Streatham action response to Lambeth Culture 2020 consultation

STREATHAM ACTION

RESPONSE TO London Borough of Lambeth CULTURAL SERVICES 2020 CONSULTATION
24 April 2015

Introduction

Streatham Action is the Streatham area forum, the civic umbrella group representing the interests of the residents, students, workers, people who use parks and leisure facilities and other civic, interest and local amenity groups in the four Streatham wards. Streatham Action is also a member of the wider Lambeth Forum Network and works closely with other forums in Lambeth to consult with its represented local community to help the borough form policies that achieve optimal outcomes for the above stakeholders in the area's well-being.
Having listened to stakeholders we are aware that:

1. The scale of proposed cuts to services is not widely understood
2. The description “cultural services” as an over-arching term for several groups of services can be misleading
3. Efforts at consultation have reportedly steered consultative meetings to pre-determined outcomes with a linear result of lowered service levels equating to lowered expenditure.
4. Consultees were not adequately prepared before consultation meetings and learned they should have read difficult to find, or extensive, online resources beforehand.

In the light of this Streatham Action recommends a secondary consultation round with much wider involvement at much larger public meetings utilising the findings from the current consultation round as a starting point, with pros and cons, financial and service level implications clearly spelled out.

This notwithstanding, we hereby submit our consultation statement.

Libraries and Archives

Streatham Action wish to reflect the views of our local stakeholder organisation, The Streatham Society, by re-iterating that Lambeth have a serious fiduciary duty to us, our children and to posterity to preserve, maintain and add to its archives. We cannot meet the future with any hope of success without having learned from history and this only by having access to our history as documented.

Given the accreditation of Lambeth through the National Archives at Kew, reputational damage to the borough, should its standing as an archive holder be mishandled in the management of budgetary changes, has more than merely professional ramifications in a potential loss of accreditation. Footfall to businesses by visitors, schoolchildren and professionals using the archives for research, the quality of archives available for schools and universities and the opportunities for creating jobs via digitisation whilst simultaneously cutting costs by centralising storage of physical archives all have to be considerations before decisions are taken.

Streatham Action objects in the strongest terms possible to any derogation, destruction, rationalisation or downscaling of the contents of the archive itself. We would rather see relocation of archives, including importantly the Black Cultural Archives, away from Brixton town centre to a spot in the borough that has been identified as requiring regeneration, and ideally into one of the under-threat libraries such as Waterloo or Durning as a raison d'etre for ensuring its continuing use in a part of the borough sufficiently remote from the other established town centre libraries.

We have seen information labelling Lambeth libraries as having some of the highest cost bases for a library service whilst simultaneously delivering some of the lowest productivity for a library service in London. Before cutting geographical service we ask that Lambeth find best-practice methods for increasing the productivity of the service in the borough. An obvious way to do this would be to combine the service with that of another borough that overperforms in service delivery for libraries and import the management and staff best practice from elsewhere.

Streatham Action also recommend investing in community libraries building on the experience of The Railway Inn in Streatham. A new local community library based in a tea Room at the back of a public house is currently operating in a co-operative partnership mode with Streatham's Tate Library by providing a second satellite facility near Streatham Vale, an area that lost its library some years ago. This method of partnering bears further consideration by Lambeth to increase library service and productivity both at once.

Streatham Action further recommend the improved use of in-library IT by implementation of simple usability improvements such as a Frequently Asked Question  kiosk provided as a part of the self-checkout system. Library staff will, in many cases, be freed up to process book borrowing and other similar core tasks as similar questions are able to be answered by an easily scalable and configurable FAQ system.

Parks and Open Spaces

Streatham Action are grateful for the effort local volunteers who have successfully created the Streatham Common Co-operative (SCCoop) and are re-assured by the reports back from SCCoop in relation to the impact on local parks and local parks finances in the light of prior preparation by SCCoop.

Streatham Action want to be assured by Lambeth that local people will have the opportunity to take over and run their local green space or park, and only when this is not possible, or desired by a local amenity group, that larger co-operatives or outsource partners be offered the opportunity to bid for contracts or combine the open spaces with ones they manage already.

