Concern over plans to scrap Greenwich mobile library

Greenwich Conservatives have expressed concern after it emerged Greenwich Council is considering closing the borough’s mobile library service.

Labour councillors announced a formal consultation “on the future of Royal Greenwich’s Library Outreach Service” last week. The council’s plans include scrapping the mobile library service, which currently stops at 18 roadside locations, 6 primary schools and 27 nurseries across the borough and issues approximately 30,000 items each year.

The service’s £126,200 budget would instead be used to offer additional home library visits to roadside users, with schools and nurseries expected to organise off-site visits to the Woolwich, Greenwich and Eltham Centres or other libraries instead of receiving books directly. Each school and nursery currently receives 1-2 visits per term, with a footfall of between 60 and 120 children each morning.

Labour councillors say that the borough’s current mobile library vehicle is coming to the end of its life and cannot be used until after March 2016, and that the council’s co-located library ‘hubs’ in the Woolwich, Greenwich and Eltham Centres create opportunities for school visits instead. The Conservative opposition has questioned why the decision has been left so late, with only one option proposed as part of the consultation.

The areas worst affected are likely to be the SE18 and SE9 postcode areas, which have the highest concentrations of use of the mobile library service. Conservative councillors said they are worried the plans are part of a wider agenda towards increasingly centralised library provision that could leave smaller communities, away from town centres, without adequate access to local library services.

Councillor Mark Elliott, Conservative spokesperson for Education & Culture, said: “We are extremely concerned by the council’s plan to close the mobile library, which seem like another step towards centralising all services in the town centres that could leave many residents left out. We will be scrutinising the consultation process closely and making sure that the residents, schools and nurseries who between them take out 30,000 items each year have their say.”

Adam Thomas, Conservative candidate for the London Assembly for Greenwich & Lewisham, said: "As a councillor I saw how vital these kinds of services are to people, because they are rooted in our local communities.

“There's a worrying trend across our area as library services are now being called into question by both Lewisham and Greenwich councils. The Greenwich mobile service is under threat and in Lewisham there are grave concerns that libraries will be centralised, leaving facilities like Manor House, Torridon Road and Forest Hill all with very uncertain futures.

“Labour's priorities are all wrong. Residents see almost 50 council officers in the two boroughs on over £100,000 and publications like Greenwich Time continuing to go out weekly. Labour councillors need to start listening to local people and understand how important these services are to us."  

The consultation is expected to start this month and last 10-12 weeks, with a final decision expected to be taken by the Labour Cabinet in the New Year.