Let’s make our libraries the cornerstones of our communities

VOTE 2014: TIMOTHY GODFREY, spokesman on arts and culture for the local Labour group, outlines his party’s policy for the borough’s marginalised and privatised public library service

Something has gone terribly wrong at Croydon libraries.

Shuttered up: the "welcoming" site at Central Library, run by Carillion

Shuttered up: the “welcoming” site at Central Library, run by Carillion

When the then Labour Council opened Central Library in Katharine Street, it was an integral part of the Clocktower arts complex. Work was completed to convert the old Borough Courts into the “Lifetimes” Museum and work was nearing completion on the purpose-built, secure art gallery, alongside the Riesco Gallery.

The concept of the Clocktower was a bright vibrant “street” that connected the café at one end via the library, gift shop, arts education rooms, exhibition and arts galleries, the David Lean Cinema and Braithwaite Hall.

Since 2006, the Conservative-run council has systematically wrecked this arts and culture complex. They have ripped out the arts education facilities and replaced them with adult education classrooms. Nothing wrong with the functional use, but they have been placed in what should be the middle of an arts building. It is not a school building. It is an attempt to make the re-building of the Clocktower as an arts complex difficult, to say the least.

I visited the Central Library last week, and found the main entrance shuttered up. Entry is now via the exit.

The new private contractor for Croydon’s public libraries (Carillion) finds it “easier” (for them) to manage the library through one entrance/exit. In our four-storey library, I found two escalators out of order, the place dimly lit, fairly grubby and with new restrictions on when and where students may or may not study – and with restrictions on the number of desks spaces, hardly helpful for students as we enter the annual exam period.

An entire floor had no staff on it. The children’s library had no librarian on duty either. Carillion, the private company that now runs the libraries, has purposefully “de-skilled” the borough’s libraries, employing as few professional librarians as possible.

A flagship Central Library that any major town or city could be proud of? It was once, but not any more. When I read about how other towns and cities are re-inventing their libraries with recording studios, film-editing suites and meeting rooms, it makes Croydon Central Library look tired and sad.

The arts centre at Croydon Clocktower has been run-down and undermined

The arts centre and Central Library at Croydon Clocktower has been run-down and undermined

The Tory-run council chose to privatise our public libraries because they couldn’t control their own back office costs. These back-office costs amounted to 44.78 per cent of the entire budget. Costs are still out of control at the council’s headquarters, where they spend more than £1,100 per employee on “Human Resources”, rack up huge legal bills and pay top dollar for “Facilities Management”.

If we are elected on May 22 to run Croydon Council, Labour is committed to seek the end of this Carillion contract as soon as possible.

We want a library service that builds on them as cornerstones of their local communities. Staff would be employed by the council and work with local people to develop their service to suit local needs. This model has worked really well at Upper Norwood Library for many years.

Back office costs cast a heavy shadow on all council services in Croydon. The Conservatives have added to the burden by spending £140 million on building a headquarters offices, signing up to expensive contracts for IT, and they still spend £10 million a year on consultants.

If the Tories running our council can find a slow, bureaucratic and expensive way to do something, they do. We will have a programme to put frontline services first. The library service will become a model for how we can run public services more efficiently and more effectively.

Libraries are an essential public service and we will protect and develop them, just as the last Labour council did when it built new libraries in Broad Green, Ashburton, Selsdon and commissioned the Thornton Heath Library project. Libraries will be back up the political agenda with a Labour council.

Unlike Croydon’s Tories, who closed down the mobile library and shut the New Addington Library, moving its books and staff into the entrance lobby of another council building, we certainly won’t be closing any libraries.

Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2014 council elections, Art, Carillion, David Lean Cinema Campaign, John Laing Integrated Services, Libraries, Riesco Collection, Timothy Godfrey and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Let’s make our libraries the cornerstones of our communities

  1. Pingback: Libraries News Round-up: 14 May 2014 | The Library Campaign

  2. Pingback: What does Labour think? | Leon's Library Blog

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