Croydon Council is to close “several” of the borough’s libraries, according to a letter from a councillor in a neighbouring borough.
This apparent determination to close any Croydon libraries comes in spite of overwhelming public opposition to closure plans in a consultation conducted by the council 12 months ago and the council’s legal requirement to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service.
Croydon’s libraries, under the malign stewardship of Councillor Sara “Book Token” Bashford, have endured a policy of “managed neglect” since 2010, with trained librarians made redundant or retired and unreplaced. When Bashford’s scheme to pick off up to six of Croydon’s libraries for closure encountered widespread hostility from local residents there was a public change of tack.
First revealed by Inside Croydon in June, that privatisation “hidden agenda” was finally unveiled by the council in September, with the formal announcement of the tendering process undertaken with Tory-controlled Wandsworth. LSSI, an American firm known for trimming down services and staff levels to maximise its profits, was suggested as the preferred bidder.
But reports this week suggest that having taken a preliminary look at Croydon’s libraries, LSSI has pulled out.
In any case, it seems unlikely that any outsourcing deal could cope with a long-standing and much-loved public library jointly managed with a third local authority.
And according to a letter from Lambeth councillor Florence Nosegbe, Croydon “is planning to close several of their libraries”.
Croydon has made no public announcements of an intention to close any libraries, possibly hoping to delay until after a House of Commons select committee hearing on library closures, planned for early 2012.
Nosegbe’s letter was sent this week to the Upper Norwood Library‘s supporters group, following meetings at the end of November. The Upper Norwood Library was supposedly operated jointly by Croydon and Lambeth. Surveys have demonstrated that Upper Norwood serves more Croydon residents than from any of the other adjoining boroughs, including Bromley and Southwark.
But following years in which Croydon has broken the terms of the joint management agreement over funding and the composition of the management committee, Bashford and Mike Fisher, the Conservative leader of Croydon Council, announced that they wanted to pull out of the deal and force the closure of the library on Westow Hill.
As well as collecting £45,000 in cabinet member “allowances” from Croydon, Bashford also works as a parliamentary assistant to Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell. She and Fisher have refused to meet with Lambeth to discuss the future of the Upper Norwood Library.
In her letter this week, Lambeth’s Nosegbe says: “I attended the Upper Norwood Joint Library public meeting on Wednesday 30 November along with local Lambeth Labour Councillors Matthew Bennett, Niranjan Francis, and Jane Pickard. Attending the meeting I got an overwhelming sense of the support there is for this much-loved local library and it was good to see many residents there.
“Lambeth Council has rejected Croydon’s ultimatum over the future of the Upper Norwood Joint Library. I am outraged that Croydon’s Tory councillors are trying to close down the Joint Library, funded together by Croydon and Lambeth councils, after over 100 years in existence.
“In their latest letter to Lambeth Council, Croydon told Lambeth to accept one of three options, each of which would result in the closure of the popular community library. Lambeth has rejected all three options and told Croydon to get back round the negotiating table to find a way to save the Joint Library.
“Lambeth is proposing a new option to save the library in line with a deal that has secured the future of every single library in Lambeth. Croydon, in contrast, is planning to close several of their libraries and privatise the rest. Under our proposals, both councils would work with local community and library-user groups in Upper Norwood to hand control over the library service and, potentially, ownership of the building to them. Funding would be guaranteed by the councils whose residents use the library, with decisions over how to spend it taken by local people.
“We urge Councillor Fisher and Croydon’s other Conservative councillors to abandon their destructive closure plans and sit down with us and the local community to find a way to protect this much-loved library for future generations and guarantee its place at the heart of the community.”
Tony Newman, the leader of Croydon’s opposition group, said, “Croydon’s Labour councillors warmly welcome Lambeth’s positive proposals to secure the future of the UNJL and the exciting plans for the community to have real control over how their local library service is provided. I urge Councillor Fisher to join us in welcoming these proposals, to match Lambeth’s funding and to put the library and local people first.”
The House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee is to hold a hearing into public library closures. The Committee is inviting written submissions by January 12 and requests views on the following issues: what constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century; the extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Libraries & Museums Act 1964 and the Charteris Report; the impact library closures have on local communities; and the effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964.
- Read Inside Croydon‘s timeline of the council’s secretive handling of its libraries by clicking here
- For more background reporting on the situation at Upper Norwood, going back more than 25 years, click here for the Crystal Palace local website
- For more information about the Upper Norwood Library Campaign, click here
- Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
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