The opposition group on Croydon Council has threatened to torpedo the on-going privatisation of the borough’s library service by refusing to commit to continue working with any outside organisations which may win the year-long bidding process to take on the running of libraries in Croydon and Wandsworth.
Councillor Timothy Godfrey, Croydon Labour’s spokesman on libraries, has rejected the council’s costly outsourcing procurement process, saying, “Privatisation is simply a lazy approach.”
A five-point plan for the future running of the borough’s 13 public libraries says: “Labour will not be committed to the library service being run by a private company or another local authority”.
Godfrey said: “Since 2006, Tory-run Croydon Council has not initiated any new investment in the library service. Instead, it has closed the mobile library service, reduced staffing and allocated a £250,000 budget to privatise the whole library service.
“Those organisations that are bidding to run our library service now know in clear terms what Labour’s plans are. If the Tories press ahead with this privatisation, we will be there in 2014 to pick up the pieces and re-build our library service in a cost effective, efficient way that engages properly with local people”
The Labour library plans also include:
- Labour calls on the Conservative-run Council to cut the wasteful back office spend to make savings in the library budget. In 2010-2011 Croydon Council spent 44.78 per cent of the library budget on back office services like computers, call centres and building maintenance.
- Labour is committed to a professionally run library service in each community.
- Labour is committed to establishing local Co-operative Community Library Trusts that will be a partnership between residents, users and staff in running, managing, enhancing and developing Croydon’s libraries.
- Labour is committed to local libraries reflecting local communities; ensuring that each library will develop in its own unique way alongside core library services
“Residents have shown that they support their local library time and time again. It is time the council stepped up and actually involved local people in protecting and developing their local library service,” Godfrey said.
Inside Croydon revealed recently that the library privatisation process which Tory councillor Saara Bashford said was instigated at the request of residents was in fact based on a lie, since no one outside the council’s ruling Conservative group had expressed any desire to “outsource” the borough’s libraries.
And solemn pledges not to close any of Croydon’s libraries have also been broken, with the move of New Addington’s library from a purpose-built building into the foyer of another council-owned property. The library building site seems likely to be sold off to make way for a Tesco superstore, although local MP Gavin Barwell maintains that this is not a library closure.
Separately, a unilateral withdrawal of funds by Croydon has put the future of the unique and historic Upper Norwood Joint Library, run with Lambeth, in serious jeopardy.
An announcement of the “winning” bid to privatise Croydon’s libraries is expected in the autumn, and formal handover expected during 2013.
But even the bid process is in danger of complete collapse, with two of the companies having pulled out and a bid from Essex County Council rejected.
That has left just two of the original five short-listed bidders in the race: an internal Wandsworth Council bid was added belatedly to the process (Croydon’s own library department was forbidden from pitching), plus Greenwich Leisure Trust and John Laing Integrated Services Ltd, the latter company conveniently a subsidiary of the property developers who are already in partnership with Croydon Council over its controversial and secretive £450 million “Urban Regeneration Vehicle”.
With council elections due in 2014, even the remaining bidders may be forced to reconsider if their position is not guaranteed for more than one year to make private profit from the borough’s public libraries.
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