Laings quit £30m Croydon libraries privatisation deal

Croydon Council’s plan to privatise our public libraries was in ruins tonight, as its hand-picked partners were revealed to have walked away from the £30 million, eight-year deal.

Selhurst councillor Timothy Godfrey: questions over libraries deal prompted walk-out from Town Hall meeting tonight

Selhurst councillor Timothy Godfrey: questions over libraries deal prompted walk-out from Town Hall meeting tonight

And Eddy Arram, the Tory mayor in charge of tonight’s meeting at the Town Hall, forbid any discussion of the Conservative-run council’s failed library scheme, ordering that Timothy Godfrey, the opposition Labour spokesman on arts and culture, should be removed from the chamber.

It prompted a mass walk-out by all the Labour councillors, seeing the often heated meeting end in disarray.

It was also another massive humiliation for the Mike Fisher-led Conservative group, as it was all recorded by Croydon Radio, the first council meeting for four years to be broadcast.

The first part of the meeting had been spent with Fisher and his colleagues trying to justify a 1.8 per cent Council Tax hike and severely reduced services, while they have also authorised a budget with an additional £300 million in borrowing in the coming years.

Fisher’s cack-handed handling of the meeting included his accusing the whole of the last Labour government of being “corrupt”, a recorded allegation which could prove very costly for the Shirley councillor.

Despite having no public mandate for privatising the borough’s libraries, Croydon’s Tories pursued anti-public service dogma to get the service off the council’s books.

After spending nearly two years and hundreds of thousands of pounds of public cash on a bidding process together with Wandsworth Council, just before the decision was reached, Croydon split with their inner London borough colleagues – thus abandoning any pretence of making savings with shared services – and opted for the least good, most expensive bidder: John Laing Integrated Services, or JLIS, a subsidiary of the same builders with whom Croydon is locked into a £450 million property speculation deal.

Godfrey has already announced that, if Labour is returned to control of the Town Hall in 2014’s local elections, the library outsourcing deal will be cancelled.

This must have figured in JLIS’s considerations, although as Inside Croydon reported last month, the company also announced that it was withdrawing from its many privatised services deals, mainly because it has been unable to bleed enough profit from local authority budgets.

Tonight, according to a Town Hall source, even though they had asked for more cash to run Croydon’s libraries than other bidders, JLIS has quit the deal because they refuse to take on the pension liabilities of council librarians.

“When the contractor looked at the costs of the transfer of the staff in relation to pension costs, they felt unable to proceed,” the source told Inside Croydon.

Tim Pollard, the deputy leader of the Conservative group who has been handed the benighted libraries policy after it had been so badly managed by his predecessor in charge of arts policy, Sara “Book Token” Bashford, announced that the contract will be put out to tender. Again.

And all at goodness knows what additional cost to Croydon Council Tax-payers and a further period of uncertainty, it appears to be another case of dogged dogma being put before the public interest.

With one significant money-saving scam – at the expense of a proper library service for Croydon residents – so thoroughly in tatters, it means that the Council Tax-increasing budget was entirely undermined even before passed by the Conservative councillors tonight.

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8 Responses to Laings quit £30m Croydon libraries privatisation deal

  1. Now is the time for the very best of management. Now is not the time for point scoring; but to serve the community, and to set up an organisation that empowers the Library workers and the Community representatives to run the Library for the benefit of the community, as parts of a whole Croydon Arts and Culture offer.

  2. The Conservatives have previously acknowledged that the public information on the bidding process was inadequate, but not enough to justify scrapping the process. They now need to answer a number of questions, including:

    Whether the staff pension costs information formed part of the information provided to all the bidders?

    Whether Laing’s bid factored in that sum?

    If Laing’s did factor in the sum, can it be sued for pulling out of the bid so the Council retrieves the cost of the bidding process?

    If the Council did not provide the pension information to the bidders did LaIng ask for it?

    If Laing did not ask for it then how could its bid be acceptable?

  3. A total farce, paid for with our money.

    Residents do not want to run our libraries. What residents want, and articulated very clearly throughout the consultation and beyond, is a comprehensive and efficient library service.

    Instead the current administration in Croydon has hollowed out the service through a series of redundancies, embarked upon even before they started to consult residents, followed by the great sell off of our library stock, leaving many of our libraries not only short-staffed but with rows upon row of empty shelving.

    Qualified and experienced library staff in sufficient numbers is what made our library service so good. This and the need to protect the rights of library workers was one of the key issues raised by residents throughout this process.

    Is there any other feasible explanation other than sheer incompetent that the process not only overlooked the issue of pensions but that neither Laing or Croydon noticed? And what exactly do the Scrutiny committee do?

  4. derekthrower says:

    So we have the reason why our illustrious Chief Executive Mr Rouse is so keen to take a pay cut. What a dog’s breakfast!

  5. The Council has had to cut many qualified/experienced staff across all departments. I suspect that the recent series of difficulties that have arisen may be partly due to there being a lack of depth of experienced advisors to the elected members. Consultants cannot always fill the gaps as they cannot be expected to understand the local circumstances, history and cuture.

  6. Pingback: Libraries News Round-up: 27th February 2013 | The Library Campaign

  7. Pingback: The great Croydon library privatisation fiasco | Alan Gibbons' Diary

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