Friern Barnet Library: When is the 'One Barnet' programme not the 'One Barnet' programme?

We are all absolutely delighted with the Conservative council's sudden u-turn decision, announced yesterday, to grant the local community  a license to continue running Friern Barnet Library in the building the Council closed last April.  Signs are good that this will result in a long-term lease being granted to the community so the Library can remain open to the public on a permanent basis.

The credit for this marked turn in events must surely go to the local community, supported by their Labour councillors, and the unstinting commitment they have shown to the goal of keeping their cherished local Library open. 
 
Conservative Council Leader, Cllr Richard Cornelius, yesterday made the following statement: "With the council's One Barnet change programme making greater savings than initially predicted I am pleased that we no longer need to sell this building to support the Library capital programme."
 
I have to admit, that I found myself doing the proverbial "double-take" when I read that statement from Richard Cornelius in the Guardian - for a number of reasons.
 
The first reason is that it was the 'One Barnet' programme that proposed closing Friern Barnet Library in the first place in order to make savings. 
 
When we asked recently how much money 'One Barnet' had saved in Wave 1 of the programme, the list of savings included the closure of Friern Barnet Library.  The specific entry for "Libraries Strategy" in the list of 'One Barnet' Wave 1 savings says:
 
"Savings will be achieved primarily in  2013/14 through a restructure of service designed to achieve efficiencies without affecting the ability of the service to deliver the Library Strategy.  Further savings will be achieved through the Implementation of RFID self-service in all sites (this has already been partly implemented in 2012/13), the running of Hampstead Garden Suburb Library by members of the community and the creation of a new landmark library in the arts depot (and the subsequent closure of Friern Barnet library)."
 
Six months ago, Maureen Ivens, former Chair of the Save the Friern Barnet Library Group and tenacious Library campaigner, wrote a blog for us about the closure of her local Library which was published on this website.  In the very first sentence of her blog, she said, "In April this year [2012] Friern Barnet Library was shut down by the Council, under the One Barnet Policy, following protracted protests by the local community and the rejection of Save Friern Barnet Library Group’s two cogent proposals to run the facility with a skeleton paid staff."
 
So, contrary to Richard Cornelius' statement, far from 'One Barnet' being the saviour of Friern Barnet Library, it was actually the programme under which the Library was closed.
 
The second claim Richard Cornelius makes in his statement that requires rebuttal, is that somehow the Council now don't need to sell Friern Barnet Library because 'One Barnet' is "...making greater savings than initially predicted...".   
 
This is complete nonsense.
 
Back in July 2011 we were told that the predicted 'One Barnet' savings would be £4.7m in 2011/12, £4.1m in 2012/13 and £3.3m in 2013/14 (see Council Question 31 here). 
 
Only 5 months later, in December 2011, we were then told that 'One Barnet' savings would be £5.8m in 2011/12, £8.2m in 2012/13 and £14.1m in 2013/14. 
 
Then, just 3 months ago in November 2012, we obtained an update from the Council that the 'One Barnet' savings made in 2011/12 were in fact only £5.7m, the predicted savings for 2012/13 were only £7.8m and the predicted savings for 2013/14 had not been uprated.  
 
In fact, the last 'One Barnet' savings table was published at Cabinet Resources Committee on 17 December 2012, and there is no mention of "greater savings" there. The Council published this table the day before the court case to evict the Friern Barnet Library occupiers took place, and the closure of Friern Barnet Library is still listed as part of these 'One Barnet' savings.
 
It may be that Richard Cornelius is referring to the savings he has been promised by Capita under the 'One Barnet' outsourcing of NSCSO / back-office services. These savings were supposed to materialise at some point in 2013/14 - but of course, we now know that the decision to outsource to Capita is under Judicial Review and the contract with Capita has not yet been signed because of this. In any event, Cllr Cornelius was well aware of  Capita's proposed savings at the time the Council were planning to market the Friern Barnet Library site for sale.
 
So, it is simply hogwash for Richard Cornelius to claim in his statement of Monday that they no longer need to sell Friern Barnet Library off because they are "making greater [One Barnet] savings than initially predicted".
 
In fact, there was neverany need to sell-off Friern Barnet Library.
 
The Barnet Conservatives claimed the Council had to close Friern Barnet Library and sell the land for around £450,000 in order to fund investment in the Council's remaining Libraries.  
 
Labour councillors instead proposed that the Council should use part of the £17million held in reserves to fund 'One Barnet' projects to invest in our Libraries so they didn't have to close Friern Barnet Library. 
 
The Barnet Conservatives would not support our proposal, and ploughed on regardless.
 
The truth of the matter is that the Conservatives running Barnet Council have been forced into a hugely embarrassing u-turn because of the dogged determination of a local community who were simply not willing to let their Library die.
 
Friern Barnet Library remains open despite 'One Barnet' not thanks to it!

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Better Barnet posted about Friern Barnet Library: When is the 'One Barnet' programme not the 'One Barnet' programme? on Better Barnet's Facebook page 2013-02-07 16:08:59 +0000
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