Meeting with Friern Barnet Library Trustees

Over the last year or so, as I have in the past documented on this blog and tweeted about, I have been on the receiving end of a consistent and very personal campaign from a minority of supporters of the Friern Barnet Library.

It was a welcome step forward that I received an email from the trustees of the Friern Barnet Library, which in conclusion said,

“You have been subjected to some outrageous, abusive and inexcusable behaviour. I hope you will be prepared to help us repair the damage.”

I very much welcome this and have agreed to meet a delegation of the trustees next week.

I hope that this will start a more amicable relationship and we can start to work together to secure the future of a community library in Friern Barnet.


Friern Barnet Library Press Release

Below is a copy of the full press release sent out today regarding Freirn Barnet Library.

Community Barnet asked to support local groups interested in future of former Friern Barnet Library building

Barnet Council has asked Community Barnet to support community organisations seeking to make “Right to Bid” proposals for the former Friern Barnet Library Building.

Councillor Robert Rams, cabinet member for libraries said: “We have been able to support a very successful community run library in Hampstead Garden Suburb, in large part because local residents have a fully accountable and effectively organised body that we can provide with public assets.

“I’d very much like to see a similar body in Friern Barnet and Community Barnet seems perfectly placed to support groups of local residents in becoming properly established and able to develop a “Right to Bid” proposal. I understand that they have already had an approach from a potential group. Ideally we would only have a single bid but we could consider more than one.”

As the next step in the Right to Bid process, the council will confirm its intention to market the building at Cabinet Resources Committee in February. Bids cannot be formally invited before that decision.

“I’d like to stress,” said Councillor Rams, “that because of the success of the One Barnet procurement process we have more contractual savings than we expected and the council is in a different financial position than when we started our library review. We also have slightly less pressure on our capital budget which gives us the scope to look favourably on bids for the building from local residents.”

Any bid for the site would be bound by full planning and building regulations.


Handing over the keys!

I have just helped hand over the keys to a new ambulance that was funded by the Big Society Innovation Bank.

Below are the few words I said at the start of the event.

“I am delighted to officially hand over the keys to this vehicle for use by the London Ambulance Service Volunteer Responder Group.

This is a project to set up a ‘blue light’ emergency medical response service manned by off duty doctors and police officers and was funded by our Big Society Innovation Bank.

It is one of nine projects to successfully bid for a slice of the £200,000 on offer in the first round of applications for Innovation Bank funding. We awarded £28,000 to pay for the vehicle and to train the volunteers who will staff the service.

These volunteers are off-duty doctors and police officers who will work in their spare time to provide a blue light emergency response on top of those provided by the London Ambulance Service.

This is a fantastic example of how some financial support, coupled with the commitment of volunteers can make a real difference to people’s lives.”

Pledgebank in the press

One of the recent pledges on Barnet Pledgebank asked residents to buy a Christmas gift for one of the borough’s young carers. The council offered to collect donated gifts from local libraries and deliver them to the Barnet Young Carers and Siblings centre for distribution. As reported in the local press more than 80 Christmas gifts were donated by members of the public and staff, which means there will be a few extra smiles on Christmas morning.

This is a great example of how Pledgebank can work.

This winter, the council wants to encourage community minded residents to come together with their neighbours and clear their pavements of ice and snow.

The borough has already had a its first few flakes of snow and while I hope the weather doesn’t deteriorate any further, the recent cold snap is a timely reminder to prepare for the possibility of more substantial snowfall.

The council made an offer on Barnet Pledgebank  to help residents clear snow by providing grit and spreading equipment. The pledge has proved popular with local people, who have signed-up to grit more than 20 streets in the borough. Is your street on the list? Is this something you could help with?

I know that some people are concerned they might be legally liable if a passer-by falls on a patch of pavement they’ve recently cleared, so to remove any doubt, the council has also provided insurance cover.

Barnet made a similar pledge to encourage parents to clear snow from their children’s schools by offering the same support. This idea has also appealed to volunteers and the original target of 25 schools has already been achieved.

Why not have a think about what you could do? Is there something you can offer your community? Is there a local project you want to get started? Why not use PledgeBank to make it happen?

The Leisure Challenge

Barnet Council has published details of a Strategic Leisure Review ahead of the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday 14 September.

As we face what is likely to be a decade of public sector austerity, we are likely to be spending less on almost all non-statutory council services, leisure included. This means that every pound becomes more important and we have to make sure it is spent on getting the right outcomes for the people of Barnet.

