Council set to bring pools, parks and library service in-house

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.

A sign of the times in Croydon's libraries. How much longer will Carillion remain in charge?

A sign of the times in Croydon’s libraries. How much longer will Carillion remain in charge?

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.

Timothy Godfrey: maintains that council's outsourced contracts provide worse services, at greater cost to the ratepayers

Timothy Godfrey: outsourced contracts provide worse services, often at greater cost

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.

Haling Grove: one of Croydon's highly regarded parks. How well are the new contractors doing?

Haling Grove: one of Croydon’s highly regarded parks. How well are the new contractors doing?

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?

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2 Responses to Council set to bring pools, parks and library service in-house

  1. Hurrah, some really good news for a change.

    This seems like the welcome return of commonsense to our local administrators and a welcome hint of the resurgence of the idea of public service and the idea that councillors and the administration have a duty to improve the quality of life of residents and not just balance the books and please George Osborne.

  2. Free swimming for kids is good as long as the swimming pools are available. During August, I wasted so many trips to the Waddon pool as it was either closed or we had to wait for an hour because there were too many kids.

    What is the point in giving something free if it is not available?

    Croydon kids have the opportunity to study in the library as long as they behave properly. Students come there to study use mobile phones, disturb others and also leave their books on the desk and come back an hour later.

    Something must be done to stop this behaviour.

    The Conservative administration must have left big reserves for Labour to spend, or Labour must be cutting other services to fund all these.

    Where are they going to get all the funding from?

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