The identity of the final three bidders for the privatisation of Croydon’s public libraries has been confirmed.
Greenwich Leisure Ltd, John Laing Services Ltd and an in-house team from the current Wandsworth library service are putting together their final submissions to take over Croydon and Wandsworth’s libraries.
A statement from Croydon council said the two boroughs had made sure bidders had “a full understanding” of their “detailed requirements”.
It said: “The decision to offer these opportunities to an external company was made because both authorities have to find significant financial savings over the next few years.”
“Outsourcing was seen as the best option to reduce costs, and, at the same time, ensure that no library’s branches would have to close.”
But Elizabeth Ash of the Save Croydon Libraries campaign claimed that the process has been flawed from the beginning.
She said: “The council ignored the suggestions of the thousands who replied to the consultation and have forged ahead with the outsourcing of all thirteen Croydon libraries without a mandate to do so.
“The service on offer has drastically reduced since April 2011, including the loss of many of the qualified librarians, book stock has dwindled and the issues of short- staffing have impacted greatly on the level of service.
“If Croydon were unable to manage the consultation process let alone the running of the libraries, what hope is there that they will be any better at overseeing the winning bidder’s running of this statutory service which the council should provide?”
- John Laing is a British company which runs many government services on PFI deals. It runs Hounslow’s library services, but came under fire in November 2010 after 12 staff lost their jobs and an ICT centre was closed.
- Greenwich Leisure is a non-profit social enterprise that runs over sixty leisure and fitness centres across eleven London boroughs.
- Wandsworth council proposes to spin off its library services department into a private company in order to take over management of Croydon’s libraries.
- LSSI is an American company responsible for library systems across the USA, which dropped out of the bidding in July. Campaigners had raised fears about its record so far.
Ian Anstice, who runs the website publiclibrariesnews.com, said: “It’s no surprise that John Laing is on the list, as they manage another private process which is in Hounslow. GLL are a non-profit leisure so it is good to see that they are on there – along with Wandsworth.
“I think it is the toughest time for libraries in Britain; perhaps it isn’t the most obvious solution to privatise. It’s important for the council to know what profit margins they are achieving.”
He added: “There is no magic bullet that private companies possess that councils don’t. They are as efficient as any one else.”
The council claims claims that private companies or external groups could run Croydon’s libraries more efficiently because they would be able to achieve economies of scale, spending the same on back-office costs over an area much wider than one borough.
It said in 2011 that the council would “retain strategic control” but that outsourcing would allow “more flexibility to seek out commercial opportunities.”
Councillor Tim Pollard, cabinet member for children, families and learners, said: “This is an important milestone in the project as we have now closed our preliminary discussions with the bidders and they now have three weeks within which to complete and return their tender documents for us to evaluate against established criteria.”
But Timothy Godfrey, shadow member in charge of libraries for the local Labour party, pledged on Croydon Radio on September 23 to cancel any privatisation deal made by the Tories if his party takes the council in 2014.
The bids are being made for two separate eight year contracts, one with each borough. A final decision is to be made in November and the successful bidder can be expected to take over the running of the services in April next year.