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Occupied Friern Barnet library: ‘The Council’s position has changed’

This is the latest chapter from Mrs Angry at Broken Barnet on the fight by residents and campaigners to keep Friern Barnet library - which has been occupied by campaigners for several months - open for community use. There are videos at the end of the post from a recent meeting with a council officer on the council's position on the occupation:

A meeting took place last week at the occupied Friern Barnet library - the People's Library, as it has become, since it was reclaimed for the community by a team of occupiers and reopened by residents in defiance of the council's determination to sell the property for development.

You can see two films below in which Bill Murphy, Barnet's assistant director of Customer Services, the senior officer with responsibility for libraries, tries to overcome his sense of discomfort at sitting in a squat, in front of a tent, surrounded by a circle of community activists, and visibly fails, but struggles on to explain the council's position on the current developments, and to try to undo the damage caused by Tory Cabinet member Robert Rams' idiotic, contradictory remarks regarding the occupation in statements to the local press - and in his own press release.

Rams has thankfully fallen silent, or perhaps been gagged - (just stop there for a moment, and let Mrs Angry enjoy the thought) - and an officer has had to step in to try and take back control of yet another One Barnet cock up.

It has been confirmed by Bill Murphy that Rams' reported comments in the press last week - suggesting that a local charity would be running the library and deciding on the granting of a licence is, as the charity commUNITY Barnet has already stated - a load of nonsense.

Quite how Rams expects to continue in his role as Cabinet member in the circumstances is really rather mystifying, but then we must never underestimate the ability of Barnet Tory councillors to do the wrong thing at the wrong time and expect to get away with it.

And here is a major admission from the London Borough of Broken Barnet - as announced not by any Tory councillor, of course, but by interim consultant Mr Murphy -

'The council's position has changed'.

Aha. That right, Robert Rams?

In fact, Mr Murphy goes on to say the council's position has 'shifted significantly'.

Really? Why so, Mrs Angry wonders?

Could it be that at last, this Tory council, donkeys led by donkeys, has blundered into a muddy field with no way out other than the road to the electoral abbatoir and caught the scent of blood in the air?

Possibly. That's if you believe that Mr Murphy is speaking with authority and is able to guarantee what the council's position will be once - if - they regain vacant possession of the building and after the required period of consideration of community proposals for the use of the property is over.

Mrs Angry has read a copy of the Council's statement - (which begins, incidentally, with a glaring grammatical error: eurgh, really ... it's its, not it's ...) and this otherwise carefully worded document makes it quite clear that the council's focus is on eviction and marketing.

Any obligation to the consideration of community bids is secondary and theoretical.

Throughout the history of the library campaign, the one constant element of the story has been the utter unreliability of any agreements made, or that appear to have been made.

Verbal agreements, agreements made by staff not authorised to negotiate, implied agreements, misunderstandings: all of these factors have ensured that hopes by campaigners that their reasoning was having some effect turned out to be false.

And this is why the campaign has only had any success when direct action was taken and the use of occupation of what is, after all, morally at least, a building that already belongs to the community in which it is situated, and not to the Tory councillors who want to sell it for a quick buck.

We are told now that 'there is a bit more flexibility' in terms of the library budget, and that the pressing need for a capital receipt from the sale of the building is not quite so pressing. Not quite.

Nice words, carefully chosen. We need facts.

Here are some questions:

How much has now become available?

Is it because of the total collapse of Robert Rams' famous invisible landmark library?

If so is all of the funding set aside for this project now available?

What about the substitute landmark library he has promised to install instead at North Finchley branch?  

Is the council really prepared to forego the real commercial value of the library in favour of a local community enterprise, leasehold or otherwise?

Is this apparent climbdown an attempt to dampen down the story before the run up to next years elections?

Or is this all another Barnet trick and are they soft soaping the campaigners into believing that it is safe to end the occupation of the library, leave the premises and hand over the keys to Barnet Council?

Here is footage from last week's meeting - first of all Bill Murphy and secondly, responses from campaigners and occupier Phoenix who, as usual, displays the most astute understanding of the situation, and reminds us all of the real story, the wider story behind the tale of Friern Barnet Library, the People's Library.  

It's not just about this building, this borough, or even about the national assault on the public library system.

It's about taking a stand, and defending the things you value.

Whatever the outcome - and this story still has a long way to go before it is finished - the fact that the council's position has now 'shifted significantly' is entirely down to the determination, resourcefulness and courage of the people fighting to protect their community.

It is a lesson to others: a lesson for Capita and any other predatory chancers circling around the boundaries of our borough.

Enter at your own risk: this is Broken Barnet.

We do things differently here.

Meeting, Part one:



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