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Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Cllr Maggie Mansell speaks out on Croydon libraries

The following was printed in the Croydon Advertiser letters page on 15th July and is reproduced here with kind thanks to Cllr Maggie Mansell.

Since the Croydon Advertiser broke the news that the Libraries may be privatised (Croydon Advertiser 3 June, and subsequent reports) the Labour shadow cabinet has heard from an expert on Libraries, and community representatives. The Cabinet meeting received a paper reporting that the community was against closure of any Libraries.

The new proposal is “market testing” of the Library service, including the Central Library and all the district libraries, which could result in a decision to privatise or outsource to another council or voluntary organisation. My concern was that the paper did not define the service to be provided, and the paper was full of “maybe”, no firm guarantees. Labour councillors’ questions elicited some important assurances that I would like put on record.

Cllr Fisher says that the buildings will remain the property of the Council. The council will allow and facilitate an in-house staff bid.

Our concerns are that the overheads are high including an IT system, renegotiated by the Tories; there is no service specification, no business model, no option appraisal; there are efficiency savings to be made but we want Croydon to have the benefit, not another council or a private company.

The Library already gives good service. There are savings to be made with service improvements, decision making could be devolved to local level and local people should be involved. We expect a proper option appraisal would rule out privatisation very quickly, because it will be more expensive by comparison with other models.

Labour offered to work with the council in a proper commission, and we asked for a pre-decision Scrutiny. The Tories have opted for the Scrutiny process. This will be an opportunity to examine different service developments and management options. I would be glad to receive any suggestions from staff or users.

Maggie Mansell
Labour Spokesperson on Libraries, Culture and Sport

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