Croydon’s Conservative-run council will announce next week that it has decided to award an eight year contract, estimated to be worth £30 million, to run the borough’s libraries to the company which finished bottom in a competitive tendering process.
It is no coincidence that the organisation Croydon has plumped for to run the borough’s 13 libraries until 2021 is John Laing Integrated Services, a subsidiary of John Laing, the property firm that is building Croydon Council’s £150million new headquarters building.
The worst nightmare of public library supporters appears about to be realised. Library campaigners have long feared that Croydon Council will resort to using some of the borough’s library buildings to bolster the flagging value of the secretive £450 million urban regeneration vehicle – aka “massively failed property speculation deal” – which the council’s under-pressure chief executive Jon Rouse has pushed through with Laings.
The libraries competitive tendering process was conducted with Wandsworth, lasted more than a year and cost Croydon Council Tax-payers at least £250,000. When first announced, Croydon justified the process by saying that having the libraries across two boroughs run by one outside business would help economies of scale and thus lower costs.
Last night at Wandsworth Town Hall, the inner London Tory council announced that it had selected not-for-profit Greenwich Leisure Ltd to run its libraries on the basis that they offered the best financial terms and were also top of the three bidders in terms of management performance.
Croydon has rejected that decision, abandoning any pretence that the competitive tendering process was ever about offering cost efficiencies. Or even fair.
According to one source who has seen the outcome of the bid assessments, GLL offered the lowest tender price and also the best evaluation scores. John Laing Services offered the worst tender price – but will be announced by Croydon Council next week as the bid winner.
The decision also demonstrates that the entire process, from a public consultation begun in November 2010 – the inconvenient results of which were at first kept secret, and have since been comprehensively ignored – has been yet another sham.
Even this week, Croydon Council has continued to issue lies and half-truths about the privatisation of the borough’s public library service. The evaluation, one council spokesman said, was “with the aim of ensuring that Croydon residents get the best possible deal”. If that was the “aim”, it appears that – yet again – Croydon is seriously off-target.
Ahead of next Wednesday’s corporate services committee meeting at the Town Hall to rubber-stamp the decision, insiders are being briefed that Greenwich Leisure are not qualified to run Croydon’s libraries on grounds of their staff employment and training practices.
This is clearly at odds with Wandsworth’s assessment, and the assessment of many other local authorities – Conservative as well as Labour-controlled – with whom GLL operates more than 100 public service contracts.
Of course, those running Croydon Council, such as the leader of the Conservative group, Mike Fisher, or his deputy and the cabinet member now in charge of libraries, Tim Pollard, could end any damaging speculation about the way they have handed a £30 million public procurement contract to the most expensive bidder simply by publishing the documents and all the figures.
But they won’t.
- Labour will cancel libraries privatisation contract, Godfrey says
- In the heart of darkness: how Laings operate libraries in Hounslow
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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