The news of the awarding of the library management contract to swimming pool managers GLL which we related earlier this week has taken a further twist today, with the 14-month-long procurement process which has cost at least £250,000 looking as if it has ended in a split between two Tory-run south London boroughs. Flop!
Could it be that flagship Conservative council Wandsworth just cannot work with their Tory counterparts in Croydon? Flip!
This afternoon, in response to enquiries from Inside Croydon, the council issued a terse statement. Things are clearly no longer sweetness and light with their Tory mates at the top-end of the Wandle Valley since news leaked from Wandsworth that they have decided that they want to have swimming pool attendants Greenwich Leisure to take charge of their libraries.
“The council is carrying out a final evaluation of the three tenders that were received in October 2012 with the aim of ensuring that Croydon residents get the best possible deal,” the statement from Croydon’s Taberner House said.
“This has been a detailed piece of work carried out in close partnership with Wandsworth, although the two contracts are entirely separate and Wandsworth’s choice of partner will have no influence on Croydon’s decision.”
The other bidders to make it into the final three in Croydon’s version of X Factor for librarians were an in-house team from Wandsworth and a subsidiary of John Laing, the property developers who are already working closely with Croydon over the urban regeneration project which involves £450 million of public cash and property.
There are strong suspicions that Croydon is eager to add the borough’s 12 branch library buildings into the URV pot to help out their mates at Laing. The Ministry of Truth at Croydon Council today refused to answer direct questions about the public body’s intentions. Flop!
The whole, prolonged and expensive library privatisation process – which Croydon embarked upon despite residents being overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining a public library service – has staggered from one set-back to another.
Even before the process had formerly begun, Croydon officials were uncovered to have started holding secret meetings at Wandsworth Town Hall in the summer of 2011 with an American firm which specialises in running public libraries for private profit. Flip!
The favoured Americans, LSSI, did not last out the process, withdrawing because there was not enough possibility for profit. The next blow came with the withdrawal of another specialist firm, Civica, citing “potential risk to the Civica brand of taking on a contract which is outside their core competence”. Flop!
When the privatisation scheme was announced by both boroughs in September 2011, Croydon made great play of how working with an outside contractor proving a library service across two south London boroughs would offer many advantages in terms of cost savings (these things are always about cutting costs; they are never about improving service).
“By working jointly with Wandsworth the council hopes to share costs and knowledge and benefit from the potential economies of scale – particularly if one company is appointed to run both boroughs’ services,” an official council statement said 14 months ago. Flip!
“We, like all local authorities, are facing significant reductions in our funding and we need to become even more efficient and make further savings,” said Croydon’s Sara “Book Token” Bashford, the councillor who was in charge of the borough’s library service at the time.
And now it isn’t. Flop!
The change in tone in the public pronouncements is very telling. Back in February, Croydon Council was talking of “working together” and “partnership” with Wandsworth. “Regardless of who runs their libraries, both authorities have repeated their commitment that all core services should remain free of charge. Buildings would remain in public ownership and councillors would continue to specify the exact terms of service delivery, including opening times,” they said then. Flip!
Wandsworth’s environment and culture spokesman Jonathan Cook boldly spoke about “the latest innovations from new providers”, about “new thinking” and, importantly, “allowing us to generate savings by sharing overheads and purchasing power.”
As recently as July this year, Cook was still saying, “Our partnership with Croydon will utilise the latest service innovations while also allowing us to generate savings by sharing overheads and purchasing power.” Or not?
Despite the boroughs working so closely together, “in partnership”, in a press release from Wandsworth Town Hall this afternoon announcing a recommendation to appoint GLL on an eight-year deal, offering savings of £500,000 per year, there was no mention of Croydon until the dogged reader got all the way to the 10th paragraph.
It then added: “Croydon Council will make its own decision which of the three to award its library contract to.” So not GLL then.
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