Public excluded from secret library privatisation

Library books. Pic: Casey Fleser

The penultimate step in the privatisation of Croydon’s libraries was taken on Wednesday night amid protests from members of the public.

The ‘preferred bidder’ was chosen in a secret meeting of the Corporate Services Committee, after councillors had been forced to reconvene elsewhere in the building.

Some Croydon residents had refused to leave the initial meeting when the public session was finished, forcing officials to move to another room.

The privatisation of Croydon’s library service has been met with considerable opposition since the decision was announced in September 2011, with blogs and Facebook groups being used to express concern.

On October 2, Eastlondonlines reported the identities of the final three bidding to takeover Croydon and Wandsworth libraries. These were Greenwich Leisure Ltd, John Laing Services Ltd and an in-house team from the current Wandsworth library service.

According to the Corporate Services Committee agenda, the second part of Wednesday’s meeting could not take place openly as the reports being discussed were exempt under the Local Government Act 1972.

The results of the meeting have still not been announced.

Elizabeth Ash from the campaign group Save Croydon Libraries attended the meeting.

She said: “It was truly shocking. This is far from democratic and Croydon have no mandate.”

A spokesperson for Croydon Council said: “The decision to offer these opportunities to an external company was made because the authority has 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.”

Opposition has arisen from both the council and external organisations.  Labour members have already said they will cancel the privatisation deal if they win the 2014 elections.

Councillor Timothy Godfrey, Shadow Cabinet member for Culture, Sport and Libraries, said: “This is about running public services for profit. Croydon Labour say this is wrong and we should run public services for the benefit of the community. Who will provide the profits? It will be the staff. That is the main cost.”

A survey carried out by Croydon Council at the beginning of 2011 showed that over 90 per cent of the 6000 respondents identified themselves as library customers, with 20 per cent using the service more than once a week.

The ultimate decision will affect all 13 libraries in Croydon.

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