One of Croydon’s senior Conservative councillors, with responsibility for managing “culture” in the borough, has tried to suggest it would be cheaper to hand out book tokens than it would to lend books from six of the borough’s branch libraries which are threatened with closure.
Councillor Sara Bashford is described by Croydon Council as the “Cabinet member for Customer Services, Culture and Sport”.
She must have felt overburdened with work, as she and her colleagues on the Conservative-controlled council set about axing most of the borough’s cultural assets and activities.
Bashford’s remarks were made in a recent issue of something called the Selsdon Gazette. Coming in the middle of another of the Croydon Tories’ “consultation” processes, the remarks about the library service are so crass and insensitive that the council’s press office issued a “clarification” on her behalf this week when approached by Inside Croydon.
The statement issued for Croydon’s Cabinet member for Customer Services
, Cultureand Sport was also necessary because Bashford’s remarks represent a gross exaggeration of the actual costs of book lending in Croydon’s libraries. Either that, or it is a very long time since the Cabinet member for Customer Services , Cultureand Sport had to spend her own money on actually buying a book.
The Selsdon Gazette is a local residents’ association monthly in which there is a column by Bashford and two other Tory councillors for that ward, including Phil Thomas, the man who wants to make it impossible for Croydon residents to park their cars near their homes (although he has managed to snaffle two free council permits for himself and his missus), and one-time mayor Dudley Mead, now in charge of the council’s finances and who has run up a £6 million overspend on the council’s budget.
Closing Croydon’s six branch libraries would save less than £700,000. The libraries facing the axe are Sanderstead, Norbury, Shirley, Bradmore Green, Broad Green and South Norwood. About 26 staff could lose their jobs.
Addressing the Tory proposal to close the branch libraries, Bashford and her mates claim that library attendance has been in decline. Even the council’s own figures show that this is untrue, and that visits at two of the libraries under threat of closure have actually been increasing thanks to the hard work of the staff.
But after starting from that distorted premise, they write: “As a result the costs of borrowing a book has risen and in one incidence [sic] it would almost be cheaper to give the visitor to the library a book token to go and purchase a paperback than it would for that resident to borrow from the branch library.”
Croydon Council’s own figures show this to be deliberately misleading.
Here at Inside Croydon, we regularly visit Waterstones and WH Smith, but we cannot remember the last time we saw a paperback for sale in those shops for less than £2.78.
Yet five of the branch libraries under threat of closure under Bashford’s master plan managed to lend books last year for less than an average of £2.78 a time – an amount which happens to be the average cost of book lending at Selsdon library, in the ward that Bashford, Thomas and Mead represent, but which, oddly, is not on the list of community libraries facing closure. How odd…
A Croydon Council spokesman gamely offered to explain the remarks:
“The comment on the cost of library borrowing was obviously not a serious suggestion that the council would consider book tokens as an alternative to library provision – it was merely putting into context the increasing costs of lending books and using this to illustrate the need to review how the library service is run and delivered.”
Maybe the reason it is not a serious suggestion is because Bashford is not a serious councillor?
Local residents continue to campaign to keep the libraries open, with public meetings tonight at Shirley Parish Hall, tomorrow night, with a march from 6pm from South Norwood Library to a public meeting at 7pm at Stanley Halls, and then at Sanderstead United Reformed Church Hall on February 9 at 7pm.
The majority Conservative group on Croydon Council lost a motion, 35-30, in a meeting on Monday night when it was put that they would have to listen to the weight of public opinion over the closure of libraries.