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Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague

O, what a tangled web we weave | when first we practise to deceive!

Culture minister Ed Vaizey said libraries should be at the “heart of the big society.” Sadly this seems to been lost among his party colleagues in my borough. We have had the wait, the intrigue and now the deceit. But our local “Library Strategy” is the best piece of fiction ever to have sat on a town hall shelf.

This is Barnet, North London, where the “One Barnet” programme – mass outsourcing of council services – is now being thrashed by one of its former (now disgraced) champions.

The Barnet Tories told us that we would have a first class twenty-first century library service. I don’t think so. We were promised a landmark library in North Finchley: no sign. Local councillors and residents were unequivocally told over and over again that Friern Barnet library would only close when there was alternative provision. What have we got? Zilch. Nothing.

Is it any wonder our faith – and their own – in their strategy has crumbled beyond doubt? Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague.

The whole library strategy has been a disaster from the word go. Started before “One Barnet”, and indeed started before many sitting councilors had even been elected. We have gone from a council that increased opening hours and introduced Sunday opening to a council, and more importantly one councillor (the one with the libraries brief), that has dithered and slithered, reducing opening hours and closing the doors of much loved libraries.

The Commons Culture Committee has expressed concerns over library closures stating that such a move could break a legal requirement for councils to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” library service.

And while the public welcome the use of volunteers in the library service, they know and value the service of the trained and skilled librarian. Surrey County Council’s decision to run 10 libraries by volunteers was ruled unlawful by the High Court. Campaigners opposed the move on the technicality that qualified paid staff were more knowledgeable in being able to provide assistance to vulnerable users.

Libraries may well be the mind and soul of their communities, but librarians are the mind and soul of the library. The judge said the decision-making process was flawed. What judgment will the courts find on Barnet?

Someone said it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once. Councilors and the public have been mislead from the off. It is time to stand up to our deceivers. They have had enough warnings, now is the time to give them the red card!

Kath McGuirk is a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Barnet

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