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Sunday, 19 June 2011

Croydon libraries under threat of LSSI take over

The truth about the possible fate of Croydon's network of 13 libraries has been revealed in today's Sunday Express articleThe Sunday Express writes,
 "The company (LSSI)...believes it can make a profit by redesigning services and cutting costs. It pledges to keep libraries open and shelves stocked but critics claim it will reduce staff and introduce charges"
Campaigners have always maintained that there is no profit in running libraries.  If there are efficiency savings to be made they should be made by the Council itself and used by the Council to work more cost-efficiently.  For a Council who proclaims to have efficiency embedded in their DNA outsourcing is a clear admission of failure to tackle these inefficiencies themselves.
In fact Tim Coates, a national campaigner for Libraries who was the key speaker at Labour's shadow Cabinet meeting on 6th June, has made astonishing claims about the level of inefficiency in the Croydon libraries service. He spoke of the enormous amount spent on libraries in Croydon.  Overheads were currently running at around 40% and should be drastically reduced to around 10%. He went on to explain that Croydon have the highest overhead costs not only in London but in the whole of the country, and then went on to speculate – possibly the highest in the world.
The Sunday Express article goes on to detail that, 
"...LSSI has faced public outcry and lawsuits in the US over claims that experienced staff have lost their jobs and traditionally free library services have attracted charges. While Mr Fitzgerald (LSSI's UK vice-president) denies charges had ever been introduced on free services and insists staff working terms and conditions would be respected, with savings coming from best practice and economies of scale, opponents say it is “ridiculous” to hand over a public asset to a profit-making company which has a balance sheet as its prime concern."
Croydon library campaigners are already aware of these concerns. As Ian Anstice, a member of Voices for the Library, writes on his blog Public Libraries News
 "LSSI has been accused of reducing the numbers, pension, terms and conditions of its employeesWhen taking over a service, LSSI re-employs staff on new contracts. Recent research shows it retains the minimum of qualified library staff. It is worth noting that, for its size, 100 "qualified" staff it promotes as being employed by the company is fairly low when compared to the industry standard. Also, there is the question as to what level these staff are qualified to. It appears that LSSI de-unionises its libraries in the USA."
Croydon Library campaigners and residents have already flagged up the loss of service due to the loss of qualified librarians and highly experienced library staff in a recently undertaken Library Reschuffle,which has also resulted in unqualified staff being 'rebadged' as Reading and Learning Librarians.   
The Express also reports, 
"LSSI, which runs 16 public library systems in five US states, is currently wooing authorities with an attractive business model that promises increased community activity and invites Starbucks to set up inside branches. LSSI has spoken to “dozens of local authorities” over the past three years and held meetings with five councils last week, with Croydon becoming the latest borough to consider a deal. LSSI’s first contract is expected to start next May in Wokingham."
Only this week the Council have denied that they have been in contact with any companies or groups, merely floating the idea of 'market-testing.' A direct question from a member of the public regarding whether the Council had any involvement or approaches from companies such as LSSI was denied by Cllr Sara Bashford, who heads up the libraries consultation. Yet already it is being reported a deal with LSSI is being considered, a deal on the table before the majority of Croydon residents are even aware of the move to 'market-test'.

The Express article goes on to quote Jonathan Hood, a company director who led the Friends of Summertown Library campaign, 

“We have seen the council’s plans off, which is a great triumph for the public, but they will be back. It is all part of this new barbarism where cost is more important than culture. We did have contact from a US action group who said that LSSI’s claims to improve services did not always hold up."
Mr Hood says the campaign to keep libraries public and free had support from all political parties, from “banner-waving Trots to totally blue Tories”.

Croydon Labour offered to set up a cross-party commission on Libraries but this was rejected out of hand by Croydon Conservatives at the Cabinet meeting on Monday 13th June, where they opted for 'market- testing' of the whole network of libraries. Croydon Library campaigners supported this commission and feel sure that the offer of a cross party commission into libraries would have been welcomed by residents they represent.

Learning of dealings with LSSI being made so swiftly will only serve to raise residents' suspicion and concerns in Croydon. 

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