’ve taken the money and now they’re saying they’ve spent it on something else.
Not convinced? After eight phases of redundancies amounting to 1,200 post deletions, Westminster, the council who claims to be saving libraries in an unprecedented way has shown minimal innovation in this matter. The great plan to save libraries was first to close St James Library and axe its staff, now phase two will be to reduce staffing across Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea by another 10% as part of the Tri-borough project. Yes, the great innovation of Tri-borough are more staff cuts… repackaged.
With no sign yet of the financial opportunities in Tri-borough, the scheme will save £1million through staff cuts. it’s interesting to note that when proposing the Tri-borough cuts, Westminster councillors were asked if they would consider cutting the wages of those earning over £100,000 by 5% to save £3million and they said no, this wasn’t a significant enough saving.
Your money is being wasted and your voice silenced, please come along on the 13th March at Central Hall Westminster to fight for your future.
The rally will take place from 11.30am at Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH. The lobby of Parliament will start at 2.30pm.
We urge everyone to find out more and sign up to attend via the Speak Up For Libraries website.

You can also follow Speak Up For Libraries on Twitter and on Facebook.
Speak Up For Libraries are a coalition of organisations and campaigners working to protect libraries and library staff, now and in the future.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

SOLD - Old Marylebone Town Hall - SOLD

Contracts have now been signed for the lease of the Old Marylebone Town Hall for at least the next 35-75 years.

Although the leasee has not been publicly announced, all Westminster City Council Services have one year to vacate the building with the exception of the Westminster Registrars.

Under new its occupation the intention is for the building to retain the registrars for weddings and its other services whilst the rest of the building would be renovated and likely become a hotel.

The lease became an option when the council valued the work necessary to renovate the old-town hall and library annex and make both buildings DDA compliant. It's been known for some time that both buildings were structurally rusting iron girders with a fast eroding facade. Terms of the lease would place certain duties on the contracted party to execute repairs to the building.

So what will happen to Marylebone Library?

Well right now it's unclear. The council has promised that it's intention is to maintain a library service in the Marylebone area but groups such as the Marylebone society are sceptical since the council had previously promised that it's intention was to repair both building and return the Marylebone Library to its original building.

To those of you concerned about anything we've said so far, you can contact Councillor Harvey Marshall who is the ward councillor for Marylebone High Street by clicking this link or Councillor Coline Barrow who is the current Leader of the council.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Charing Cross Library Too Expensive to Axe

So it's both good news and bad news.

Since the installation of the new self-service kiosks that have been slowly replacing staff members in Libraries across westminster, the council has Incurred an overspend of £200k. In a bid to cover this one off debt, the heads of WCC planned to close Charing cross library and Westminster music library in Victoria street and move some of the services and staff from both locations onto one floor of the Westminster Reference Library building. Funds would be generated from the selling of the Charing Cross Library building and a major reduction of staff members.

This was to be an immense project which would mean major building works on all sites to make Charing Cross commercially sellable and allow Westminster Reference library to facilitate some lending services.

Building works on Charing Cross were necessary to comply with certain rules that restricted the use of the building to educational purposes only and therefore reduced its commercial appeal. All building works had to be completed either before or after the Olympics however the financial department has now determined that the project is too expensive to pursue within the next four years and the building will continue to provide a full service as they are now.

So where's the bad news? Well Westminster libraries still has to find a saving of £40k this financial year (just under the value of a bonus for a councillor or a senior execs working for Westminster) and another £160k in 2012/13 (which we fear could mean the closure of another library).

It's important to note that this is a one-off overspend and that any permanent measures to resolve this debt would be disproportionate, unnecessary and excessive so we'll be keeping an eye out for how this develops.

Watch this space for updates.

Tri-borough is a stepping stone to privatisation

Unfortunately, in spite of an overwhelming response from staff and readers, thousands of signatures collected and lots more positive action, WCC remained adamant in their positioning and acted against the will of its people in deciding to close St. James's Library. Nevertheless, we thank you all wholeheartedly for your support. It is more valuable and useful than we can express with words, it keeps us going.

It’s not all doom and gloom for our public services! On Wednesday 30th, 20.000 London public sector workers marched to parliament to protect their pensions. According to the Guardian, This was the biggest public sector strike action in 30 years, and it’s not even counting the vast amounts who attended picket lines or refused to go to work on the day.

With around 2million public sector workers on strike and over 50,000 union members, students, parents and patients and more on the London March alone; as a single national action this has been a great success.

Despite comments from David Cameron that this was a 'damp squib', every poll shows public support for the action well in excess of 60%, with some polls showing 80% of the public trusting the public sector over Mr Cameron.

Many managers in Westminster have been supportive of the action and more and more people are getting involved in the protection of public services. These are good times of cooperation and collaboration. Now it’s especially important that we remain well informed and in close communication.

