Croydon Council’s plan to privatise our public libraries was in ruins tonight, as its hand-picked partners were revealed to have walked away from the £30 million, eight-year deal.
And Eddy Arram, the Tory mayor in charge of tonight’s meeting at the Town Hall, forbid any discussion of the Conservative-run council’s failed library scheme, ordering that Timothy Godfrey, the opposition Labour spokesman on arts and culture, should be removed from the chamber.
It prompted a mass walk-out by all the Labour councillors, seeing the often heated meeting end in disarray.
It was also another massive humiliation for the Mike Fisher-led Conservative group, as it was all recorded by Croydon Radio, the first council meeting for four years to be broadcast.
The first part of the meeting had been spent with Fisher and his colleagues trying to justify a 1.8 per cent Council Tax hike and severely reduced services, while they have also authorised a budget with an additional £300 million in borrowing in the coming years.
Fisher’s cack-handed handling of the meeting included his accusing the whole of the last Labour government of being “corrupt”, a recorded allegation which could prove very costly for the Shirley councillor.
Despite having no public mandate for privatising the borough’s libraries, Croydon’s Tories pursued anti-public service dogma to get the service off the council’s books.
After spending nearly two years and hundreds of thousands of pounds of public cash on a bidding process together with Wandsworth Council, just before the decision was reached, Croydon split with their inner London borough colleagues – thus abandoning any pretence of making savings with shared services – and opted for the least good, most expensive bidder: John Laing Integrated Services, or JLIS, a subsidiary of the same builders with whom Croydon is locked into a £450 million property speculation deal.
This must have figured in JLIS’s considerations, although as Inside Croydon reported last month, the company also announced that it was withdrawing from its many privatised services deals, mainly because it has been unable to bleed enough profit from local authority budgets.
Tonight, according to a Town Hall source, even though they had asked for more cash to run Croydon’s libraries than other bidders, JLIS has quit the deal because they refuse to take on the pension liabilities of council librarians.
“When the contractor looked at the costs of the transfer of the staff in relation to pension costs, they felt unable to proceed,” the source told Inside Croydon.
Tim Pollard, the deputy leader of the Conservative group who has been handed the benighted libraries policy after it had been so badly managed by his predecessor in charge of arts policy, Sara “Book Token” Bashford, announced that the contract will be put out to tender. Again.
And all at goodness knows what additional cost to Croydon Council Tax-payers and a further period of uncertainty, it appears to be another case of dogged dogma being put before the public interest.
With one significant money-saving scam – at the expense of a proper library service for Croydon residents – so thoroughly in tatters, it means that the Council Tax-increasing budget was entirely undermined even before passed by the Conservative councillors tonight.
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon – 142,300 unique page views, Nov 2012-Jan 2013
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