Tag Archives: Norfolk People’s Assembly

Austerity Cuts continue to hit Library Services in Norfolk, locals Protest

Norfolk Library Services face more cuts

Norwich Millennium Library, Norfolk County Council Cuts, Norfolk People's Assembly Protest
“I love my library because…” Norwich Millennium Library

In the wake of more cuts to Norfolk cultural services including libraries Norfolk People’s Assembly held a peaceful protest on Saturday outside the Norwich Millennium Library and encouraged people inside the library to fill out paper hearts saying why they loved the library:

“I love libraries because I can’t afford books”
“I love libraries because I’m a writer and I couldn’t be if I didn’t read”
“libraries change lives”
“I love my library because it opens up new worlds to everyone”
“libraries mean freedom of thought, of society, of life”

Norwich Millennium Library, Norfolk County Council Cuts, Norfolk People's Assembly Protest

“libraries change lives”, Norwich Millennium Library

For six of the last seven years Norwich Millennium Library was the most visited nationally by footfall, and this last year (1.2m people) dropped only to second place behind Central Manchester Library (1.3m). It still has the most number of books borrowed per year, well over a million and the most used county library service in the country. It is a well-loved service and 36% of respondents to last year’s Council budget consultation wanted more spent on libraries, ahead of Fire & Rescue, making it the fourth most popular of 16 essential services.

It has recently fended off threats to close up to half its 47 libraries, but alternative cuts are being considered including reduced hours, stock and staff.

Norwich Millennium Library, Norfolk County Council Cuts, Norfolk People's Assembly Protest
“I love libraries because I can’t afford books”, Norwich Millennium Library

National Library cuts affect the poorest

Hands off our libraries
Hands off our libraries

In 2014/15 another 106 libraries closed after £50m of cuts,  down from 4,023 to 3,917. Over the whole of the last parliament, funding for libraries fell by more than £180m (16%), with visits down 13.6% in the same period, in part down to fewer libraries and reduced hours, as well as changing social usage patterns. Other studies show that libraries are more than maintaining their relevance and usefulness, for instance: “free public libraries in the United States have never been more popular“.

Whilst national reports may indicate that overall library use is declining, among those that do use them a bigger proportion are from population groups and minorities in greater need of their services:

  • Adults living in the most deprived areas visit the library more
  • Adults from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups use the library more than adults from white ethnic groups
  • Women visit libraries more than men
  • More non-working adults use library services

“Children and elderly people were being worst affected by the cuts.” – Laura Swaffield, chair of The Library Campaign

As a result cuts would disproportionately affect disadvantaged groups and one has to question whether an equalities impact assessment has been made.

Fewer Books for fiction and non-fiction fans

Since 2010 British libraries have lost over 14 million books, 1-in-7 of their previous stocks of nearly 100 million. We now have just 82 million, and falling. In that time, we’ve lost 400 libraries, and dozens of part-time and mobile library services.

A national protest will be held at the UK Parliament on February 9.

Legal case to Challenge Library cuts

Nick Poole, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), Chief Executive, says:

“Public libraries are not a luxury. Their provision is not discretionary – Local Councils have a statutory duty. For millions of people every year library services are a lifeline. That is why the statutory right to a quality public library service was established under the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act…[the cuts] “undermine rights which are enshrined in the Equality Act, Human Rights Act and Public Libraries & Museums Act.”

Petition the government to protect the statutory duty to supply a quality library service. Stay up to date with library news and challenges to service reductions around the country via publiclibrariesnews.com run by  Ian Anstice, a librarian based in the Northwest of England. If you’re a writer, reporter or commentator, then read this, albeit with a US slant, about how to represent libraries, librarians and funding crises in your writing.

Norfolk County Council budget consultation

Norfolk County Council are seeking public comment on their budget proposals which includes both cuts and innovations to the library services around the county. The consultation closes on January 14 and local people can also comment direct via email – haveyoursay@norfolk.gov.uk.

Oppose Council Library Cuts
Oppose Norfolk Council Library Cuts

“The council is examining how we maintain library services while reducing costs. We plan to keep all libraries operating and will invest in new ‘open-plus’ technology that will maintain opening hours with swipe card entrance to libraries and self-service. This has already been successfully trialled at Acle Library.

While this will maintain overall opening hours, there is a proposed reduction in staffed opening times at the Millennium Library in Norwich. There would also be a reduction in the amount spent on library stock. The mobile library service remains although it is proposed that the extra Saturday service in some areas will stop. The council will review whether other services can be run from library buildings or mobile libraries.” – Norfolk County Council

Norfolk County Council currently spends just 2% on Cultural Services (Libraries, Museums and Archives) and the Library service has already had its budget reduced from £12.5m in 2003/4 to £9.6m in 2015. In real terms that’s a 50% cut as increasing services in line with inflation and population growth should have seen them rise to £19m.

