Bashford refuses to answer key questions on libraries

ELIZABETH ASH reports on what really went on at last week’s council meeting, but still has many more questions than honest answers

At last Monday’s Croydon Council meeting at the Town Hall, several Sanderstead residents tabled questions, and two of them were there to speak in person.

It was at last week’s council meeting that Sara “Book Token” Bashford made the astonishing announcement that the David Lean Cinema now won’t be closing. This, of course, was dutifully copied down and repeated, parrot-fashion, in Friday’s Croydon Sadvertiser, apparently without any effort made to check its veracity. It turns out to be simply untrue, and the proposal to move the mere name plaque of the David Lean to Fairfield Halls (and with it, an attempt to transfer its hard-won reputation) has not even been costed or agreed, as Inside Croydon reported last week.

Bashford took the lion’s share of public questions on what she still maintains to be “genuine” consultations on the borough’s arts, heritage and libraries.

Of the six questions on the future of our  libraries, four came from Sanderstead residents. Bashford failed to answer any of them with any degree of detail.

The questions asked ought to be available on the council website. We reproduce them below. You can judge for yourself whether they were satisfactorily answered:

  • Question: I see the decision about branch libraries has been delayed to allow communities to put forward their ideas.  However, in Sanderstead, neither the local councillors, nor the chair of the Residents [sic] Association are aware of anything being done until July.  With whom are you working, specifically in Sanderstead?

Bashford: The decision about the future of the library network will be considered by Cabinet on 11 July 2011 in order to consider a range of alternative options to closures.

A range of ideas and suggestions were put forward by local communities and individuals including local councillors and residents of Sanderstead as part of the public consultation which concluded on 20 February 2011.  The ideas and suggestions, which were received from a large number of people, are now being analysed and considered in detail prior to the report.

  • Question: To what extent will local communities be able to have a say in respect of the final set of recommendations (mentioned in the Council’s Library Building Network Options Update of March 2011) which will be put forward at the July Cabinet meeting?

Bashford: Local communities have actively participated in the public consultation on the proposals. Their views, ideas and suggestions are under consideration as part of the options being examined. No further consultation with communities will take place in advance of 11 July 2011 Cabinet meeting. Cabinet papers are made available to the public five clear working days in advance of the meeting.

  • Question: Community-run libraries are being pushed as the only option for branches under threat of closure. How has this been arrived at and how do you propose for communities to work together to formulate a plan when they are not informed of the outcome of the consultation?

Bashford: All options for the future delivery of library services are currently under consideration and will be considered by Cabinet on 11 July 2011. No decision has yet been made regarding preferred options.

  • Question: Please could you list all the options that have been explored before deciding to promote community-run libraries as the solution in a consultation process where the outcome has yet to be published?

Bashford: Options are still being examined in preparation for July 2011 Cabinet report.

Those attending the meeting were allowed to ask a supplementary question.

  • Question: If you haven’t made a decision yet why have you released a statement specifically about allowing libraries to be turned into community-run libraries?

Bashford replied categorically that she had not made a statement about anything because no decisions have been taken yet.

Was this a lapse of memory, perhaps?

Another resident quoted Bashford directly from her own, previous statement on the Croydon Conservatives’ website and in their InTouch leaflet delivered to homes in the area, where it stated quite clearly that the decision on the future of the borough’s six branch libraries had been delayed “to allow the communities in each area to put forward their ideas about turning them into community-run libraries, a model used elsewhere in the country”.

To most reasonable people, that may sound as if a plan has already been decided upon. So Bashford was asked again: how is it also possible to be considering all options?

Bashford’s reply was curt, launched with the words, “As I’ve told you before”, and she stated that no decisions have yet been taken.

Of course, while outside the council chamber she has been openly talking about turning our libraries “into community-run” facilities, Bashford has also been releasing press releases, referring in more measured terms to “the massive task of assessing all of the different suggestions”.

There are those who remain sceptical about quite how open-minded Bashford has been throughout this process: after all, if you seriously suggest that it would be cheaper to issue book tokens to library users, rather than loan them books – a suggestion which even the council’s own figures demonstrate to be wrong – how can you be anything other than prejudiced?

This isn’t the first time that “Book Token” has been tripped up over her own statements. She has in the past asserted that there is no statutory requirement on the council to provide “a comprehensive and efficient library service”. Was she deliberately misleading Croydon residents when she said that, or simply ignorant?

Sanderstead residents do have a rather loose-tongued clairvoyant as a local councillor in Yvette Hopley who from the outset of the consultation process has enthusiastically pushed for a community-run library model to anyone who would listen.  As she put it, “Three libraries are looking at going, Sanderstead being one of them.”

Who to believe? They can’t all be right, after all. So we’re doing our own public consultation of Inside Croydon‘s reader, one where Bashford and the rest of Croydon can view the results instantly.

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
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