Two pieces of separate but related news this week, each significant for the cultural fabric of Croydon, and how the current administration is ripping it apart.
The common factor is Sara “Book Token” Bashford, who has presided over the undermining of the council’s library service, probably in breach of Croydon’s legal duties, yet on Thursday announced that she has somehow managed to find another £1.5 million of money the council says it has not got in order to further fund the privately owned Fairfield Halls.
First, Croydon’s ruling Tory group’s cabinet member for customer services
, culture and sport leaks that the long-delayed report on the council’s libraries consultation may now, finally – after months of secretiveness and the withholding of its data – actually be published in June. In March, after taking nearly 10 per cent out of the 2011-2012 libraries budget, it was suggested that none of the borough’s branch libraries would have to close.
Instead Bashford and her Conservative council continue with their policy of death by 350 thousand cuts.
Last month, 23 qualified library staff left their jobs. This week Bashford, the woman whose grasp of economics is so poor that she seriously suggested it would be cheaper to issue book tokens to library users than lend them books, told the Croydon Guardian, “It’s going to affect the libraries, but I don’t actually think people will see a huge difference.”
Bashford is either being deliberately misleading or she is simply very dim.
Under the council’s proposals, put forward at the turn of last year, they suggested that up to six branch libraries could be shut – Sanderstead, Norbury, Shirley, Bradmore Green, Broad Green and South Norwood – with the total loss of 26 staff. If all six branches were closed, the council said it would save up to a maximum of £700,000 a year.
The council has refused the public access to the results of its lengthy consultation, in which they received 10 times the number of responses they normally get for such exercises. It is clear that there was overwhelming opposition to the proposals to cut the library service, otherwise Bashford could have gone ahead with her mad axewoman act in March, as originally intended.N
onetheless, 23 library staff have left council employment, 15 being nudged into retirement, another eight opting for voluntary redundancy. The council says this will save £350,000 a year. Might this be around the council’s private “target” when it started its consultation process anyway?
A council officer, in a letter seen by Inside Croydon, says that this is all part of “a new area based staffing structure with staff being deployed in line with service needs”.
Under this “structure”, it seems Croydon has all but done away with the need for qualified librarians. Instead, we now have libraries run by “customer services supervisors”, or staffed by “customer services assistants”. The branch libraries, if they are very lucky, will get occasional visits from a librarian who will be “allocated to branches to cover events and activities”, the council official says.
According to the official, following the re-structure, “there are 14 Reading and Learning librarians” employed across the borough. Apparently, “it is not essential for reading and learning librarians to hold professional qualifications”.
It is informative that at Upper Norwood, Crystal Palace residents have endured nearly 30 years of broken promises by Croydon Council over its joint stewardship of the library there, where they accuse the council of withholding funding due under an arrangement with neighbouring Lambeth, and even of pursuing a policy of bullying against the senior librarian at the branch.
It seems that a deliberate approach of malign neglect towards the rest of the borough’s libraries has already been implemented – regardless of the outcome of what Bashford maintained was a “genuine” consultation. This policy of cuts via the back-door seems designed to provide a diminished library service, which will inevitably result in reduced usage, which in turn will be used as an argument for future closures, or possibly handing over the running of a library to volunteers (which would amount to the same thing).
On Wednesday night, at a council meeting at the Town Hall, there was a “Part B” on the agenda which was kept secret from the public and opposition Labour councillors. This item also came under Bashford’s arts and culture brief. At the meeting, the majority Tory group agreed that our council would ante-up another £1.5 million for the Fairfield Halls.
- Yes, the same Croydon Council that opted to close the David Lean Cinema as part of its swingeing cuts to services.
- The same Croydon Council that does not have the £150,000 to pay towards the annual Croydon music festival.
- The same Croydon Council that is closing the Clock Tower Arts Centre.
- The same Croydon Council which may have to refund the thick end of £1 million to the Lottery Heritage Fund if it goes ahead and closes Croydon Museum.
- The same Croydon Council which is trying to run a library service without trained librarians.
Somehow, they have managed to find from nowhere £1.5 million for what is, after all, a privately run, commercial arts venue. And this is in addition to the £25 million capital funding that the council has made available for much-needed renovation works at the near 50-year-old venue.
According to the council’s press release, the seven-figure injection over two years is “in order to ensure that the Halls can continue in their current direction”. And this is being done at the expense of the council-owned arts facilities being allowed to continue in any direction at all.
But why the secrecy before Wednesday’s meeting? Why the lack of openness, consultation and debate from our Croydon Council that declares itself “Proud to Serve”?
Was there any formal bidding process that Fairfields had to go through before the council set its arts budget in March?
Perhaps the application for the additional money came from the chairman of the Fairfield Halls’ management board, who would be… none other than dynamic Dudley Mead, the deputy leader of Croydon’s Tory group, and a man who says he works from 8am to 11pm on council business everyday to justify the £48,000-a-year-plus in allowances that he voted for himself last year.
Of course, if Dudders really is spending 16 hours a day on council business, it’s a wonder that he has any time at all for chairing the Fairfield Halls board or doing his voluntary work for the his old independent school and the local Conservative party. Maybe he just merges all his responsibilities?
Or perhaps the application for £1.5 million additional funding from the Croydon Council Tax-payer was made by another Fairfield Halls board member, Jon Rouse… Yes, that would be the same Jon Rouse who is paid £195,300 a year to work as chief executive for Croydon Council. It was the current Tory adminstration which made the controversial decision to appoint Rouse to the Fairfield Halls management board two years ago. No possible conflict of interest there, then.
Croydon Council – Proud to Serve self-interest.
- Library campaigners from Croydon will be joined by others from Brent, Lewisham, Camden and Lambeth outside the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in Cockspur Street at noon on Wednesday (May 18) to lobby minister Ed Vaizy and remind him that their councils are in breach of their statutory duties.
- Bashford refuses to answer key questions on libraries (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- A chance to talk. But will they listen? (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- Taxi for Elvery! Another balls up on £3.7m transport contract (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- No cuts in councillors’ allowances despite PM’s demands (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)