Has Croydon called in carpet baggers to sell-off libraries?

So has the Sunday Express uncovered Croydon Council’s hidden agenda on libraries?

Fag! Bring me a decent cup of Americano

In a report published today, the Express says that American firm Library Systems Services Inc (LSSI) has Britain’s beleaguered public-funded library system in its sights and “is targeting eight libraries already and wants to snap up 15 per cent of the market in the next five years”.

And one of the authorities LSSI is considering is (cue drum roll)… Croydon.

Yes, the self-same Croydon Council which barely a week ago was “announcing” – ie. suggesting they were at the start of a process – that it would be “market testing” the privatisation of its libraries. This move came after the council had conducted a consultation on the possible closure of six of Croydon’s 13 libraries, but did not get the answer they wanted because the overwhelming message from residents was that they expect the council to continue to fulfil its legal obligations to provide a comprehensive library service.

And this is the same Croydon Council where senior officials, such as Sara “Book Token” Bashford, at the council meeting denied that they had had any talks with any third parties whatsoever.

The Express reports that LSSI “backed by powerful US stock market players”… probably some of the same Wall Street bankers who got the world into this financial mess in the first place … “believes it can make a profit by redesigning services and cutting costs. It pledges to keep libraries open and shelves stocked but critics claim it will reduce staff and introduce charges”.

After the American Civil War, when the ole South was on its knees and Yankees preyed upon their near-bankrupt farms, plantations and factories, buying up assets at dirt-cheap prices, this profiteering strategy was called “carpet bagging“.

In Croydon, our wonderful leaders on the council are already doing some of LSSI’s carpet baggers’ work for them, but at our expense. Our service-allergic council has overseen around a dozen trained and senior specialist library staff leave their jobs since April. How convenient for any in-coming commercial organisation not to have to engage in costly redundancy payments.

Ian Anstice, a member of Voices for the Library, has studied the LSSI business model which is apparently so attractive to councils such as Croydon. Anstice writes at Public Libraries News: “LSSI has been accused of reducing the numbers, pension, terms and conditions of its employees. When taking over a service, LSSI re-employs staff on new contracts. Research shows it retains the minimum of qualified library staff…  Also, there is the question as to what level these staff are qualified to. It appears that LSSI de-unionises its libraries in the United States.”

The Express report says: “LSSI, which runs 16 public library systems in five US states, is currently wooing authorities with an attractive business model that promises increased community activity and invites Starbucks to set up inside branches. LSSI has spoken to ‘dozens of local authorities’ over the past three years and held meetings with five councils last week, with Croydon becoming the latest borough to consider a deal.”

This, of course, is clearly untrue. After all, only last week, Sara Bashford was telling a Croydon council meeting that no talks had been held with any commercial organisations about taking over our libraries. Bashford, who of course pockets nearly £70,000 a year in allowances from the council and Westmister salary for working as an “assistant” to MP Gavin Barwell, would not lie to a well-attended public meeting of the council.

Would she?

Read more on this worrying development on the Sanderstead Library Campaign Group website.

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
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2 Responses to Has Croydon called in carpet baggers to sell-off libraries?

  1. Chris Wilcox says:

    It’s going to end up as a low-paid skeleton service. And Overdue Fees will probably go through the roof.

    And I still can’t see a way of them avoiding charging for borrowing in Libraries not large enough to have a Starbucks. If they can’t charge up front they’ll have to do it some other way. They’ll need to make some cash somehow. Which WILL be a problem for The Disabled and Infirm.

    If you have a ‘variable condition’ Health-wise some weeks you’ll be ok, and other weeks you’ll be ‘stuffed’ (a medical term that). If you’re ‘stuffed’ getting out of the house will be very difficult. You could be stuck at home for a good week or 2, reliant on ordering in groceries and that over The Internet.

    This is actually quite normal for The Disabled who have variable conditions. Like The Mentally Ill, those waiting for a new hip, that kind of thing. It would also be relevant to some Elderly people as well, if their home help goes up the spout for a couple of weeks. Or if they have a fall and damage a leg.

    So putting up Overdue Fees from something like 10p per day to something like 2-3 pounds a day would certainly generate more Income for the Library. But what would it do to the already poor ill types and Elderly? When a 1.40 Library Fee ( 14 days at 10p per day ) becomes nearly 35 quid ( 14 days at approx 2-3 pounds per day )?

    It’s gonna get messy isn’t it. Profiteering off of the Disabled and Infirm.

    This is why Libraries are Public Sector funded. They’re a service for the people. Including those who need them and cannot afford high Overdue Fees or high up-front costs. So putting those Overdue Fees up will be… Pretty damn nasty.

    So expect the staff to be VERY badly looked after. And, if I am right, expect The Disabled and Vulnerable to get a very bad deal on this one. Bad Health is not predictable.

    And, as an aside, this concept of putting in a Starbucks and all will be well. I accept that it will help if there is space for one, but even so. It may not generate enough income to cover the additional burden of The Library and its bills. It may not be enough to solve the problem fully. Also…

    What if there is already a couple of Popular Coffee Shops nearby?

    This still looks like a massive long-shot, and in doing so a serious move towards the skeleton service I mentioned. Staff quality will inevitably suffer. If you pay peanuts you’ll only get monkeys.

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