Staff members at Croydon libraries have been informed they are at risk of being made redundant after last month’s management takeover.
Carillion, the new contractor, has announced that a restructuring of the service is planned and “will put a number of jobs at risk.” The unions representing the staff are currently in talks with the company.
Laurie Pocock, Secretary of UNISON’s Croydon branch, said: “At the moment we are at very early stages, we are considering our response but we are concerned on behalf of our members”.
Carillion replaced John Laing Integrated Services only three weeks into an eight-year contract with Croydon council following the sale of their Integrated Services arm, the part of the company which ran the borough’s libraries.
Croydon library employees were not notified of the change in management and only became aware when their email addresses were changed.
Croydon residents were already suspicious of Carillion due to its involvement in the national blacklisting scandal. In 2009, a subsidiary of Carillion was found to have used a database detailing over 3,200 profiles of workers involved in trade union activism or health and safety campaigning.
The council’s decision to privatise its libraries, which went into effect on October 1, had raised concerns on how this was going to affect the quality of the service.
Alan Wylie, library campaigner and blogger for Don’t Privatise Public Libraries, said: “It’s shocking but not a great surprise. Carillion will want to do things their way, whatever that is. I can guess that they’ll try and run the service as cheaply as possible in order to make the contract worthwhile and they’ll introduce more self-serve to cut down on staff costs and cut or outsource back office functions. This is what can happen when public services are treated as commodities.”
A Carillion spokesperson said: “The proposed changes will take advantage of new technology and ways of working and will focus on streamlining back room functions. The new structure will protect opening hours and frontline roles as well as creating a number of new positions to focus on the delivery of community outreach and engagement to ensure the library services are accessible to all our communities.”
The spokesperson added: “Regrettably these proposed changes will put a number of jobs at risk, but we are making every effort to ensure that these losses will be no more than one full time post per library. We will also explore opportunities for redeployment across our wider business. We have now started a period of consultation with all affected staff and their recognised unions.”
Elizabeth Ash, Secretary of The Library Campaign, said: “It’s absolutely appalling. The staff in the library have gone through hell. First, all the uncertainty, then John Laing, then Carillion taking over which they weren’t even notified of, and now this. It makes you wonder if this was on the cards all the time. Croydon residents didn’t fight just for open doors, they fought for a good library service and for the library staff. The service has been cut to the bone for years.”
She continued: “Back office staff are the people that, amongst other things, manage the book stock. You need to have skilled people to do that: if you want to make profit, you employ cheap, inexperienced labour without training. The latest turn of events will hopefully make a lot of people in Croydon who bought into the Council’s ‘keeping library doors open’ message sit up and think. This is about profit, not about providing service.”
Trade union GMB is leading a campaign against Carillion, aiming to uncover all people on the blacklist. A day of action targeting the company’s headquarters in Wolverhampton was took place on Wednesday. GMB has also lodged compensation claims at the High Court, which will be examined next year.