Croydon’s under-threat libraries: a timeline of council deceit?

An interesting development was finally spotted on Friday on Croydon Council’s “revamped” website.

Croydon's statements on libraries just do not stack up

It is almost a month since Sara “Book Token” Bashford, the destroyer of anything cultural in Croydon, announced to a council meeting that rather than demonstrate “openness and transparency” and publish the outcome of the libraries consultation (presumably on the grounds that the public wanted nothing to do with her pennywise, pound-foolish scheme to try to close six of the borough’s 13 libraries), she would instead be “market testing” the libraries.

To most of us, that means that Bashford – who, we ought to remember, also works as a paid parliamentary assistant to MP Gavin Barwell – wants to privatise, or sell-off on the cheap, more public assets, from a library service which Croydon Council is obliged, by Act of Parliament, to provide to the public. The Sunday Express first reported that American carpet-baggers Library Systems and Services Inc – or LSSI) – were eyeing juicy profits from public assets on June 19.

Then last Friday, almost a month after Bashford’s announcement, this was discovered hidden away on the council’s website:

“Croydon is now working with Wandsworth and is looking for organisations that might be able to provide a more efficient service and at the same time bring investment in updated technology, refreshed facilities and new stocks of books.

“Other public services may also get the opportunity to base themselves in the buildings, saving them money and improving their presence in local communities.

“Once this market testing phase is complete the council’s cabinet will decide whether or not to put out an official tender inviting competitive bids from other local authorities, trusts, social enterprises or private companies.

“If successful the move could achieve the goal of keeping all of the borough’s branch libraries open. However, if for any reason the process does not proceed or result in any successful bids there is still the risk of a reduction in library facilities at some point in the future because the council has made it clear that savings must be found from every part of its budget.”

Now we cannot be certain when this official council statement first appeared on the website. Croydon Council’s website recently underwent a superficial  re-design (ie. it has a new “skin”, or new look, although little appears to have been done to make it any more user-friendly, for residents to be able to find readily the information they might seek). It was not spotted until late this week.

Sara Bashford: full of contradictions

Certainly, despite several direct requests to the council for some statement and clarification on the Bashford announcement, none was ever forthcoming. You might have thought that Croydon’s Ministry of Untruth – for which we all pay £660,000 per year to disseminate misinformation and propaganda – could have directed enquiries straight to this statement on its own website. But no, that would be too simple, too helpful… Or maybe the statement did not, at that point, actually exist?

So we will have to accept that this statement was posted on the date shown on the website: June 1.

Let’s take that as a starting point in a tale of intrigue and deceit:

  • June 1 2011: Croydon says on its website that they are working with Wandsworth. If market testing does not work, then libraries may close.
  • June 6: At a Croydon council meeting held at the Town Hall, officials denied that they were working with LSSI or Laings, the property developers and builders, on schemes to privatise or sell-off library sites.
  • June 13: 12 days after announcement that Croydon is working on market testing with Wandsworth, the decision to work with our Tory-controlled near-neighbours is pushed through – no mention that libraries might not stay open if this is unsuccessful.
  • June 19: Express reports that Croydon CEO Jon Rouse had had a meeting with Wandsworth CEO and LSSI, and suggesting that libraries may still close if this commercial alternative does not work or is not accepted. Following this report, Mike Fisher, the leader of the “ruling” Tory group on Croydon Council, tells one gullible local media outlet that he had no knowledge that his CEO was meeting with Wandsworth or LSSI. Clearly, Fisher had not read the council’s own report on its own website, published, we are led to believe, on June 1.
  • June 21: Concerned local library campaigner telephones Wandsworth council’s press office. Three weeks after Croydon’s statement that it is working with Wandsworth, they say that their council had not had any meetings with LSSI. “That was Croydon,” the press officer says, helpfully. Wandsworth – the kind, caring borough where they lock children out of public playgrounds unless they cough up some cash – says it will not take its decision on market testing libraries until September. This appears to contradict Croydon’s statements that it is working with Wandsworth.
  • July 6: Croydon’s information about companies, charities and voluntary organisations wanting to tender to run libraries, as part of the “market testing” exercise, appears on council website. This is more than a month since Croydon had started having discussions with LSSI. Yet other potential bidders are given just a couple of weeks to prepare proper tender documents. Is one commercial operation being given preferential treatment in this “market testing” by any chance?

