LSSI, the American library services company which seemed set to get a juicy public money contract to run the libraries in Croydon and Wandsworth, has pulled out of the procurement process, Inside Croydon can reveal.
As Inside Croydon reported last month, Civica withdrew citing “potential risk to the Civica brand of taking on a contract which is outside their core competence”.
With LSSI gone, that leaves just three of the original five short-listed bidders in the race: Essex County Council, Greenwich Leisure Trust and John Laing Integrated Services Ltd.
LSSI is the American company characterised as “carpet-baggers”, and which was having secret negotiations long before any formal process was ever announced by Croydon’s Sara “Book Token” Bashford.
The Americans, who last year announced ambitious plans to take over a hefty chunk of Britain’s local authority library services, starting with Croydon, have been criticised for many of the familiar traits of companies when they privatise public services: “When taking over a service, LSSI re-employs staff on new contracts. Research shows it retains the minimum of qualified library staff,” one libraries campaigner has said. “Also, there is the question as to what level these staff are qualified to. It appears that LSSI de-unionises its libraries in the United States.”
No official reason has been given for LSSI’s withdrawal from the Wandsworth-Croydon bid, although a Town Hall source told Inside Croydon: “The process is very much two-way. It allows the bidders to look at us, while we are looking at their suitability to run the libraries. That could mean bidders decide that the deal may not be for them.”
Put more succinctly, there is probably not the profit margin in running the boroughs’ libraries to make it worthwhile for LSSI.
The procurement process itself – introduced at a cost of £250,000 to Croydon Council Tax-payers – was the brainchild of “Book Token” Bashford, the Croydon Council cabinet member who had responsibility for the borough’s libraries before she was reshuffled out of the job in April.
Tim Pollard, the deputy leader of the Tory group which controls the council, late this afternoon confirmed that LSSI had withdrawn from the process.
A spokesman for Wandsworth Council told Inside Croydon: “We are determined to provide even better, 21st Century libraries and have identified several candidates with the potential to really improve our services.”
The spokesman refused to deny that LSSI had pulled out. “We will not comment on an on-going commercial process.”
With the biggest specialist library operator out of the running, a massive question mark must hang over the process. Wandsworth’s in-house bid was added to the shortlist belatedly after Civica’s withdrawal. Croydon’s library service was never allowed to bid.
If Croydon and Wandsworth are determined to see this through, to save face as much as anything else, it could be that by next year, Croydon’s libraries and librarians are being managed from offices in Greenwich or Chelmsford. Or by a subsidiary of a firm of builders who already have access to £450 million-worth of council-owned property in Croydon. You know it makes sense…
- HT, again, to Alan Wylie of the Don’t Privatise Libraries blog
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon. Not from Redhill.
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- Civica pulls out of libraries bid because of risk to its “brand” (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon Council and the cuts: playing a numbers game (insidecroydon.com)
- Croydon quizzed on hiring of security guards for Bashford (insidecroydon.com)
- “Book Token” takes one in the Eye on library closures (insidecroydon.com)