Bookish GENE BRODIE looks at recent developments over Croydon’s library service, and finds that some things said by Mike Fisher and Sara Bashford just don’t stack up
Today is June 26. Croydon Council has yet to announce formally any details behind the decision taken on libraries at the Cabinet meeting on June 13.
That’s the same Croydon Council which controls multiple websites, plus random and little-read blogs, Twitter accounts, email lists and even network of 13 libraries, where a humble poster advising of plans could be placed. The epitome of a multi-media offering you’d think. No excuse for not sharing information, certainly.
Indeed, even in these hard times, Croydon Council has taken to spending considerable sums of money on four-page wraparound ads with the Croydon Guardian.
But in all that, not a single word on libraries. There was not even the briefest of mention at the first Croydon Question Time (slogan: “We’re listening”), held the evening following the decision, where both the leader of the council’s ruling Conservative group, Mike Fisher, and Sara Bashford, the Tory group’s cabinet member for customer services
, culture and sport, spoke. Of libraries, they said nothing. No a word.
Now this may be because, according to Fisher, he knew nothing about a meeting held between the American carpet-baggers, Library System Services Inc (LSSI), and the council’s chief executive, Jon Rouse. Which does rather raise the question: who is setting policy in our borough, our elected representatives, or our £200,000 per year all-powerful and apparently unaccountable CEO?
The Sunday Express reported on the LSSI links last week. Meanwhile, officially, Croydon Council says nothing about what Bashford told the Cabinet meeting, that she wants to “market test” our libraries – politician-speak for flogging them off.
We know that LSSI wants to scoop up public assets on the cheap and turn them into money-spinning ventures. Which means that the residents of Croydon could lose out twice in any deal – failing to achieve the true worth for the buildings, books and other fixtures and fittings; and then having to pay for the services once LSSI get their hands on them.
It’s fantastic that Jon Rouse, Croydon’s busy CEO, was able to set up a meeting with his counterpart at Wandsworth and this company, perhaps even before Bashford had announced the
“market testing”privatisation. We must assume that Bashford was never privy to Rouse’s meeting, since in response to direct questioning, she has always denied any involvement with LSSI. And “Book Token” Bashford would not dream of misleading Council Tax-payers, now would she?
“I have no problem with the chief executive meeting with LSSI. I didn’t know the meeting was going ahead but I am pleased that it did,” Fisher has said.
This would be the same Mike Fisher who throughout the council’s consultation said that there were residents’ groups and schools “queuing up” to run libraries. Inside Croydon has yet to establish one school, local group, residents’ association or campaign group which has received even a whisper from the council about how they might be able to take on the management of our libraries. How odd.
Inside Croydon has already reported how the council “let go” a dozen of its trained library staff in April. Was that a deliberate attempt to reduce any staffing liabilities for any incoming private company, to sweeten the deal, perhaps? Of course, that could only be the case if Fisher and Bashford, without any public mandate and against the views of those who took part in the consultation, were already considering privatising our libraries.
If, as Fisher is reported to have said, the council will be talking to “a whole host of people” who could run the library service, will any interested group, organisation or company have equal opportunity to see the detail?
In the absence of any information from highly efficient Croydon Council’s official press operation (cost: £660,000 per year), here is the situation as we see it:
- All 13 Croydon libraries, including Croydon central library at the Clock Tower, are included in the “market testing” exercise, not just the six under threat of closure under Bashford’s original and rejected scheme.
- The Council has failed to inform residents of its radical change of plan, leaving most Council Tax-payers blissfully believing that their local library is “safe”.
- Croydon has already had dealings with LSSI, a company with some history, before releasing details to any other interested party. Commercially, for other parties, this would prejudice any possible deal.
Croydon Council: proud to swerve.
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- Has Croydon called in carpet baggers to sell-off libraries? (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- The CEO speaks: now council outsources management of staff (insidecroydon.com)
- Book Trail tragedy averted as Bashford overlooks the law again (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)