I went down for a celebration at Friern Barnet Library today. We had BBC and ITV there. We had balloons and a buffet. The only thing was, I really wasn't sure what we were celebrating. Huge signs were stuck up everywhere saying that the library was reopening today. Oddly enough it was opened yesterday. It has been opened since September 2012 when Occupy moved in. The only thing that changed today was the fact that the the council now has an agreement with the local community, wheras prior to 10:30, the community just did it's stuff anyway. So in effect we were all gathering to celebrate the fact that the council has accepted that it has been rather stupid and wasted a load of money on a pointless court case.
In September I attended a stack of meetings where local groups offered the council exactly what they have now. The council spurned the opportunity and spent a load of my money going to court. This took three hearings, the last of which took two days of court time. Although the council won the right to repossess the library, the court case in effect destroyed their mandate to close the library. A High Court District judge declared that the reopened library was a community asset and urged the council to negotiate a license to allow the library to continue.
The council has been desperately trying to work out how to save face ever since. It was clear to me from the moment that Occupy took over the library what would happen. Now the traagedy of this is that the council is meant to represent the community. It is meant to carry out the will of the people. It is meant to consult us and work with us. We got the right result but it took five months and a court case. Some of the supporters are quite forgiving of the people at the council who have spent five months enacting rotten policy. I am not one of them. The court case cost thousands of pounds and was spent needlessly. This result could have been achieved without it. It is my money, your money all of our money. It could have been spent on improving the lives of the disabled and the vulnerable, but it wasn't. It was spent on advised and unnecessary court case. If you saw a burglar stealing thousands from a sick pensioner, would you stand by? Well if you wouldn't why would you want to slap someones back who allowed the same pensioners services to chopped, because they can't be bothered to enact the will of the people?
So you may ask why I bothered to go at all, as I am such a curmudgeon? I went because Friern Barnet Library is a symbol. It shows that a community can organise and can win arguments. It shows that protesting is worth while. The main reason I went is because I had something to say. I wasn't invited to speak, so I invited myself. Our host, Rabbi Jeffrey Newman very graciously accepted my invitation. And what did I say?
I said that this is just one struggle in Barnet and if we want to win the other struggles, we have to get off our backsides, dig into our wallets and fight. I said that the lesson to learn is that if anyone says protesting and direct action are pointless, show the Friern Barnet Library. If it hadn't been for the Occupy movement and the activists who were prepared to lead the fight, Barnet Council would have sold the library off. If anyone says to you that protesting doesn't work, just reply "Friern Barnet Library".
I am proud that I have played some small part in saving Friern Barnet Library. I am proud to be recognised as one of the Famous Five Barnet Bloggers. We have facilitated change in this leafy suburban paradise. Today is yet another victory for the causes we support, but not because the keys to the library changed hands today. It is a victory because the community packed out the library and they have shown that they cannot be ignored. That is the real victory today
There is also a little message for One Barnet winners Capita -check out this story on the BBC
And these on ITV
As I've repeatedly said, Barnet is a media hotspot and a place with more media than anywhere else in the country. Barnet stories cannot be ignored. Whatever Capita do in Barnet will be dissected under the microscope. If it goes wrong, this will tarnish the reputation and damage the share price of Capita. I hope their shareholders appreciate this. I doubt a library story would make both the BBC and ITV news anywhere else in London. Whilst I don't believe that common sense can save Barnet from this outsourcing madness, maybe, just maybe the self interest of the shareholders of Capita might. I have been giving advice recently to a shareholder advice service on the likely effects of the judicial review and the involvement with Barnet on Capita share price, explaining how the project may damage the company and negatively impact the share price. Of course, the project may go swimmingly and it may all be fine and dandy, but the shareholders should be aware of the risk. Now the Friern Barnet Library battle has been won, many activists are on a high and are looking for a new target. I've been told that Capita are likely to be seeing a lot more attention in the coming weeks.