Streatham Action is concerned by the approach by the council and Friends of parks groups who treat local not-for-profit and volunteer groups who have run various activities on parks, commons or green spaces in the same way and with the same terms they do for groups conducting commercial activities on the same spaces. We insist that within the bounty that Lambeth Events will bestow on the Friends groups and other amenity societies, that Lambeth council create a requirement that the proceeds should be shared amongst all relevant amenity societies, not simply the immediate friends group, and that small charitable groups, not-for-profit groups and these same carrying out the requirement to provide sport and physical recreation provision on Streatham Common for the public (i.e. not paid membership groups) be allowed reasonably unrestricted use of the Common without charge, and under normal public use of common space rules as the public would ordinarily enjoy.

Streatham Action has serious concerns about the use of parks and open spaces, specifically that of Streatham Common by the Lambeth events team. The suggested volume is for holding eight major events per year on Streatham Common. Assuming an extrapolation of the Garage Nation event this means significant, and more importantly, popular, parts of the Common will be out of action for up to 16% of the year. If these events only take place in good weather times of the year the Common will be out of action for half the summer. This will be unsustainable as the local population will not tolerate the loss of amenity, particularly if the Common has restricted usage for significant periods of time during Spring, Summer and Autumn.

Streatham Action has further concerns about the distribution of collected funds from the events team's events on Streatham Common and other parks. We support the split between funds raised by hosting events on Streatham Common to be split between Lambeth, the Lambeth Parks budget and assorted Friends and amenity groups as detailed above. Streatham Action strongly opposes the misaligned incentives of the Lambeth Events team enjoying budgetary support from the largesse from scheduling and hosting events on Streatham Common or other open spaces in the area or the borough. The moral hazard of acting against public wishes in some cases would be  difficult to constrain.

Sport and Physical Activity Provision

Streatham Action has information that ongoing sports provision outside leisure centres is chaotic and not well organised. The organisation of the young peoples mini-marathon team this weekend is a prime example vis-a-vis the organisational efforts of neighbouring boroughs. As the borough enjoys a surplus from its provision of public leisure centres it is uncertain exactly where the sports budget is spent and what measurable outcomes are achieved. Streatham Action would like to see the investment in Lambeth organised sports provision be concentrated in areas in which there are proven measurable outcomes such as tackling youth obesity and building capacity in developing physical maintenance skills in young people versus spending money on adults who should be motivated to improve and protect their health as knowledgeable consumers. Streatham Action also urges Lambeth to prioritise spend on sports provision that can be delivered  in the outdoors, in spaces in which expensive facilities and infrastructure is unnecessary and that can be carried on by the public on their own without the necessity of expensive infrastructure or buildings and equipment. This might mean the provision of outdoor gyms at playgrounds. We have been asked to request that such equipment be realistically accessible but include the capacity to be, and incorporate design standards in which the equipment is, sufficiently challenging for the public that aren't absolute beginners.

Given the surfeit of local groups providing physical activity training anyway, Streatham Action recommend supporting these groups and outsource some provision to these groups. This allows subject matter experts to provide essential support and training building in resilient and sustainable skills in the local populace, whilst also supporting local micro-businesses in the borough and enjoying flexible service provision without the onus of funding expensive continuing employment.

Conclusion

Streatham Action would like to see more tightly managed public services so that the borough gets more productivity out of each pound spent. If services must be rationalised Streatham Action insist on doing so with maximum effort at being creative and innovative to minimise the loss to the public and, in some instances to actually increase the level, quality and amount of public service provided in an environment of decreasing budgetary expenditure by the borough.

We have provided suggestions with our position on the consultation issues. We ask that Lambeth take them seriously and examine alternatives to simply cutting budgets and services in a linear fashion, We have an immense pool of talent in Streatham and a wealth of creative experience and we offer this to Lambeth to constructively engage with the borough to seek co-operative solutions that can cost less and deliver more.