Of course, all of this tangled web runs counter to the soothing platitudes issued by Bashford on the future of Croydon’s libraries, where she has repeatedly spoken of a “reprieve” and given personal assurances that there would not be any closures. Can the councillor be believed?

After all, the council has already chiselled more than £300,000 out of the libraries annual budget this year, while laying off half the borough’s qualified librarians. Anyone might think that they are deliberately trying to reduce the operation’s costs in advance of a commercial takeover of key libraries by a company given a head-start in what is supposed to be a competitive public tender process.

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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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1 Response to Croydon’s under-threat libraries: a timeline of council deceit?

  1. In the comments for the Carpet-Baggers story I explained how fees going up for late returns could be highly disastrous for the mentally ill, physically ill, or old and infirm. Who, let’s face it, are the key users of Libraries. The main fear of fees going up is tied to the Big American Firm ( tm ) and how they turn Libraries from subsidised services into Profitable Businesses by fiddling with them.

    I think what this Council should be doing is not out-sourcing and instead improving efficiencies and generating more revenues.

    But they refuse to do it.

    – Croydon Labour ( of which I am now a member for Heathfield to declare my interests ) put forward an idea to have locals involved in upkeeping and running Libraries. To keep any money spent in the bank accounts of those living locally, rather than some off-shore account where it’ll never be seen again. This was rejected.

    – Croydon Labour used an example of the Merton Model of running libraries in a big meeting around this time as well. To show how wasteful Croydon Library Services are at present in the back office, and how if they followed the Merton Model they may well be able to get the bill down. And as such keep all libraries open and in the Public Sector as the subsidised services they are. This was rejected.

    That’s my point. Rather than cross-party agreement and co-operation on this important subject instead we have investigations into privatisation. And giving a Private Provider, with a wish to control 15% of British Libraries, an unfair advantage ( in that they are a month ahead of the rest ).

    Which smells like a rather well used wonderloo on the last morning of Glastonbury, to conjour an image.

    Especially as it is that Private Provider that is up for putting fees up from what I understand.

    They also want to put in drinks machines and tie it to cafes and the like. Not being funny, but why doesn’t The Council do that anyway? It’ll bring in more cash, and as such reduce the Public Sector bill, without this bizarre Privatisation. See my point?

    The conclusion myself and my Labour colleagues came to was that there was a genuine lack of skill in these Tory circles, and that that is why they cannot come up with ideas like this or show statesmanship. It’s either that or they’re on the take in some way. Laziness for example. They can’t be bothered to do the work themselves, so are outsourcing.

    This came up as so many of the decisions they’re making just do not make sense under scrutiny. They’re like old 1980′s stereotypes that were disproved a long time ago, but no-one told The Torys. It’s really weird.

    Oh well. The more people learn of these Torys and their out-of-date ways the less likely they are to vote for them in the future. It’s just worrying that this lot have another 3-odd years of power before The Public get a chance to speak. If The Council Privatises/ outsources too much there simply will not be enough Council left to manage the rest. And it may well all have to be outsourced. And you’ll end up like EasyCouncil Barnet.

    It’s all outsourced now up that way. And the Council has been exposed and humiliated by local activists as there simply weren’t the safeguards in place to manage the new providers employed. As The Council did not have the skills required to set up this EasyCouncil properly.

    That Council is Labour now, so hopefully things will improve for them. But even so. The bulk of the outsourcing was under The Torys, and was simply not set up correctly. A decided lack of skill.

    Which brings me to our local Torys. Who seem to be making A LOT of mistakes and not talking to each other. That’s a decided lack of skill as well.

    Is anyone else worried?

    The EasyCouncil story I read is here:

    http://www.leftfootforward.org/2011/06/bloggers-expose-tory-barnet-easy-council-where-outsourcing-is-out-of-control/

    Accelerated mass out-sourcing. Like what is starting to happen in Croydon?

    If Labour can retake The Council in 3 years time they may well then have to carry out a massive rescue operation if this has been done badly by our current Council Leaders. That’s gonna be a hell of a lot of work. Because of this seemingly clueless crowd ( I’ll assume it’s not corruption at this stage ) making so many classic mistakes.

    A disproved 1980′s stereotype being used in 2011? As I said, classic mistakes.

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