Cambridge Central Library: huge public outcry

Cambridge Library_VJSThe people of Cambridge have reacted angrily to Cambridgeshire County Council‘s decision to allow a private firm to take over the third floor of Cambridge Central Library to create an Enterprise Centre. A petition launched by local resident Claire Dylan has attracted over 1,300 signatures in just a few days.

The decision was made on Tuesday by a council committee comprising councillors from all over Cambridgeshire. Although most of the councillors representing city wards criticized the proposal, councillors representing the villages in the rest of the Cambridgeshire outvoted us. For a report on how the meeting went see here, and for the council report see here.

We have big doubts about KORA, the company set to take over the third floor of the library, and we need much more information on them and how they would be operating: for example, would people have to pay to sit and read in that part of the library under their management in future? We also strongly believe that the library members should have a say in such a huge change, as well as the public of Cambridge. It is after all a PUBLIC LIBRARY.
My colleagues and I have called for the decision to be reconsidered so that councillors can be fully informed about this company and so that consultation with the public can be carried out. Our call-in has been successful and this will be looked at again by a committee of senior councillors on 14th April (10am).
Huge thanks to all those who turned out today to demonstrate public dismay at the proposals and to meet Julian Huppert MP, who is backing the project.

Cambridge Central Library to close café and turn third floor over to ‘enterprise centre’

Rural Tory and UKIP county councillors have today voted to convert the top floor of Cambridge Central Library into an enterprise centre run by an outside company (KORA), and to close the café.

Cllr Barbara Ashwood (Lib Dem) opened the debate by saying that while she is generally very supportive of the library service, she could not support this because of the paucity of background information. The report left her none the wiser, and she was not sure what was really meant by entrepreneurs’ lounge, international membership and the KORA Club. More information was needed on KORA and how the services would be reconfigured. She said she needed more detail before she could make this sort of commitment.
Amanda Taylor (Lib Dem) also spoke of the need for assurance about KORA and to know if they are good at what they do. Although independent, if they are located in the library they will be seen as part of the County Council and affect the Council’s own reputation. It would be bad to lose the café, which caters for parents & children and  pensioners, to whom it offers economical lunches – a welcome contrast to commercial outlets in the Grand Arcade. Ironically, bookshops are improving their resilience by augmenting the books sales with cafés, but we are told the County’s library café is losing money. Amanda said that before any decision is taken, there should be consultation with library users as well as a presentation by KORA.

Cllr Susan van de Ven (Lib Dem) described it as an ‘enormous change’ for one of our key public services and that it was our job to ask questions.  On behalf  of residents who had contacted her, she asked what would become of the Cambridgeshire Collection during the interim period before being rehoused in Ely.  She also asked how GCSE and A level students would cope if the library was closed during exam period.   She said she felt it was entirely reasonable to have an opportunity to question KORA before decision making, and felt this was not a decision that should be delegated.

Labour councillor Noel Kavanagh highlighted the risk involved — there are other facilities in Cambridge offering the same services such as the CUP Pitt Building and the University Centre which could be undermined. Any new café might well end up having to be closed at particular times to accommodate business events.

Tory, UKIP and Independent councillors all supported the proposals and talked of the need for assets to pay for themselves and of the potential international links as well as to skills & employment and the opportunity for cross-fertilization of ideas.

Cllr van de Ven moved an amendment to the motion calling for a deferral pending a presentation from KORA, which I seconded. Unfortunately we were outvoted on the amendment and the original recommendation went through. 

For a copy of the report to councillors, see here:
http://www2.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/CommitteeMinutes/committee-document.aspx/committees-new/hci/2015-03-17/Reports/8816/150317-5.doc
38 Degrees is running a petition called Don’t privatise the third floor of Cambridge Central Library, in which they highlight the dubious tax arrangements of KORA’s parent company, the Regus Group. It’s already on over 600 signatures.