The minutes of the last Barham Trust committee are now available, and they make curious reading. The main question before the committee was the letting of the former Community Lounge, a small building in the Barham building complex. I have argued before that the Trust seem to be making heavy weather of what should be a very minor matter.
Viewed in narrow terms, this process can be seen as having a successful outcome. The revenue from ad hoc lettings of the community lounge has always been poor. The new deal secures a small but regular income for the trust, and avoids the bother of administering the space. Effectively, that cost will now be carried by the tenant. All the sums involved are quite minor in the context of the Council's budget, and even in the context of the Trust's income (which is very small).
The difficulties come from not viewing the decision in those narrow terms, but with rather muddled political views.
It reads to me as if Cllr Pavey is bending over backwards to make special concessions to Friends of Barham Library as a community group. Rationally, I find it odd that it should be considered as any more of a community group than Pivot. I also find Cllr Pavey's contention that it is neutral frankly incredible. I have known Paul Lorber, the driving force of the organisation, for years and he is relentlessly partisan. From my knowledge of him, I think he is simply incapable of not being party political. Of course, he will be constrained in this case by the operation of charity law, and possibly the terms of the tenancy agreement, but I have no doubt that he will seek to use the room as a base to get Liberal Democrats elected in Sudbury.
This seems to be linked to Cllr James Denselow's views on "community libraries". There is no logical reason why a "library" group should be considered any differently from any other community group. Brent has literally hundreds of volunteer groups doing good things for the environment, sports, education, helping the vulnerable and so on. It seems to me that this decision is based on a vague desire to appease this particular group simply because it has a track record of shouting particularly nastily at the Council. Such an approach merely encourages groups to shout even more.
Deciding things according to fair criteria without special favours is actually politically smarter as well as fairer.
Cllr Pavey has got in touch to object to this post. He points out that he awarded the tenancy to FoBL as the best of the two candidates in his opinion, which I am sure is so. My point is that this whole business, which is about the award of the tenancy of a room for a small amount of money, seems to consume disproportionate attention, and this is because some of the volunteer library groups ar considered with far more attention than the many other voluntary groups in the Borough engaged in other forms of activity. It was actually Cllr Denselow's comments to the committee that seemed to put this most strongly.
On a second point, Cllr Pavey informs me that he obtained legal advice that there was no evidence that Paul Lorber would use the building for political purposes, which as he hasn't yet got into the building is not surprising. If he does misuse the building, that will of course be a matter for both the Council (through its apparent exercise of public functions and as landlord) and the Charity Commission to keep an eye on.