Concerns over looming cuts to Haringey’s libraries

Library users across the borough fear the impact of proposed cuts by Haringey Council, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Peter Beardsley and Joanna Bornat stage a mini-protest outside Stroud Green and Harringay Library (credit Clive Carter)
Peter Beardsley and Joanna Bornat stage mini-protest at Stroud Green and Harringay Library (credit Clive Carter)

Library users in Haringey have expressed alarm at proposed cuts to services as the council faces growing budgetary pressures. 

Haringey Council is looking to cut spending on its library service by 31% over the next three years, but has emphasised that no individual libraries are proposed for closure.

It comes amid the council’s ongoing work to balance its 2024/2025 budget, which currently has a £16.3million gap ahead of being finalised next month.

Members of the Friends of Reading and Education (Fore), an umbrella group for library user groups in Haringey, are worried the reduction of services will lead to permanent closures down the line. 

They say cuts proposed for 2024/25 include reduced opening hours for branch libraries and an end to stocking hard copy magazines and newspapers, while the next stage of cuts, after 2025, could include using swipe cards to gain access and hiring out library spaces to other organisations.

In response to these fears Emily Arkell, cabinet member for culture, communities and leisure, who has been in discussions with Fore, gave a reassurance the council would not be closing any local libraries and said: “This message is clear.”

Following the recent discussion with the council on the cuts, Michael O’Callaghan, a Fore member and supporter of Highgate Library, said: “Words we got on what they’re considering changing were quite brief, what I remember hearing was that they won’t be using volunteers [instead of professional librarians], but that could still leave room to bring in other organisations.”

Peter Beardsley, a friend of Stroud Green and Harringay Library in Quernmore Rd for about eight years and a Fore member, said members were “officially” told on 11th December that library services would be contributing “about £1.3m of cuts to help Haringey balance its budget”.

He said: “It was all hurriedly done because within around 24 hours, the budget consultation was announced to start on 13th December, running until 15th January.

“We had to run around like headless chickens; they’re coming not only for the opening hours of our libraries but the ethos of our libraries.”

Peter said members were out with posters, placards and leaflets letting residents know what was happening “right before Christmas”.  He said despite being told by officers that no libraries will close he worried they were “embarking on a process of diminished decline” as he felt particularly in smaller libraries that they would “struggle to maintain users”.

He added that the response to the consultation was encouraging and showed there was a lot of “love” for libraries from residents and staff.

Placards outside Stroud Green and Harringay Library (credit Clive Carter)
Placards outside Stroud Green and Harringay Library (credit Clive Carter)

Joanna Bornat, another member of Fore and supporter of Stroud Green and Harringay Library, emphasised the importance of residents advocating for their local library as well as the precarious financial climate the council was in.

She said the group needed to think how it would “mobilise people locally” and appealed for schools and parents to get involved in the campaign.

Joanna said: “We have at least three schools who use our library [Stroud Green and Harringay], tiny though it is, and I think we need to do more work getting parents involved and perhaps locally published authors. We need to call on their support.

“We need to draw on the energy of people who live locally, of all ages. Stroud Green and Harringay Library has under-fives groups and activities going on every day in the week.”

In response to the concerns raised by library users, Cllr Arkell said: “As we review the feedback and responses we have received from our residents, it is important we listen, and respond, to their views and opinions to arrive at an optimal outcome for everybody in our borough – high-quality, successful libraries that don’t just survive, but thrive.”

In response to the financial pressure the council is under, Cllr Arkell said: “We cannot simply ‘borrow money from elsewhere’ as budgets are tight and that could put additional strain on our frontline, core services.

“This is a very challenging time for many local authorities after 14 years of austerity from central government and Haringey Council is no exception.”

Highgate Library and Muswell Hill Library are currently temporarily closed for refurbishment. They are both due to reopen in spring.