National Libraries Day: a pledge for Croydon

TIMOTHY GODFREY restates a commitment to hand the running of the borough’s libraries back to the communities

Public LibraryToday is National Libraries Day.

Croydon should be celebrating a renaissance in our libraries. Two years ago, the communities of Croydon defeated the plans of the Conservative-run council to close six libraries, alongside the closure of the Central Croydon-based local studies library, museum, gallery and Clocktower complex.

Two years is a long time in local government. In that time the victory of resident power over Town Hall bureaucrats and poor quality political leadership has led to a toxic mix of cuts to library opening hours, the closure of the mobile library service, the closure of the Braithwaite Hall and the fund to buy new books at an historic low of only £250,000 (that’s 67p per resident). In its heyday, the book fund was the subject of much argument at the Town Hall, as it was felt that at £1 million a year, it wasn’t enough.

So, on National Libraries Day, in Croydon we can celebrate that all the buildings that house libraries are still open*.

Two years ago, I proposed how significant savings could be made in our library service by introducing co-operative library trusts. These trusts would be locally run (a bit like schools) and the staff would be employed via the council. The savings generated would mirror the efficient, open and transparent way in which Upper Norwood Library has been run for many years.

Croydon’s Tories rubbished this proposal and then spent the next year working on plans to privatise the borough’s library service. Interestingly, the final price that will be achieved is rather similar to that which would have been achieved if the Tories had taken my plan and removed the hugely expensive back office contracts that were weighing down the service, removed the cost of bureaucracy and developed libraries as being at the centre of their local communities.

This mistake has cost Croydon’s Council Tax-payers more than £2 million in a single year.

That is money lost to protect front-line services in these times of austerity. It is an indication of how little effort the Tories put in to running our town. The Croydon Tories meanwhile are simply trapped in the dogma of privatising public services, whatever the cost. The Tories forget that private enterprise, quite naturally, wants to make a return on such contracts of around 15 per cent. That “margin” is a huge chunk taken away from the front line service.

The Tory council’s love affair with John Laing has been well documented and has led to the council agreeing to pay move than £4 million more to John Laing Integrated Services to manage our borough’s libraries than the price that was bid by Greenwich Leisure, an established, not-for-profit leisure operator owned by the staff themselves.

John Laing Integrated Services is a subsidiary of the building company which, of course, is Croydon Council’s partner in the £450 million development company that has built the luxury glass HQ next to the Town Hall.

Croydon community co-operative library trusts will be implemented by Labour if we are fortunate enough to be elected next year. They will be implemented quickly, because it will signal that we intend to be a very different council to what our town has got used to. From Coulsdon to Norbury, from Broad Green to Shirley, we will run a council that is centred around local communities. We will use libraries to re-connect the council to the people of Croydon. It will be exciting to develop local libraries and other facilities to suit local communities. A fresh start.

On National Libraries Day, let me restate our promise on Libraries: We will cancel the privatisation of Croydon libraries and we will honour the pledge to match fund Lambeth Council at Upper Norwood Library.

  • Timothy Godfrey is Labour Spokesperson for Culture, Sport and Libraries on Croydon Council
  • *At least two of Croydon’s branch libraries are currently closed, as the Council Tax-payer meets the costs of their redecoration in preparation for their handing over to John Laing Integrated Services.
  • Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon – 142,300 unique page views, Nov 2012-Jan 2013
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7 Responses to National Libraries Day: a pledge for Croydon

  1. Arfur Towcrate says:

    Libraries should be closed.

    If people want to read, let them go to a newsagent or bookshop and use their own money and read in their own homes; better still, let them buy Kindles. Why should hard-working taxpayers pay for someone else’s frivolous amusement?

    If they ignore the sage advice that ignorance is strength, and be selfish enough to want to educate themselves, let them pay for this – there’s plenty of universities and colleges that will take their money. If they are too poor, let them first find work and develop a sense of priority and self-reliance.