Below you will find some information on what is really going on in Westminster


As you know, WCC is currently merging some of its services with the boroughs of Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham. The purpose behind this is of course to cut costs. Last month a tri-borough management team for libraries was recruited, and by April 2012 restructuring will reach frontline staff (WCC libraries will lose 2 more full-time Library positions).

This project was hailed by the BBC and The Guardian as the Salvation for libraries with the promise that no libraries will be closed due to its implementation. As these articles were being written Westminster was quickly making moves to close St James's Library whilst planning the axing of CHX library and many of it's staff members and services.

There are some positive assets to Tri-borough: hopefully, using the same system will facilitate communication between services across the boroughs, as well as saving on stock and equipment contracts. Further there will be some savings due to the reduction of upper management positions and as the 7th phase of redundancies in Westminster since 2008, this is the first time senior managers will have to face the guillotine before frontline staff.

Unfortunately, it would seem that Tri-borough has actually turned out to be more expensive than the previous setup. We suspect that this is not unexpected. Some staff members have been deployed from their usual jobs to dedicate themselves exclusively to writing “casual” reports on stock suppliers and consortia whilst various libraries have been visited by surveyors without much warning or explanation.

The head of Tri-borough Libraries David Ruse and the Tri-borough team have been providing conflicting information on the issue of “outsourcing” the combine services to a private company, trust or charitable group. Mr Ruse and WCC heads are very careful to make no clear statements sometimes saying outsourcing is unlikely in the near future whilst the project plows forward with regular reports from the tri-borough forum reinstating that they are enroute to this ultimate objective.

All these mysterious moves lead us to believe that WCC are looking to make Council services attractive to private companies. There are various companies interested in taking over the running of the Council, such as LSSI, Cavita and  Laing: Savings on staff, plus harmonization of stock and contracts make us very attractive to these corporations.

Privatisation will result in libraries running for profit instead of as community services. So we would be paying for them from our taxes, but also as service users, for example, by being charged to become library members.

We are as keen as you are to ensure our services remain public, and endeavour to keep you informed of the latest developments. So please do let us know your thoughts on this, and feel free to pass this on to your friends and colleagues.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Dossier of Hypocrisy - by Unite

The Unite union have compiled a “dossier of hypocrisy” that shows how long Cabinet ministers would have to work on the MPs pension scheme to get what local government workers can expect to receive.

George Osborne would only have to work 1 ½ years to earn a typical LGPS pension of £5,600/year.

A typical local government worker would have to work 124 years to get a pension equal to what Communities & Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles would receive if he retired in 2015.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has a pension almost 10 times higher than the average health worker.

A typical public sector worker would have to work 3 lifetimes to earn Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude’s pension & 2 lifetimes to earn Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander’s pension

These are the entitlements for Ministers in a Government that has the audacity to say [public sector] pensions are gold plated!

Why We Strike

According to the Chancellor, The Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) is no longer sustainable due to people living 10 years longer than they did 40 years ago, and that the greedy working class members of gold plated pension schemes need to accept this and the coalition changes to the LGPS.

These changes include increasing the pension age from 65 to 68, increasing member contributions to the scheme while decreasing employer contributions although members will be claiming less than they do now.

So what defence do public sector workers have to this?

1. The LGPS has a positive cash flow, with income from investments and contributions exceeding expenditure on benefits by £4-5billion every year.

2.members contribute an average of 6.6% to the scheme with higher earners paying proportionately more

3.the average employer contribution rate for current service is 12.2%. In the private sector the comparable employer contribution average is 15%

4.the chancellor intends to raise 1Bn from LGPS scheme members by making employees pay an increased average of 9.6% for future service while the employer pays 9%.

5. In April 2008, reformed schemes were launched which reduced the cost to employers year on year and increased the average member contribution from 5.8% to 6.6% to compensate for people living longer.

6. Further increases announced by the chancellor will not increase funding to the scheme but will operate as a tax on pension saving. 3.8bn will be be used to help pay off the money used to bail out the banks.

7. 7000 employers participate in the 101 LGPS including private companies and charities. 75% of local government employees, more than 4 million people are members of the scheme.

8. The LGPS fund currently holds more than £150billion in investments and assets, enough to pay benefits for over 20 years

9. The average pension payment from the LGPS is around £4,200 a year but only £2,870 per year for women due to lower income.

10. The chancellor wants employees to work to 68 instead of 65 before pension claims can be made. This will mean teachers, nurses, library staff will not be able to retire before this regardless of the pressures posed in workforces with ever decreasing staff and ever increasing pressure.

11. Pay will increase inline with the consumer price index rather than the retail price index which represents the true cost of living. As pay remains low against inflation, so will pension contributions from both the employee and the employer.

Unison, GMB, unite, Napo, Ucatt, Aspect, FBU, NIPSA, NUJ, NUT, and the coalition of resistance as well as more than 60% of the public are just a few groups who oppose these changes and support strike action on the 30th November 2011.