Children’s literacy – the gateway to future employment – could be under threat if Greenwich council ploughs ahead with plans to close the borough’s mobile library service, which delivers 33,000 books a year to children.
The warning has come from Unite, the country’s largest union, which said that it is embarking on a campaign of industrial action to save the service as councillors are set to debate the proposal at the council’s cabinet on Wednesday 22 June.
Unite said that scrapping the mobile library service will lead to an annual £126,000 in so-called ‘efficiency savings’; despite the council having £320 million in its reserves.
Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said,
“The £126,000 figure is a drop in the ocean compared with the benefits to children’s literacy and reading ability, which are the keys to obtaining decent employment in the future.
Depriving kids of 33,000 books and a chance to fall in love with reading are retrograde steps. Parents should be very worried at what is planned.
We believe that the council is being short-sighted and its claim that all the borough’s schools are in walking distance to one of Greenwich’s 12 static libraries is unrealistic, given the busy school day and demands on teachers.
We call on the council to rethink its plans to close the mobile library, then to review the position after 12 months. If it is shut down, it will never reopen.
Instead, the council should renew the mobile service for another year and engage in genuine discussion with schools and our library members on ways to address any concerns the council has.”
Unite will be addressing the cabinet meeting on 22 June at Woolwich Town Hall, Wellington Street SE18 6HQ. The meeting will also be lobbied from 18.00. A further lobby will take place on Wednesday 29 June when the full council meets from 18.00.
Unite’s 84 library members already staged four days of strike action earlier this year – and have a legal mandate for more industrial action. The dates for this renewed action will be announced soon.
The closure recommendation comes despite a petition of more than 1,000 signatures opposing the proposals and no clear support for the proposals in the council’s own consultation exercise.
Onay Kasab added,
“The council’s report to the cabinet is littered with untruths. It states that there is a library near every school – clearly not the case as a simple glance at a map shows.
The report claims that book issues have decreased – again this is wrong as book issues for school children have increased from 22,000 a year to 33,000 annually.”
The mobile library visits schools, nurseries and children’s centres for those who are unable to visit static libraries.
Access for the frail and those with mobility difficulties could also be impacted, as it may isolate them and take their independence away – the mobile library is a community lifeline.
The libraries are run by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) as a so-called social enterprise set up by Greenwich council to run its leisure services.
Unite said that 75 per cent of GLL’s staff are on zero hour contracts and it refuses to pay the London ‘living wage’ of £9.40 per hour to staff who work in the leisure side of the business.