Thank goodness we have the word of Gavin Barwell MP and his parliamentary assistant and part-time councillor, Sara “Book Token” Bashford, that none of Croydon’s 13 branch libraries are due to close.
Otherwise, we might have to believe reports that our Tory-controlled council has started to close a branch library in New Addington and to box up and flog off books at other branches around the borough.
It is just a couple of weeks since Barwell stated publicly on Twitter: “Don’t expect next year’s budget to include closure of any #Croydon branch libraries. Good to have Council [sic] that listens”.
For her part, Bashford, the Croydon Council “cabinet member” for customer services,
culture and sport (meaning that she ought to know about these things), stated: “I would also like to confirm none of Croydon’s branch libraries are closing.”
In her correspondence to Inside Croydon, Bashford effectively called Florence Nosegbe, a councillor from Lambeth, a liar. Nosegbe had written a letter, which we reproduced, stating that she had been informed that Croydon intended to close “several” libraries.
“I am not sure who Cllr Nosegbe has been talking to,” Bashford wrote to Inside Croydon, in a particularly self-righteous tone, “as the comments attributed to her are untrue.”
Yet moves are already well advanced to close the branch library on Central Parade, New Addington, with Bashford – not for the first time – contradicting her own statements by confirming the plans to move some of the branch’s books into the CALAT building, where the book shelves will share space with adult education and job centre advice services. Town Hall sources suggest that New Addington’s library may occupy no more than the foyer of the CALAT building.
If this is not an outright closure, then it is the sort of “managed neglect” and near-terminal undermining that the Croydon library service has endured for the last two years under Bashford’s malign stewardship. How long before the books are squeezed out of CALAT altogether, leaving the residents of New Addington a long bus or Tram ride to the nearest public library?
But that question, like so many with “Book Token”, is likely to remain stubbornly unanswered.
Although the move of library services into the council-owned CALAT building – to save the costs of repairing the library building – has been publicly discussed for nearly a year, Bashford does not seem to have much idea of how such plans are to be put into effect.
How much space will the New Addington library have in this other building? “No plans have been finalised,” Bashford, who is never knowingly in command of her brief, told the local rag.
“We do not know what the square footage available will be in comparison with the library,” Bashford said, confirming that this may not be the best thought-out piece of council work ever undertaken.
When will the move happen? “I cannot give a date but it is not long off,” said Bashford, in her usual practised vagueness (at least, we hope it is deliberate vagueness).
Will there be the same number of books available in this other building as there was in the New Addington library? Bashford said she did not know.
“I could not say there will be the same number of books definitely,” Bashford told the Sadvertiser‘s reporter, who clearly fought shy of asking Croydon’s cabinet member: “Do you know the detailed answer to any questions regarding your council responsibilities?”
Public servant who avoids public accountability
It is just 10 days since the same Sara Bashford wrote to Inside Croydon to deny categorically that there would be any branch library closures at all.
After we had posted a report that stated that Croydon plans to close several of its libraries, Bashford said that she did “… not intend to enter into an exchange with you. If you are happy to print inaccuracy’s” (yes, Croydon’s spokeswoman on “culture” sends out emails containing grocers’ apostrophes) “and not a correction then that is your prerogative as the editor, but it does not give an unbiased view, just the one you wish to portray.”
(For the record, we offered to carry a correction regarding her publicly funded salary as a parliamentary assistant, were she to provide us with alternative, “correct” details. Bashford was either unwilling or unable to do so.)
So, according to the ever-reliable public servant Sara Bashford, Inside Croydon is “biased” for publishing a letter from another borough’s councillor that told us what was going on in Croydon. Book Token Bashford, of course, has never sought deliberately to mislead and dissemble over the fate of Croydon’s libraries.
We are hopeful (if not expectant) that Bashford, as a public servant, will provide us with a straightforward, factual and well-briefed statement to explain why the borough’s stocks of library books, all bought with public money, are being boxed up in branch libraries across Croydon.
- What is Bashford doing with the books?
- Is she selling them off to try to pay off the national debt of Greece?
- Is she handing them out on the steps of the Fairfield Halls to any passer by?
- Or is she and her mates on the council planning to stage some massive book burning rally outside the Town Hall, as Croydon yet again turns its back on any pretence of culture and learning?
Fear and loathing in Croydon’s libraries
There are times when it seems that there was more openness and transparency in the old East Germany of the Stasi and Erik Honecker than there is in Croydon in 2012.
In the past two years, Bashford has presided over the axing of around two dozen trained and experienced library staff. Enquire of one of the few who remain to staff the borough’s libraries what is happening to the boxed books, and you might catch a glint of fear in their eyes. They really would prefer not discuss the matter.
Some say that they are removing old, tatty stock. Others say that they have been told to free up shelves to encourage users to borrow more books (on the warped logic that you are more likely to borrow a book if there a fewer books to borrow?).
Perhaps nearest the reality of the situation, staff at another branch library told a user that the book stock is being sold off to an outside company.
Whatever the reasons, it seems hardly the action you might expect of a council totally committed to keep all its libraries open.
But it would be the action of a council acting secretively, hoping concerned residents do not notice the sale of valuable library books. There was a time when Croydon spent £1 million a year on buying new books for our libraries. In more recent years, £250,000 a year has been the book-buying budget. Cumulatively, that suggests a very valuable, public asset on the shelves of our libraries.
Reducing the book stock might be the action of a local authority in the midst of an exercise designed to make its libraries as economically attractive to a potential “partner”, in a costly privatisation exercise which the people of Croydon have never been consulted over.
Bashford reckons (she is not certain of the detail, of course) that outsourcing the libraries will save the council “about” £500,000 per year. Of course, the savings may be less than that. To prepare for this, it is costing Croydon £250,000. It took a Freedom of Information application to prise from Bashford’s department the fact that, of the £250,000 budget for privatisation of the libraries, since September only £3,000 has actually been spent.
After two years or more of shedding council librarians and library books, how long do you think it would take, after the council’s new commercial library partners get their sweetheart deal, before they are able to announce that they have increased staff levels and increased the number of books available to borrow?
If Inside Croydon has a bias, it is against incompetence in public office, it is against deceit and political dissembling, and it is biased against the mismanagement of public money and assets, and the needless and wanton destruction of public amenities that have been built up over more than a century of hard work by the people of Croydon.
On that “biased” basis, we would invite Councillor Sara Bashford, the mother with two publicly funded jobs, to attempt to answer Croydon’s questions on libraries, or risk the public assuming that she believes herself not to be accountable.
- 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
- MP Barwell: Croydon’s libraries are safe. For now (insidecroydon.com)
- Council defies public and goes ahead with library closures (insidecroydon.com)
- What has Bashford done with Croydon’s £20,000 projector? (insidecroydon.com)
- Blurred vision leaves Croydon with empty concrete canyons (insidecroydon.com)