Controversy over future of Cambridge library

Olly Hudson 21 March 2015

Proposals to allow a private company to run part of Cambridge Central Library have generated controversy after the County Council decided to lease a portion of the third floor to Kora, part of the Regus Group.

The £600,000 enterprise project, decided by the council’s highways and communities infrastructure committee, will see the company take on a temporary contract for the running of the Library Enterprise Centre, though the building and its space will continue to be publically owned.

Opposition has come from trade union Unison, raising fears that those unable to pay for the new service would find themselves “crowded on to the remaining two floors, which are often full already.”

The Cambridge Student contacted Cambridgeshire County Council about the plans. The council said: “The new centre will play a key role in supporting employment prospects for residents and helping local businesses grow.”

The council gave reassurance that “the library will still remain a place for all the community to enjoy”, but added: “We’re just making the best financial use of the space.”

Addressing objections to the alleged ‘privatisation’, the council also argued: “Times are changing and we need to be bold in our approach to respond to the tough financial challenges that we face – the reality is that the alternatives are greater reductions in services – for which the library service would be no exception.”

Yesterday saw a protest take place against the plans with local MP, Julian Huppert in attendance, as well as 40 or so protestors.

In an email to constituents, the Lib Dem MP said: “In my view the central library is an important community space in the centre of the city. The café there provides an affordable alternative to the chain coffee shops that we have so many of in the city centre.”

He argued: “Decisions like this should be made after a full consultation and by councillors aware of the full facts. This has not happened.”

Cambridge University campaign group, ‘Whose University?’ criticised the proposals, claiming: “Reading isn’t a commodity. Nor is education.”

Central objections include the scrapping of the community café on the third floor of the library, as well as concerns that the decision was taken behind closed doors and without adequate public consultation.

Deputy Leader of the Council’s Labour Group, Councillor Ashley Walsh told TCS: “Residents have a right to know that their council tax is being used effectively and for the public good. The consultation on the plans has so far been inadequate.”

Councillor Walsh backed the plans, however, arguing: “The proposals would produce much-needed revenue which we could use to save branch libraries.”

He added: “The idea that the County Council would reject the offer of a business to inject freshness and dynamism into the library service shows how irresponsible and anti-business the Lib Dems are willing to be just to try and gain votes.”

The decision has now been called in for review by the County Council’s executive board in light of concerns regarding a lack of adequate public consultation.