Book Token and council’s fake library claims exposed

Libraries correspondent GENE BRODIE has spent months undercover to get the consultation documents which Croydon Council tried to keep secret. Now we are able to publish those papers, the reason for our council’s reluctance to share the information becomes clear

Sara Bashford: false claims that library consultation supported outsourcing

Did Councillor Sara Bashford deliberately mislead Croydon last year before getting the council to agree to spend £275,000 towards the outsourcing of the borough’s 13 libraries, claiming that this was what residents had asked for?

That is the question which library campaigners from across the country, local residents and opposition groups all want answered, after the release of council documents which show there was never the “overwhelming desire” from  the public for the privatisation of Croydon’s libraries, as Bashford claimed 12 months ago.

In June last year, a council press release issued apparently with Bashford’s authority as the cabinet member in charge of libraries, stated: “Following a lengthy consultation period, Croydon Council has developed a plan, directly in response to residents’ opinions, that could allow external organisations the opportunity to run Croydon’s libraries.”

But according to documents seen by Inside Croydon, such claims of public support for businesses to take over the running the borough’s libraries are entirely false.

Inside Croydon has been sent a copy of part of the council’s previously unpublished consultation responses. It consists of 33 closely spaced pages of public comments , taken from 5,641 responses. According to Croydon Council, the responses we have seen were deliberately categorised by council officers under “outsourcing”.

Yet in all 33 pages, there is not one mention of “privatise” or “privatisation”, and just a single use of the word “outsource” – and that from a resident complaining about a fall in performance of outsourced council services.

“Overwhelming desire”? Not a single response from the Croydon consultation suggested that the council should outsource our libraries – handing over the management of the borough’s library service to an outside organisation.

The consultation took place in late 2010 and early 2011. The council made several public claims about the responses to the consultation. In one council statement, they claimed that, “The idea to explore the [outsourcing] option has arisen from the council’s recent extensive survey of library users. Nearly 7,500 people responded to the consultation exercise, and more than 15,000 signatures were submitted on petitions.”

When challenged, our council – motto “Proud to Serve” – refused to back up any of its claims with its evidence.

It has taken more than a year of patient persistence by dedicated local library campaigners, and ultimately an order from the Information Commissioner, for Croydon to be forced to release the information.

Click here to view for yourself the council’s documents.

“This evidence confirms that the consultation was a sham,” said Elizabeth Ash, a Sanderstead resident and leading figure in the national save libraries network.

“It is absolutely appalling that residents have been duped into believing that Croydon Council is acting on their views. To consult but ignore the comments and ideas offered and then fabricate the findings is a total betrayal of residents’ trust,” Ash said.

“Book Token” Bashford – so named because she seriously suggested it would be cheaper to hand out book tokens, rather than lend books from libraries – has failed to respond to Inside Croydon when she was offered an opportunity to deny that she had misrepresented the outcome of the consultation to suit a privatisation agenda.

In the council press release from last June, Bashford said: “The discussion of possible library closures has been an incredibly emotive subject amongst our residents, and I have been extremely pleased to hear so clearly how much they value this council-run service. If we agree to pursue this option [outsourcing], I hope that it will bring forward offers that will allow us to maintain – and even improve – our current excellent network of branch libraries.”

Croydon’s statements on libraries just do not stack up

The abuse of the consultation also managed to distort the original purpose of the survey, which had been conducted to find public views on the threat of closure to six of the borough’s libraries. Bashford used its unpublished “results” to apply an unwanted piece of dogma to all 13 of Croydon’s libraries.

Among the companies being considered to take over the running of Croydon’s libraries is a subsidiary of Laing. Laing is the property development company which has a £450 million deal with Croydon Council, where the details have been shrouded in secrecy.

Tony Newman, the leader of the council’s opposition Labour group, says that the distortion of the library consultation results to justify a policy is part of a pattern. “As with the Tory Council’s  incinerator plan and their attempts to cover-up the true cost of their luxury new council HQ offices, this plan to sell off our libraries for profit, possibly to the same company that they awarded the council HQ contract to, is shrouded in secrecy and has no public support.

“Potentially, it sees every library operating in Croydon under the threat of closure.”

Bashford’s “day job” is as a constituency assistant to Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell, where she works alongside Croydon Mayor Eddy Arram. Between that job and her £42,747 in council cabinet allowances, she is estimated £60,000-plus per year in tax-payers’ cash as a public servant.

In April, Bashford, a councillor for Selsdon and Ballards, was relieved of her Croydon Council cabinet responsibilities for libraries. And arts. And sport. Croydon Conservatives claim that she was not sacked, because Bashford has retained a place in the Town Hall cabinet. Her new role oversees “corporate and voluntary services”.

Which includes Freedom of Information requests.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Croydon Central, Croydon Council, David Lean Cinema Campaign, Eddy Arram, Gavin Barwell, Libraries, Sanderstead, Sara Bashford, Selsdon & Ballards, Tony Newman, URV, Warehouse Theatre and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Book Token and council’s fake library claims exposed

  1. Pingback: Croydon campaigner slams consultation deception | Alan Gibbons’ Blog

  2. The Council is keeping very quiet about this story. I would have thought that they would be vehemently denying all of it, so do they have something to hide?

  3. From Sally Ward-Lee

    Having seen the many ideas given by residents in response to the Council’s consultation document, thanks to the FOI request placed by a diligent library campaigner, it is amazing that the Council decided to outsource our library services – no one suggested that this was a good idea, in fact quite the reverse.

    Now, they have a short list of three providers. Are they going to let us know what the track record of these three is (I believe Private Eye has a useful archive)? Are they going to give us details of financial and contract arrangements which will be put in place, using our money, or update us on progress? I am surprised that the Croydon Advertiser has not run an informative feature on this important development.

    Please dig away on our behalf, guys. Residents have a right to know more. Come on Cllr Pollard, be more transparent! You are using our dosh.

  4. Maureen Levy says:

    We know from past experience that the Council (and not only Croydon) take part in ‘sham’ consultations – the ‘consultation’ on installing pay & display meters in Coulsdon is a case in point.

    The ‘Review’ after a year of the whole town was similarly a ‘sham’. Often, if the Council do not like
    the responses they receive they are somehow mysteriously not counted or individual letters are taken as a ‘petition’.

    Having attended the Question Time which included the future of libraries at Old Coulsdon when the hall
    was packed out, some of the Councillors and Officers gave the impression that the were bored with the whole issue and I came away thinking that they would do what had already been decided.

    I hope that the library campaigners get a result with which they and the residents who use the libraries will be happy with. Keep campaigning.

  5. Pingback: Manchester on “You and Yours” tomorrow

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