Over the past year our libraries and other community facilities have, for the most part, been closed. Some briefly opened for restricted services before the second lockdown. Some, which can more easily operate under social distancing, are once again scheduled to reopen now that we are moving out of lockdown.

Libraries sit at the heart of our communities across Glasgow. Though many are the inheritance of Victorian philanthropy and still provide essential access to books, newspapers, periodicals and the educational opportunities of the printed word; libraries in the 21st century are so much more. They provide access to digital technology and the internet which not everyone can afford at home. They are advice centres where, for example, Macmillan Cancer Support provide ground breaking assistance to cancer patients and their families. Councillors, MPs and MSPs hold their surgeries there.

Glasgow Life’s recent announcement of which facilities will be reopening and when has, sadly, raised more questions than it has answered. I recently met with senior officers of Glasgow Life to discuss services in my own ward, Linn, in the SE of the city. I pressed particularly on their plans for the Couper Institute and Library. The answer was clear, Glasgow Life has no current plans to reopen The Couper. Equally they have no plans to close it, but they could not make the simple guarantee that it would reopen as soon as Covid restrictions allow.

In other parts of the city there are similar concerns for the future of our libraries. Whiteinch and Maryhill libraries are already the subject of local campaigns but there are others in the same uncertain position as the Couper. We are not given a target date, reassurance or clear intention to reopen the services provided in these buildings at the earliest opportunity.

What we do know is that SNP and Green Councillors voted through proposals to relocate these services, without a plan for the future.

These facilities do not belong to Glasgow Life, they still belong to Glasgow City Council and, ultimately, to the people of Glasgow. Underpinning the move to ‘Community Hubs’ was supposed to be a process of genuine community engagement. That has not happened. Indeed, the specific proposals in respect of Whiteinch Library would remove the last Glasgow Life facility in that entire ward. . Little wonder that there are growing fears for the future of library provision across Glasgow.

Our communities deserve better than this.

Meanwhile GCC and Glasgow Life are actively promoting community asset transfer. Don’t get me wrong, there are numerous successful examples of community run facilities and active local groups looking to take over existing council services. What community asset transfer must not become is a mechanism for the council to offload buildings or facilities which they no longer wish to operate but don’t want to be accused of closing.

The administration of Glasgow City Council need to be honest about the direction of travel and their intentions. Years of cuts have put tremendous strain on Glasgow Life funding and various savings and efficiencies were agreed even before the pandemic. Covid cannot be allowed to be used as a smokescreen behind which to force through the closure, mothballing, relocation or transfer of facilities without proper community consultation and democratic accountability.

Cllr McDonald, the Chair of Glasgow Life, has made his personal intentions crystal clear and I wish him well in his retirement from politics. His parting gift to Glasgow could be equal clarity on the future of all our libraries, not just a chosen few.