There’s absolutely no suggestion whatsoever that Croydon’s expensive process (£250,000) to privatise the borough’s libraries is in some way offering a commercial advantage by favouring potential contractors who already have existing relationships with Croydon. Oh no, not at all.
Inside Croydon has discovered that after a preliminary round of bids, offers to run the library services in Croydon and Wandsworth from internal council bidders have been rejected.
The shortlist of companies being considered now stands at five:
- Essex County Council
- Greenwich Leisure Trust
- John Laing Integrated Services Ltd
So who are these famous five, and what experience do they have of running libraries?
Civica provides libraries with computer systems to automate stock ordering, lending and tracking. In total, the group manages more than 1,500 libraries worldwide, including 11 library services that are members of the South East Library Management Services consortium.
We flagged up the all-too-cosy relationship forged by Civica with Croydon since before Sara “Book Token” Bashford, the councillor responsible for the borough’s arts and culture provision, put her libraries “market testing” exercise to the cabinet. The company sponsored one of the back-slapping local authority awards which was won by… Croydon. So, clearly, there’s absolutely no preferential treatment there.
Essex County Council
Another local authority, which sort of raises the question as to how they might be any better at running Croydon’s libraries than, say, Croydon?
There are interesting Croydon connections with Essex (and not just in terms of Friday night discos, white stilettos and fake tans).
Essex CC is now where Dave Hill works. Hill was the director of Children’s Services in Croydon, appointed by our CEO, Jon Rouse. Hill now heads up Children’s Services at the county council, where his boss is Joanna Killian, herself a controversial figure for awarding herself significant pay-rises while cutting front-line public services.
Perhaps it is a policy she picked up when she was working at another local authority … Croydon.
Another local authority-run organisation, GLL was until last month in the bidding to run the libraries in the newly re-named Royal borough. Until, that is, allegations of conflicts of interest with a senior councillor arose.
That, of course, would never happen in Croydon.
John Laing Integrated Services Ltd
John Laing? They’re builders, aren’t they? What would they know about running libraries?
The Laing connection with Croydon runs deep. Laing would certainly know the real estate value of the library buildings and sites in Croydon and Wandsworth. As another John Laing company is already benefiting from at least £145 million in publicly financed loans to assist with the £450 million “urban regeneration” project – in which Croydon’s public assets are handed over to a profit-driven private company – handing over the borough’s libraries might be seen by some to be just another asset-stripping move by our council.
This is where we came in. According to Wandsworth Council, Croydon started to hold talks with the American library services company before the “market testing” process was even announced. LSSI has set up shop in the UK with the intent of taking over 15 per cent of this country’s public libraries.
There can be absolutely no suggestion, of course, that LSSI has always been Croydon’s preferred bidder. Oh no.
Privatising the borough’s library service is something which the Conservative group in charge at the Town Hall has no mandate to do. Such “outsourcing” has never been subject to any public consultation, either. When the people of Croydon were consulted on the future of libraries at the end of 2010, they rejected proposals to close select branches.
Yet now we have a much-cherished public asset being hawked around a bunch of organisations whose brief will be to reduce costs while also generating some profit for their bottom line. Is it any wonder that nearly two-thirds of the people of Croydon have little if any trust in local politicians?
- 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
- Council defies public and goes ahead with library closures (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon is selling off library books ready for privatisation (insidecroydon.com)
- Rouse tells Lambeth to plan closure of library in secret (insidecroydon.com)