Croydon Council unveils £5m overhaul for libraries

Norbury Library in Norbury, Croydon. Pic: Hardeep Channa

Croydon’s libraries have been given £5 million overhaul budget this year which will see more volunteers involved in their operation – but the council was unable yesterday to guarantee the jobs of its paid librarians.

Oliver Lewis, councillor and cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture insisted that despite not being able to guarantee the jobs of librarians, maintaining the staff was a “prime goal.”

He spoke out after the council published a report outlining its 10-year plan for the future of its 13 libraries, including a £1 million plan to refurbish Norbury.

Lewis told Eastlondonlines: “We are looking to maintain current staffing levels and not letting it fall, it hasn’t been guaranteed but it is the prime goal and aim to keep the staff the same and only supplement them. Our investment to the library service is a statement to that fact.”

“Our volunteers will be a source of support for our valued library staff, they will be able to help with things like job clubs, homework clubs, supporting our visitors and other roles to free up the stress on our librarians. I see it as a supporting role to the already employed staff.”

His comments followed a 2019 report by an external consultant company, RedQuadrant, which identified savings of £67,000 if the council were to staff some libraries with volunteers only.

Lewis said of the report: “The RedQuandrant report is a background report of some options for the council regarding the libraries, and I have been very clear that we are not going to have any libraries run by volunteers. I only want the volunteers to supplement the already employed library staff.”

The library refurbishment plan follows the council decision to take the service back in house last year, due to previous Conservative Council outsourcing control to contractor Carillion, who collapsed in January 2018. It was a key manifesto pledge for Croydon’s Labour party, which took back power from Conservative in the local elections of 2014.

Lewis explained: “When this administration was elected in 2014, our libraries were privatised to Carillion, resulting in the libraries being stripped of resources and visitors suffered because of those lack of resources. When we got control back from a contractor our first goal was to draw up a plan in which we can support the libraries.”

“It was even a part of our manifesto pledge in 2014 to bring the libraries back in house and to support them. And when Carillion went into administration last year we were able to fulfil that pledge”

The RedQuadrant report wrote, “In 2017/18, Croydon spent less on its library service for a borough of its size than the majority of authorities in outer London. This is reflected in lower than average staffing levels, stock budgets and most other library costs.”

Visitors to Norbury library spoke yesterday about the refurbishment plans.

Norbury Library, which is receiving a refurbishment this summer. Pic: Hardeep Channa

Gurdhev Kalsar, 42, a private tutor of Norbury, said to Eastlondonlines: “For me, Norbury Library is very important, as I go there to tutor, it is easier to focus in the library due to being away from distractions. But, if they can’t guarantee the jobs of librarians during the refurbishment plans then that’s terrifying. The council haven’t always been good at keeping their word, under Conservative Council, they promised to look after libraries then gave them to a private company.”

Dila Patel, 64, of Norbury said: “I have been coming to Norbury library for over four years. It is very important for me as I talk to my friends and read the news here. The refurbishment is a very good thing and will support those who come better. The staff who work here shouldn’t have their jobs at risk and it’s good they won’t, I trust the council to do the right thing.”

Kelly Travers, 27, as a retail worker from Thornton Heath said: “I think the refurbishment is excellent, it will modernise the library, the computers are really old. It’s a shame the librarians can’t be assured in writing their jobs, but the council have made it their priority to keep the staff and support them, all you can do is hope.”

Asked if there is a sacrifice to deliver the library plan,  Lewis said: “For those who think there is some trick to this, there isn’t, it’s not too good to be true. This is a statement of our intent, it provides a contrast with this administration who value our libraries and the previous administration who didn’t support them.”

“Norbury library has required investment for a long time and is getting it.”

Norbury is the first phase of the council’s refurbishment programme for all Croydon’s libraries. Selsdon, Norbury and Thornton Heath libraries will all be refurbished over the next year.

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