A campaign has been launched to reverse Lewisham’s planned half a million pound cut to its library service.  

The proposal forms part of £40 million worth of budget cuts the council plans to make over the next three years.  

The council is reviewing the library service to fund cuts of £300,000 to £500,000, £100,000 to £230,000 of which could be made this year.  

Part of the cuts includes a hiring freeze as the service’s salary budget makes up 80 per cent of its total budget.   

But campaigners say the cut “is very bad news for people in Lewisham”.  

A spokesperson for the Save Lewisham Libraries Campaign said: “After lockdown more people than ever will need access to Lewisham public libraries for resources, literature, children’s books, computers, wifi, and the help library staff give them accessing library services, benefits, business loans, debt and housing advice – issues people will be struggling to cope with due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Lewisham council is proposing that staffing in libraries be slashed by up to £500,000.  

“In a crisis in which library workers have been designated as key workers, Lewisham residents should be asking what effects these proposed job cuts will have on opening hours, safety and access to our libraries.  

“These staffing cuts are likely to hit the poorest and most vulnerable groups hardest by falling on Lewisham, Deptford, Catford and Downham libraries – the rest of Lewisham’s libraries are volunteer run as the council offloaded responsibility for staffing them in 2011 and 2016.” 

The activists successfully campaigned to have a previous proposed cut of £450,000 reversed in 2018.   

“Lewisham councillors say they want libraries to be community hubs, support digital inclusion and give advice and support. 

“But with libraries already doing this, it is difficult to see how drastically cutting library workers’ jobs and the library budget will help deliver these aims.  

“Despite the disproportionate harm Covid-19 has had on particular communities in the borough in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, and deprivation, it is these groups who are already dealing with pre-existing inequalities that these proposed cuts will likely affect. 

“The only ‘non-traditional’ model Lewisham has consistently been interested in, is in replacing paid council workers with volunteers,” the spokesperson said.  

But the campaign group is calling for a more in-depth, wide-ranging consultation than the council is planning, so library users, staff and unions can have their say and inform the plans.  

A Lewisham council spokesperson said: “Libraries are one of the services that have been severely disrupted as a result of the pandemic.  

“Our buildings are currently closed but the home library and e-Library services continue to operate and have done since the start of the pandemic.  

“When it is safe to do so, the libraries will resume a normal service. 

 “However, in order to fill the £40 million gap in the budget, as a result of underfunding from central government, we do need to find some savings from our libraries’ budget.  

“We will be undertaking a review of the service, which will include engagement with residents and library users, and we’ll share more details of this soon.” 

The budget, including cuts, is set to go before full council on March 3. 

Save Lewisham Libraries has launched a petition, which can be seen here: http://chng.it/ZZ99WZxsPh