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