Croydon school pupils denied desks to study in the borough’s public libraries, free swimming sessions going under-publicised, and our parks being locked up because of a lack of contractor staff could all be things of the past if outsourced services are brought back in-house
Outsourced council contracts for Croydon’s libraries, parks, swimming pools and leisure centres could all effectively be renationalised, with the services brought back in-house “at the earliest opportunity”, according to a council cabinet member at last night’s Town Hall scrutiny meeting.
Timothy Godfrey, the Labour-run council’s cabinet member responsible for arts, culture and sport, issued the warning to Carillion, Fusion and Quadron, ahead of meetings with the outsourcing companies to discuss a litany of complaints over the standard of service which they have been delivering for Croydon residents.
There remain persistent rumours around Katharine Street that the council is also examining closely the performance of Veolia, who have one of the biggest outsourced services deal in the borough, for the collection of residents’ domestic waste and cleaning our streets.
Godfrey was answering questions from other councillors at a Town Hall meeting. He maintains that outsourced contracts rarely provide the local authority with real savings, but almost always deliver inferior levels of service to the Council Tax-payers. He says that significant budget savings can be made in the council’s back-office, releasing funds to pay for frontline services.
When in opposition, Godfrey had been a long-term critic of the previous Tory administration’s efforts to privatise the libraries, reducing staff numbers, selling off the book stock and disinvesting in the service. He told the meeting last night that he wants to bring the libraries contract, worth a reported £30 million over eight years and currently operated by Carillion, “at the earliest opportunity”.
Godfrey said, “The council needs to better manage these contracts. We need to clean-up the mess left by the Tories.”
“Our public libraries need to be engaging with the community,” and that means they are not suitable as a privatised service, Godfrey said.
Within weeks of taking charge, Carillion handed redundancy notices to 11 full- and part-time managers and qualified librarians, in a measure intended to cut the company’s costs and thus increase its profits from the Croydon contract. The subsequent decline in service has led to many complaints from library users – especially during the school exam season, when library staff imposed limits on the number of users allowed to study in our libraries.
Carillion took over the running of Croydon libraries a year ago. Their brief tenure of Croydon’s 13 public libraries has been full of controversy, even before it began. The company, better known for its work in the building industry, took charge after a corporate takeover of another outsourcing firm, John Laing Integrated Services, the company originally awarded the contract by Croydon.
This came less than a month after the council handover to JLIS, who had been appointed by Croydon following a badly managed, and expensive, two-year process under the Tories’ Sara Bashford and Tim Pollard, now deputy leader and leader of the Conservative group on the council.
As well as reviewing the council’s deal with Carillion, Godfrey is also looking closely at Croydon’s contracts with leisure operators Fusion and with Quadron, who were handed £16 million deal over five years to tend for Croydon’s 127 parks and open spaces by the Tories, just weeks before they lost power in the local elections.
In announcing the deal in February, Phil “Two Permits” Thomas, then the Conservatives’ cabinet member for environmental services, had claimed that handing over Croydon’s parks into Quadron’s care “… represents a great deal for local taxpayers and will mean that visitors to Croydon’s parks and open spaces will continue to enjoy excellent standards”.
But last night, Godfrey revealed that the deal is so poorly funded that Quadron “are locking up parks as a way of saving money”.
He said: “I am very keen to allow community groups to run parks,” Godfrey said, warning the contractors that, “I will be looking at other options… if they do not use the winter to catch up”.
Godfrey had announced free swimming for the borough’s children during the school summer holidays, one of Labour’s first policy announcements after winning the local elections in May.
But dissatisfaction in the way Fusion, who manage the borough’s leisure centres, publicised the scheme and handled it, together with reservations over its charging scheme which sees some of the facilities under-used by residents, has prompted the cabinet member to seek an urgent meeting with Fusion.
Of course, if Labour does decide to bring back in-house important contracts with Carillion, Fusion, Quadron and Veolia, reversing eight years of outsourcing the borough’s services under the Conservatives, some might begin to ask why the council cannot find a way to exit other expensive and unnecessary contracts – such as that entered into with the Oasis evangelical group for the Arena Academy or with Viridor for the Beddington Lane incinerator?
Coming to Croydon
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- David Lean Cinema, Ida, Nov 13
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Nov 14
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Croydon Assembly, Ruskin House, Nov 15
- Wandle Park community garden work day, Nov 16
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 16
- NCT Croydon Christmas Fair, St Mark’s Purley, Nov 16
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 17
- David Lean Cinema, Effie Gray, Nov 20
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- David Lean Cinema, Lilting, Nov 22
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 23
- David Lean Cinema, Wakolda, Nov 27
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Dec 7
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- Friends of the Earth Green Beanfeast, Dec 15 (book by Dec 1)
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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