Labour will cancel library privatisation contract, Godfrey says

Whichever organisation is recommended for a public-funded eight-year contract to run the Croydon’s public libraries – an announcement is expected soon – will also have to consider the possibility that they will have the deal cancelled after barely a year.

Timothy Godfrey: public libraries to be in public management

That’s the promise which the opposition Labour group has repeated today, following news that Wandsworth appears to have broken ranks with their Conservative colleagues in Croydon over what had been intended to be a two-borough, joint deal to offer economies of scale across the two boroughs for the chosen operator.

Wandsworth this week announced that Greenwich Leisure, a not-for-profit that specialises in running swimming pools and leisure centres, would be their recommendation for the libraries contract.

But after more than a year’s worth of a joint process, Croydon has broken ranks, suggesting that someone on Katharine Street has taken a disliking to the outcome of the competitive tendering.

Whoever gets the Croydon deal, whether it is GLL, or a subsidiary of Laings the builders, or an in-house company from Wandsworth library department, they would be expected to take over the running of the borough’s libraries in April next year.

But Timothy Godfrey, the local Labour group’s spokesman on libraries, says that if his party wins control of the Town Hall at the May 2014 local elections, the contract will be reviewed and probably cancelled.

“Labour is committed to our library service not being run in the private sector. New, fully qualified librarians earn £23,500 a year. Making savings off the backs of cutting staff terms and conditions is not acceptable at this level,” Godfrey, a Selhurst ward councillor, said.

Empty shelves in a Croydon library. Anyone might think they don’t want people to use the libraries

Cutting staff is not the only way that Croydon has been shaving money from its libraries budget.

As we’ve previously reported, the new book budget has been reduced hugely, and Croydon’s libraries have been flogging off huge swathes of its existing book stock, all at 10p a time.

It is as if the council has been trying to drive away users from the libraries. Because, of course, if the libraries aren’t being used by the public, a case can then be made for closure, releasing the building for other potential uses. Like demolition. Not that anyone at Croydon Council has ever admitted that this might be part of their dystopian “vision” for the future of the public library service.

Our loyal reader in Shirley (no, not that one), has told us, “At my local library, we hardly have any books left.

“When I asked about the disappearing books, a member of staff told me about the council’s ‘less is more’ policy – apparently we are more likely to want to browse if there are less books cluttering up the shelves.

“This is public property that is being effectively scrapped and, while the shelves are emptying, people are going to stop using the library and the Ministry of Truth will then say: ‘You can’t keep your library because you are not using it frequently enough’.”

Which, of course, would be wonderfully convenient for a company that has, say, strong links with property development. And a council that has a misfiring £450 million property deal with that company.

As far as Labour is concerned, they say they will seek to get the management of Croydon’s public libraries back into public hands as soon as possible. “Labour plans include handing budgets to local Co-operative Community Trusts utilising the local community to set the direction and range of services, but crucially, keeping the staff employed through the council,” Godfrey said.

“That means cutting out the expensive tiers of management and grossly expensive contracts for buildings and technology – something the Tories have failed to do.

“Any decision to privatise libraries is a lazy solution to saving money. It will lead to a deterioration in the service and ultimately lead to the closure of libraries. The Tories have a track record of closing libraries, already having closed the mobile library.

“Labour are determined to breath new life into our libraries – and make them the beating heart of every local community. We promise that if we are elected in 2014, libraries will be a key tool for strengthening our local communities.”

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