Brent North Labour MP Barry Gardiner slams Labour council over library closures

Mr Gardiner launched a stinging attack on plans to close half the borough’s libraries

Brent North Labour MP Barry Gardiner has attacked his fellow Party members over plans to cut half the borough’s libraries.

Speaking at a packed community meeting to save Preston Library, Mr Gardiner said libraries are a ‘community priority’, and called on the Labour-run administration to ‘listen to the people’ and scrap plans to close them.

Addressing the meeting, he said: “Libraries are absolutely essential to any community and that the fact that so many people have turned out to make that clear is wonderful.

“I understand that the council has very serious problems – they have to make �104million worth of cuts over the next four years.

“But I remember Nye Bevan said that priorities are the song of socialism. These libraries are our priorities, and they should not be taken away. They should be expanded.”

Speaking about the ‘genteel decline’ of the nation’s reading rooms, the former junior Northern Ireland minister added: “It is a trick councils do up and down the country. They look at resources like libraries and they find that they are not as well used as they used to be.

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“But instead of thinking they can improve the resources, they say ‘OK, let’s run it down’. They use it as a justification for taking that resource away.

“I accept that this administration has difficulties in meeting the financial constraints the Government has imposed on them. But I disagree with [Brent Council leader] Ann John on libraries.”

Turning to Cllr James Powney, lead member for libraries, Mr Gardiner said: “This is how consultation should be. We cannot cut these services and fail completely to understand the needs and demands of local people.

“The reason this is so important is because of the children. In my own family, it was the weekly trip to the library with our children that was absolutely fundamental. It was about growing up and being part of an intellectual community. This council has to realise that.

“Let’s save the libraries.”

Mr Gardiner’s stinging attack comes as the council is poised to vote on their budget for the coming financial year, which contains proposals to slash the libraries spending by �1million a year.

It plans to close reading rooms in Tokyngton, Neasden, Barham Park, Kensal Rise, Cricklewood and Preston Road.

Campaigners welcomed the MP’s interjection, which they said was a symptom of the community anger the proposed cuts have sparked.

Sag Shah, a member of the Save Preston Library campaign, said: “It was very encouraging. We knew it was difficult for Barry Gardiner, but for him to say that was really important.”

Cllr Powney said no final decision had been made on closing the libraries, and that’s severe, frontloaded cuts are being forced up on the council by the Government.

He said: “The problem is that the government by law requires councils to set balanced budgets and, because of the cuts, this is not very easy.

“Clearly a lot of work has gone into the work into the Save Preston Library campaign, but there are no easy options.”