    As for the redundant books littering these obsolete buildings (which deserve only demolition and replacement with shops, offices or homes), Croydon will shortly be given access to an energy from waste facility – the cleanest in Europe I am assured – and we can have a great big burn-up that will truly light up our lives.

    • That’s remarkable, Arfur – seems no one understands your brand of irony.

      TBH, I was disappointed that you didn’t also suggest that instead of libraries, all residents should be issued with book tokens.

      What do you mean, someone’s already suggested that?

      • Arfur Towcrate says:

        Remarkable, indeed – pearls before swine, perhaps? And who needs to visit a library when the Council writes and freely distributes works of modern fiction (aka Croydon Reports and Your Croydon).

        For those who don’t recognise satire, then I can say I lament the decline of my local library, the Central in Katharine Street. The Clocktower complex was a regular part of my Saturday routine, and the library being open on a Sunday was particularly welcome, not just for me but for students presumably from the local college. The mothballing of the Braithwaite Hall and David Lean cinema, the running down of the CD and DVD collection (despite the fact that this could be a money earner) and the transformation of the entrance lobby from one worthy of that description to a dull featureless antechamber to be hurried through makes the whole place less than welcoming. It can’t help the takings of the café.

        I’d rather not have a cut in my Council Tax, and would even pay a little bit more, in order to keep places like the Clocktower and Warehouse open (and for more fundamental things, like lollipop ladies and men so that kids can walk to and from school in safety).

        If the Tories think that cuts will win them votes in 2014, they can think again; I’ll be joining those that will vote them out.

  2. When will councillors in Croydon stop using our much loved and much needed services as political footballs and start listening to those they were elected to serve?

    Just as Croydon Conservatives had no mandate to outsource our libraries Croydon Labour have no mandate to hand them over to the community. The brazen disregard for the views of residents must stop as must the secretive way Croydon goes about its business.

    Croydon Conservatives embarked on an outsourcing exercise that has been twisted for their own purposes. It is shameful that an additional £4 million of our money is being wasted on furthering Croydon’s dubious relationship with Laing rather than offer the contract to GLL, who were not only considerably cheaper but have a far more sound track record in developing libraries. But what Croydon residents really wanted was for efficiencies to be made. Tim Coates identified the huge back office costs loaded on the libraries budget that could be cut and the income generation ideas offered by residents were also ignored.

    And if anyone wants the facts we ( Save Croydon Libraries Campaign at ) have files of the stuff – the views of residents, both incidental observations and as a result of the sham consultations conducted. As a Croydon library campaigner I have been threatened and belittled ( a tactic I am told is not uncommon in Croydon) but I am even more determined that we will fight on to the end and that the truth will be exposed and used to challenge.

    Croydon Labour will win no favour by using the plight of our libraries purely to offer grand election promises that may not ever come to fruition. They should be standing up NOW to challenge the lack of transparency, the ill-conceived decisions, highlighting the appalling deterioration of our much loved library service and really listening to the views of residents.

    We must stop celebrating the hollow victory of open doors. The real fight is for the championing of the core offer of a comprehensive and efficient library service within; a service Croydon residents are entitled to, by law, and currently being denied.

  3. Charlotte Davies says:

    Small local libraries are obviously the life blood of any civilisation. We must protect them and promote them, it is really healthy for communities to come together and share culture.

    Our central Library used to be lauded as one of the best of its kind in Europe – can we all go into Croydon: look at the Library, the parks (Queen’s Gardens & Park Hill), Fairfield Halls and its environs, probably also the College; and think… This central hub of parks, Library, College, and Arts centre ought to be the hub of our town, a vibrant and exciting display of our history, our cultures, our ambitions and our thinking….

    Think what do we want there? How are we going to achieve it? It is our Croydon if we unite together to put in bids we ought to be able to find ways to fund one of the most exciting town centres in Europe instead of leaving it to decline because of lack of vision

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