The Upper Norwood Library - Croydon's political football

In a remarkable demonstration of solidarity, campaigners fighting for the future of 110-year-old Upper Norwood Library packed the main chamber of the Salvation Army Hall, Westow Street, on Wednesday 30th June 2010 for the AGM of the Upper Norwood Library Joint Committee.

Croydon Officer, Solomon Agutu, said that in the absence of a chairman it was custom and convention for an officer to chair a meeting so that a chair could be appointed.

Lambeth Councillor Florence Nosegbe said that what was custom and convention was for two local councillors from each borough to be appointed to the UNJL Committee, and that he should not apply custom and convention selectively.

Invited by Solomon Agutu to introduce themselves, Lambeth Councillors gave their names and wards they represented, but Croydon Councillors only gave their wards on the strong insistence of Lambeth Councillors.

Councillor Vidhi Mohan (Con. Fairfield) said he would give the ward he represented in the spirit of goodwill.

Upper Norwood Library Joint Committee June 2010

Councillor Matthew Bennett (Lab.Gipsy Hill) said it was very important that we all know which wards Croydon Councillors represent, as with due respect for their intelligence, he doubted that the people who elected them even knew of the existence of the Upper Norwood Library.

There was uproar when Croydon Councillors challenged the validity of the 1994 UNJL agreement which provides that two councillors from the four appointed each by Lambeth and Croydon, shall be local councillors.

Croydon Councillors Sara Bashford (Con. Selsdon and Ballards), Vidhi Mohan (Con. Fairfield), Jason Perry (Con. Croham)) and Phil Thomas (Con. Selsdon and Ballards), argued that a 2006 amendment to the 1994 UNJL agreement requiring that the committee shall include two local councillors from each borough, was not binding.

This contrived 'objection' is no more than a political manoeuvre, as since this 2006 amendment, proposed by Lambeth Councillor Russell A'Court (Con. Gipsy Hill) and agreed by Lambeth and Croydon, two local councillors from each borough have already been serving effectively on the UNJL committee for the past four years.

Croydon Councillor Pat Ryan
Upper Norwood Councillor, Pat Ryan, makes his point

Croydon Councillor Pat Ryan (Lab. Upper Norwood) present at the UNJL AGM and who had been a UNJL committee member in 2006 confirmed that the 2006 amendment was unanimously agreed by Croydon. From then, and until recent Local Council Elections, Cllr. George Filby (Con. Upper Norwood) and Cllr. Robert Askey (Con. Upper Norwood) were appointed by Croydon to the UNJL Committee, satisfying requirement for local representation.

In 2006, Labour controlled Lambeth Council, satisfying the requirement to appoint two local councillors to the UNJL Committee, appointed Cllr. Graham Pycock (Con. Gipsy Hill) and Cllr. Suzanne Poole (Con. Gipsy Hill).

Following the recent Local Council Elections, Croydon has no councillors for Upper Norwood, and clearly, in now appointing four cabinet members from remote wards, Croydon is not prepared, unlike Lambeth, to rise above party politics and appoint local councillors to the UNJL committee, from outside their own party.

Lambeth Councillors argued that consideration of this issue should be under independent chairmanship, but the interim Chair Solomon Agutu refused to allow discussion of the "…UNJL Constitution…" and said that a Croydon councillor should be appointed to chair the UNJL Committee for 2010/11.

Many present found this refusal to allow discussion undemocratic, particularly as Solomon Agutu is Head of Croydon Democratic and Legal Services.

Lambeth Councillors Matthew Bennett (Lab. Gypsy Hill), Jenny Brathwaite (Lab,Gipsy Hill), Jane Pickard (Lab. Knight's Hill) and Florence Nosegbe (Lab.Brixton Hill) (to shouts of support and cheers from the packed audience) voiced strong concerns that denial of the truth by Croydon Councillors is resulting in the Library becoming a political football, and jeopardising its survival.

Cllr Bennett reflected public perception in saying "...there is no respect from Croydon for the people of Upper Norwood."
Cllr Nosegbe said "...Lambeth are totally committed to this and would like to see local representatives from the London Borough of Croydon on this the best interests of the library."
Cllr Bashford (Croydon cabinet member for customer services, culture and sport) said "...the members were chosen because in the past Croydon had been criticised for not taking the library seriously enough...and it is not trying to control the committee to implement cuts."

Cllr Nosegbe (Lambeth cabinet member for culture) called for adjournment of the AGM until Croydon appointed local ward councillors as required by the amended UNJL agreement, while Croydon Councillors said they would seek legal advice.

The Chair Solomon Agutu then declared the AGM adjourned.

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