Imagine Norfolk Libraries
Imagine Norfolk Libraries

Imagine Norfolk Libraries
It isn’t hard to do
No new books before us
No librarians too
Not open when you need them
Their services too few
Norfolk County Council
Will make this nightmare true

Sign the Change.org petition to oppose Norfolk County Council library cuts. Another way to support local library services is to make use of your library card entitling you to borrow up to 15 books or media items at a time. In addition, you can request to fill in a library “impact story” form with a member of staff, giving feedback on how the library has supported you. For instance, I’ve been part of a Gender and Sexuality (GAS) reading and discussion group that the library has hosted for the last 5 years enabling a safe space to discuss topical issues. In the past I was also a part of a library youth support group that used to run there.

Norwich Millennium Library
Norwich Millennium Library “tell us why”

Libraries are about more than just books, they are community hubs offering free education, inspiration, and an opportunity to slow down and get lost in literature. For England’s first UNESCO City of Literature it would be a shame for Norwich to lose any of its library stock and staff to politically motivated austerity cuts.

Save Our Library, Norwich Cuts
Save Our Library, banner drop, Norwich Millennium Library – more photos here


Norfolk People’s Assembly Anti Austerity Protest Rally, 30 May, Norwich UK

NPA Anti-Austerity Protest Rally

Julie Bremner protesting Get The Tories Out at Norwich NPA Rally
Julie Bremner with Socialist Worker protesting Get The Tories Out – Strike, Protest, Occupy at Norwich NPA Rally

Saturday 30 May at midday saw several hundred people “depressed and angry about the election results” gather at the Norwich Haymarket who wanted “a more equal, fairer, kinder system…” standing together to find “a better way”. The growing local Norfolk People’s Assembly saw hundreds of local activists heed the call for a National day of Action from the UK People’s Assembly as a pre-cursor to a larger anti-government rally on 20 June in London. Some 475 joined the Facebook event and around 200-250 showed up at the Norwich Haymarket, nestled between McDonald’s, Top Shop, Next, Starbucks, and Primark. The statue of a pensive  Sir Thomas Browne – the medic and author of “Vulgar Errors”, looked down upon the modern crowd, probably wondering why we hadn’t yet solved 17th century problems of inequality and poverty, more than 3 centuries later.

Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket 30 May 2015
Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket 30 May 2015

Different interest groups but a common message

Banners for Saving Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk (currently in special measures), the Norfolk People’s Assembly and DPAC Norfolk (Disabled People Against Cuts) were unfurled along with dozens of printed and home made anti-austerity signs held aloft by arms weary after 5 years of Coalition cuts and now faced with another 5 years of threatened welfare budget reductions under the recently elected Conservative Party.

Stop the war against the poor
Stop the war against the poor

Diverse people representing numerous special interest bodies such as Save the NHS or the Hewett School, students, unemployed, disabled groups, political parties, affiliations and none, all called in unison for an end to the cuts and austerity.

A lone young female heckler raised a sober voice saying that “you people on benefits already get too much”. Perhaps, influenced by the hardline Right wing and Ukip rhetoric in the East of England during the recent election campaign.

Passionate Political Speeches

If the personal is political then that rang true of speakers from across the board, less because it was about them, more because of the passion with which they spoke for and on behalf of others but from the depths of personal experience of austerity and cuts to their sectors or own lives.

Green Party spokesperson at Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Rally, Norwich Haymarket
Political speeches at Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Rally, Norwich Haymarket

Speakers from the rally organisers, included Jan McLachlan, representatives of the Green Party, and Mark Harrison of the disability charity Equal Lives who drew attention to the ongoing access issues at the Duke Street work capability assessments centre.

Recently elected local Labour MP for Norwich South – Clive Lewis, suggested that even illegal direct action may be necessary to oppose immoral laws and Government inaction. Lewis spoke in an impassioned way that would probably shame the current batch of Labour leadership hopefuls and their copycat “aspirations of hard working families” soundbites.

