Croydon’s libraries are safe from closure, at least for now, if Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell is to be believed.
Barwell dismissed Inside Croydon‘s report at the weekend, which published a letter from Lambeth councillor Florence Nosegbe that stated that she had been told that Croydon council “is planning to close several of their libraries”. Nosegbe has been involved in the joint management of Upper Norwood Library, trying to deal with Croydon councillor Sara “Book Token” Bashford. It is understood that the comments in Nosegbe’s letter are based on information from senior Croydon figures.
Yet Barwell last night stated via Twitter: “Don’t expect next year’s budget to include closure of any #Croydon branch libraries. Good to have Council [sic] that listens”.
Given the conflicting and often contradictory statements made by Bashford over the past 15 months or so, as she has presided over the “managed neglect” of Croydon’s 13 libraries, the axing of two dozen specialist library staff, and the refusal to release full details from an expensively conducted public consultation on the topic, it is perhaps not surprising that “Book Token” has created confusion surrounding the council’s plans.
[Note for our new reader: Why is Sara Bashford referred to as “Book Token”? Because she seriously suggested that it would be cheaper to close libraries and issue users with publicly funded book tokens… Go figure]
In September, when announcing her latest wheeze, to outsource the management of Croydon’s libraries, Bashford told a meeting at the Town Hall that privatisation was the only way to keep all the libraries open. According to her own figures, over the first two years of outsourced libraries, from 2013, Croydon might save less than £500,000; yet implementing the outsourcing scheme would itself cost £250,000.
Asked to clarify how these figures were reached, she was unable to provide details. Maybe she was making them up? Maybe she really did not know?
Bashford even told the meeting that the move to outsourcing would be risky. “It is right I mention these risks. If there were not risks mentioned you would ask why,” she said.
Even eager Bashford’s scheme to
outsource privatise the management of Croydon’s libraries (conducting talks in secret with a preferred bidder long before the tender process was announced) appears to have encountered problems. LSSI, the private American firm which smelt rich potential profits from public subsidy in taking on libraries around Britain, is now reviewing its previously gung-ho statements of seeking a 15 per cent share of the country’s libraries.
“We’re still waiting to see if the UK is ready yet for the idea of library privatisation,” Brad King, LSSI’s Maryland-based CEO, told The Independent in November, presumably after having had initial sight of the terms being offered in south London.
It is entirely possible that taking on Croydon and Wandsworth’s libraries might allow LSSI to trial an operation in Britain and test whether there’s enough money in it for them. But is allowing Croydon’s libraries to be used as a commercial experiment for a private American company really in the best interests of the borough?
Of course, if you wanted to put such a question to your local MP, even if you are one of the minority in Croydon Central who actually voted for Gavin Barwell, then the chances are that you might have to first deal with one of his constituency assistants: Sara Bashford, who collects nearly £30,000 per year in parliamentary salary in addition to the £45,000-plus she trousers in “allowances” as a Croydon councillor.
So no conflict of interest in Gav’s constituency office, then?
It would be reasonable to hope that Barwell, as someone who was recently appointed as chairman of the Parliamentary group on literacy, will oppose any further “managed neglect” or closures to Croydon’s precious public libraries, and take a firm position against anyone responsible for undermining the borough’s library service.
- Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon
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