An interesting development was finally spotted on Friday on Croydon Council’s “revamped” website.
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.
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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- Secret meetings and council silence over library sell-off scheme (insidecroydon.com)
- Has Croydon called in carpet baggers to sell-off libraries? (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- Book Trail tragedy averted as Bashford overlooks the law again (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- Shapps: Croydon’s “breathtaking incompetence” on Council Tax (insidecroydon.com)