Clive Lewis Labour MP for Norwich South speaks passionately about opposition and direct action
Clive Lewis Labour MP for Norwich South speaks passionately about opposition and direct action

Media & Press Coverage

Norwich Evening News covers NPA Anti Austerity Rally
Norwich Evening News covers NPA Anti Austerity Rally

Norwich Evening News reported very briefly on the rally but unfortunately made the demonstration sound like it was organised by Clive Lewis, which was not the case. Great publicity for the Labour MP, whose support and speech were appreciated, however poor journalism and social media tweeting by the EDP‘s Evening News arm, neglecting to mention many speakers and making it sound like the excellent Norfolk People’s Assembly organisers joined Mr Lewis, rather than the other way around. Political fairness also dictates that other parties such as the Norwich Green Party were also represented there. After contacting Archant I was assured that they would pass on “corrections you’ve pointed out to the reporter who wrote the story who will amend as appropriate”. Four days later, finally, an amendment to the online news story: “The rally, organised by the Norfolk People’s Assembly, was attended by Unison members, and pupils and parents from the Hewett School.” But still no response to the original and even more inaccurate tweet:

If Monday is a slow news day, then posting about Saturday’s event, also on the EDP site, has led to 44+ comments, the most commented on article today (58 now).

More photographic coverage on Demotix.

Earnest about Education too

Education was well represented by Ian Anderson a spokesperson for the We’re backing Hewett campaign, UEA staff, and Postgraduate Education officer UEA Students Union Liam McCafferty.

Liam, depressingly depicted a dystopian future where people would not be able to afford higher education.

Nick O'Brien speaking at the Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Rally
Nick O’Brien speaking at the Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Rally

Local deputy head teacher, NUT Campaigns Coordinator, Norwich Pride Chair and social activist, Nick O’Brien mentioned the reportedly over 27,000 children in Norfolk now living in poverty, at increased risk of poor health and educational achievement, whilst more than half a dozen children of protesting parents were happy, beyond most young kids’ attention spans, to hold up placards drawing attention to the plight of people of all ages and abilities under the current cuts.

NPA Press Release

Family solidarity as kids affected by austerity say "No Cuts"
Family solidarity as kids affected by austerity say “No Cuts”

Norwich Radical writer and NPA Press Secretary, Jack Brindelli, issued this statement for the press:

We at the People’s Assembly are steadfastly opposed to the Tories vicious plans for Britain, and the implications they will have for the people of Norfolk. On David Cameron’s watch as Prime Minister, the country has become bitterly divided along the lines of wealth inequality. His government’s cuts have shamefully targeted society’s most vulnerable – from the disabled, to the unemployed, to the unborn.

Whilst the Conservatives have been selling off the NHS through the backdoor, Britain’s infant mortality rate has risen to become the highest in Western Europe. Since 2010, the Black Triangle campaign estimates more than 80 suicides have been directly linked to cuts to social security – as those who need help most have been driven to desperate decisions by the Tories’ savage austerity measures. Over the duration of the last Parliament, the government have also butchered our legal rights by cutting legal aid – and are currently poised to axe the Human Rights Act, which currently protects ordinary citizens of all races from torture and persecution.

Young emboldened activist stands defiantly for "No Cuts"
Young emboldened activist stands defiantly for “No Cuts”

They have dismantled the comprehensive education system with their failed Free Schools and Academies scheme, turning schools like Hewett into profit-driven production lines, and they have tripled tuition fees – essentially ending the chances of a generation to learn beyond a GCSE level.

Kids who can't vote yet say "Get the Tories Out"
Kids who can’t vote yet say “Get the Tories Out”

We have a clear choice for the next 5 years then. If we want to live in a world without an NHS, without universal education, without opportunity, without hope, then we need only sit back and wait for 2020’s election to at best deliver us cuts from a different party. If however, we are intent on not only protecting the ideas of freedom, opportunity and the right to live with dignity, but also determined to literally save hundreds of lives, and to provide our children with a future worth living, then we must stand together now. Over the coming months, across the country from Glasgow to Newcastle, to Liverpool to London, the People’s Assembly plans to take action to stop David Cameron’s gang of market-extremists in their tracks, and build a better alternative. For us, the fightback starts here, in Norwich.

More photos of the Norfolk People’s Assembly Norwich rally here.

UK Uncut Anti-Austerity Rally in London

Human Rights Act protest
Human Rights Act protest

London saw two rallies on Saturday, one against the proposed replacement of the Human Rights Act by an expected to be watered down British Bill of Rights, and another called for by UK Uncut which saw 4,700 join the Facebook event. Less than that, as is usual with online events, turned up, but the hundreds that did protested peacefully and painted in situ a large 20m banner: “12bn more cuts. £120bn tax dodged – Austerity is a lie“, which they subsequently hung over the side of the bridge opposite Parliament. Although paint bombs were let off and direct action was called for, no arrests were made. Beth Cunningham told reporters:

“Direct action is what works. It sends a loud and clear message that people aren’t happy. And it’s part of acknowledging that our current political resources aren’t enough. People don’t have enough resources in the current political system to make their voices heard and that’s why we resort to direct action.”