The council’s spend, currently £1.7 million, is a comparatively small amount compared to the overall leisure spending in Barnet. The total residents spend on leisure in the borough is estimated to be around £340 million (around £48.10 each week for each household). That means that the most sensible use of council money is to support the development of opportunities that the private sector cannot provide alone, and to work with public sector partners on an agreed set of outcomes. This review will explore just how we can do this.

Council spending is, of course, centred on encouraging people to take some form of exercise rather on the broader definition of leisure. This is entirely sensible as we need to work with partners to support the health of Barnet residents. There is obviously a clear public good in supporting swimming that is not so immediately apparent in subsidising tickets to the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

So in running the review we will look at how we meet the changing needs of the boroughs population. In Barnet we have both a growing number of young people and a growing number of residents over 65.

We will need to work with colleagues in the health service to ensure that we meet the needs of these groups. The population of young people is literally expanding – childhood obesity has risen as comparatively sedentary pursuits such a video gaming replace sport as many young people’s leisure activity of choice.

This, of course, will have to be balanced with the need to support the health of older people. We will explore how council spending can limit future demands on the health service and if it is possible to align health service and council budgets around agreed aims.

I’m particularly keen to see the role in wider wellbeing as well as health. There is for instance a great plenty of evidence to show that an element of exercise is very good for mental health.

Such challenges mean that we will need to have a wide ranging review of our work with partners. As well as a role for the National Health Service, we will be exploring how we can work with the Police and the Mental Health Trust in developing a co-ordinated approach to supporting the health and wellbeing of the borough’s residents.

In developing this review we have taken as a model the consultation the council ran over the future of the library service. Our library review looked beyond simply supporting bricks and mortar, to look at the purposes of the service for the future. We concluded that getting young people reading was a priority. It is possible that this review will see getting young people exercising as equally important. We have also had great success supporting reading groups through the library service and it would be interesting to explore if we could support residents exercise groups along similar lines.

That review saw us speak to existing service users, those who no longer used our facilities as well as a large number of groups with an interest in the service.

Every one of Barnet’s residents will have an opportunity to give us their views on the council’s support for leisure activities and what they believe our objectives should be.

I hope we will hear from as many people as possible.

You can access the Cabinet papers from the Barnet website.

Future Libraries

Last Friday, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and the Local Government Group released a joint report on the future of libraries – ‘Future Libraries: Change, options and how to get there’. The report highlights some of the innovative ways that local authorities are modernising library services.

You may remember that the Museums Libraries and Archives Council have previously praised Barnet’s strategic library review, describing it as ‘impressive’. So it is no surprise that much of what is recommended in the joint report mirrors what we plan to do in Barnet.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • running library services with other council or community services
  • sharing back office costs with neighbouring boroughs
  • partnering with the private and third sectors
  • involving the local community with the running of local library services.

We plan to improve library based access to other council services and run two link libraries – Grahame Park and Child’s Hill – integrating library services within other public services.

We are in discussion with a neighbouring borough to share library support services and costs

During the public consultation the idea of providing library services from shops was discussed, and while this idea was ridiculed by some, it is now recommended by the report.

We have also given the community the opportunity to come up with ideas for running community library services in Friern Barnet and Hampstead Garden Suburb.

You can read more about the joint report on the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council’s website.


Library strategy approved, community ideas welcome

Back on 26 July, Cabinet agreed our plans for the Library service.

The objectives of the new library strategy are to:

  • increase reading, literacy and learning opportunities for children
  • promote reading and learning opportunities for adults
  • engage with communities and offer improved community spaces, access and resources
  • provide easier access to wider world of knowledge and information.

The main highlights are –

  • spending an extra £10,000 per year on more books
  • offering longer opening hours
  • giving a better online service
  • setting up new schemes to reach those with low levels of literacy
  • making sure every building is accessible and fit for purpose
  • merging back offices with one of our neighbours.

The strategy aims to move Friern Barnet Library and North Finchley Library in to the artsdepot to create a new landmark library. Officers will now commence detailed negotiations with artsdepot trust. We also proposed working with the Garden Suburb Institute to move the Hampstead Garden Library into their premises, though we will also consider any community proposals which come forward.

Cabinet gave community groups until the 31 October to come forward with community ideas about how they can carry on running a community library facility in their areas. Libraries services wouldn’t have to be run from the same location but would need to be run at a low cost to the council.

We listened when the community said they wanted a library service based on literary and learning and we will listen to the community’s ideas for their local library services.

We will seriously consider the proposals we receive for running Friern Barnet and Hampstead Garden Suburb libraries and welcome the contribution from local people. If you have a proposal please email Tom Pike, Head of Libraries. Tom is on leave for the next couple of weeks but will respond on his return.