There will be an emergency meeting of Croydon Council on Monday evening, when Tim Pollard will be called to account for the shambolic handling of the Conservative-led administration’s attempts to sell-off the borough’s libraries.
The opposition Labour group has called the emergency meeting, after their culture spokesman, Timothy Godfrey, was prevented from asking detailed questions of his opposite number at last month’s budget meeting.
Then, Pollard dropped the bombshell that after almost 18 months of a “competitive” bidding process, costing Council Tax-payers an estimated six-figure sum, Croydon Tories’ favoured bidder had refused to sign the deal because the terms were not favourable enough for them.
John Laing Integrated Services had belatedly realised that council staff’s pension liabilities would damage their bottom line and reduce their opportunity to profit from public libraries; utterly cravenly, Pollard and the Tory-run council have decided to let JLIS bid all over again.
Croydon’s Conservatives have since posted an article online, under the heading “Libraries outsourcing: the facts”, the sort of misleading statement of which Lord Leveson would probably take a very dim view.
Croydon’s Tories are actually claiming that JLIS had “come top of the bidders in terms of their quality and price, with the exact balance between those two having been set when the contract was advertised”.
The only problem with this is that the bidding process was run together with Wandsworth, and they reached an altogether different conclusion on the bids and revealed that JLIS came third – and last – in terms of both quality and price.
There is no reason to disbelieve our sources in Wandsworth, which is a Conservative-controlled borough.
What ought never be overlooked in all this is that Croydon Council is 50-50 partners with builders Laing on the secretive CCURV scheme, which is supposed to carve up about £450million of Croydon’s public buildings and land. Potentially including the borough’s 13 libraries…
In Croydon Conservatives’ apology for JLIS, the anonymous author states: “Labour claims that this procurement process is in chaos. They are quite wrong about this.”
That’s a point of view, until you consider the amount of public money already wasted on the process, and that JLIS was supposed to be taking over the running of Croydon’s libraries in just two weeks’ time.
The council had budgeted to save £1 million on libraries in 2013-2014, a target which it will no longer be able to achieve, leaving “a black hole” in Croydon’s accounts this year.
For Croydon’s Tories, “This is a setback, but nothing more”.
They also describe the re-bidding – which may delay any handover until mid-summer, as “a little inconvenience”.
The reality is that it will, once again, be local Council Tax-payers who end up paying for this “little inconvenience”.
Godfrey has accused Pollard and the group controlling the borough of “collusion” to keep the JLIS developments secret ahead of the Council Tax-setting budget meeting, and of deliberately banning any discussion on the collapse of the library deal.
Hence Monday’s emergency meeting called by Labour.
The motion demanding the meeting says:
This council regrets the incompetence of Councillor Fisher’s administration over the privatisation of libraries to John Laing.
It is vital that Croydon council must be efficient in delivery of front-line services.
We agree to match the savings proposed in the John Laing deal by forming a cross-party working group to deliver a co-operative model based on devolved budgets and responsibilities: staff being employed directly through the council; removal of senior management layers; and ending the practice of expensive outsourced contracts for IT and facilities management.
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- Westminster steals Wandsworth’s crown for lowest council tax in UK (standard.co.uk)
- Whoops… Council setting the agenda for blunders (insidecroydon.com)