Library cards and flip flops: GLL is handed £8.8m deal

It is being reported by a library campaign website that an organisation best known for managing leisure centres and swimming pools is about to be handed an eight-year contract worth millions of pounds to operate … Croydon’s public libraries.

For many of Greenwich Leisure’s staff, flip flops are mandatory daily work wear: flip flop also being the perfect word for the ever-changing position of Croydon Council as they have sought to justify the running down, closing down and privatisation of the borough’s public libraries.

The usually reliable Alan Wylie posted last night: “I’ve just been informed that Greenwich Leisure Ltd have won the Croydon/Wandsworth libraries contract, the other two shortlisted bidders were John Laing Integrated Services and most importantly the inhouse Wandsworth bid from South London Library & Cultural Services, the preferred choice of the unions and current staff. The contract is worth £8.76 million (?) and is initially for eight years with a possible further eight-year extension.

“GLL already manage Greenwich Libraries on a 15-year contract which they where awarded earlier this year despite much protest from the UNITE union, campaigners and library users.”

There has been no official confirmation of the appointment from Croydon or Wandsworth following a bidding process that has run for most of this year and cost Croydon Council Tax-payers more than £100,000.

It’s unlikely that this is the ultimate outcome imagined by the architect of this misanthropic process, Sara “Book Token” Bashford, the Selsdon councillor who in the space of two years had managed to alienate so many council staff and Croydon residents that she had all responsibilities for libraries, culture and sport in the borough taken out of her hands.

Bashford’s initial scheme, forged in secret meetings at Wandsworth Town Hall with an American library operator, LSSI, was to create a process that would hand over Croydon’s dozen libraries to them. Only after the process was publicly announced and a couple of months of negotiations had passed did LSSI walk away from south London, clearly unconvinced that there was enough money in it for them.

Much is expected to be made of GLL’s “not-for-profit” status. While GLL is unlikely – as was feared with Laing’s, Croydon’s building partners in the £450 million urban regeneration project – of eyeing up the borough’s library buildings with a view to flogging them off, GLL’s status does not render them absolutely altruistic.

“Not-for-profit” simply means that once they have paid off all their costs, anything left over can then be reinvested. But that leaves massive scope for “managing” the costs before unveiling any surplus. In the past year, for instance, some of GLL’s “costs” included paying for trackside advertising boards at a series of televised athletics meetings.

The privatisation of Croydon’s public libraries was never in any election manifesto from the Conservatives who control our council and nor has it ever been requested by local residents.

“Outsourcing was seen as the best option to reduce costs,” our council claimed in its last statement on the matter, “and, at the same time, ensure that no libraries branches [sic] would have to close.”

This from the authority that as well as running down the service across the borough’s libraries, through staff cuts and selling off of books, has already closed the mobile library, has put Upper Norwood Joint Library under serious threat and is closing the library at New Addington, moving the book stock into the lobby of another council building apparently to make way for a property deal so that Tesco can build yet another supermarket. But no library closures whatsoever, oh no.

“This concluding part of the tendering process follows several months of detailed discussions which have allowed both councils to make sure that the organisations who submit final bids are all fully capable of running the service,” Croydon said ahead of a decision-making process in which they have handed over the management of two boroughs’ libraries to an organisation that has little background or experience in library services.

Click here to read our detailed report after Croydon Council was forced to release the results of the mishandled and mismanaged libraries consultation. From nearly 6,000 responses, no one actually said that they wanted to see any libraries privatised or “outsourced”.

“At least Croydon residents will be put out of their misery with this news,” said Sanderstead resident Elizabeth Ash, a national organiser with the save the libraries movement.

“Those who are aware of the outsourcing exercise will have a renewed focus on finding out what the standards expected as part of this lengthy and expensive contract are – something that has not been shared with the campaign group or residents so far. The library service has been eroded and faltered (and, if I am completely honest – failed in many cases) prior to and during the protracted procurement process.

“A comprehensive service, accessible to all is not unachievable – just apparently beyond the competency of the current administration in Croydon. Hopefully GLL can not only restore that for Croydon but add value,” Ash said.

“Let’s hope GLL can restore our poor library service by bolstering staff numbers of qualified and experienced staff to drive forward a vision for Croydon that Croydon Council is incapable of achieving.”

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