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Sunday, 17 July 2011

Setting the record straight...

The possible fate of Croydon's network of 13 libraries was revealed in a Sunday Express article a month ago, naming Croydon as the latest council considering a deal with the US firm LSSI. We have already made initial comments on this article in our previous post.

The following week the Leader of Croydon Council admitted in the local press that Croydon's CEO, Jon Rouse and Wandsworth's CEO had indeed met with LSSI.  Although it seems Wandsworth is not keen to be associated with this meeting, denying their involvement.  Further details here. 

The Sunday Express article sets out that, despite concerns, some believe the firm LSSI should be given a chance. They then went on to quote the views of a sole library campaigner in Croydon.

Despite library campaign groups in Croydon working together no one knew of this latest 'development', nor could anyone understand the basis of the comments made. The article, and the quotes in particular, sparked concern from library campaigners from within and beyond Croydon who made contact immediately to try to remedy the situation. The paper has been contacted to be made aware of the inaccuracies. Four weeks on with no further clarification we set out to do just that as this misinformation should not remain unchallenged. 

The following are quotes from the article, followed by comments reflecting the more representative view of library campaigners in Croydon.

“The alternative is libraries closing so we have to consider what they are offering”

Sara Bashford, the lead Cabinet member on Libraries, has already made very clear that no library will close; Croydon Council say that they are committed to not closing any library. This was also clearly announced at the Labour Shadow Cabinet meeting on Monday 6th June.

The threat of closure was a ploy used by some councillors and MPs throughout the consultation process to encourage people to step up to volunteer or accept a lesser service and, in the absence of any clear formal council announcement, it is unhelpful to perpetuate the view that the treat of closure still hangs over Croydon libraries.

“It is a very divisive subject and feelings run high but our position is if we can keep the library open and meet standards on staffing and service, let’s see what it brings.” 
Croydon Library Campaigners have spoken out on behalf of Croydon residents.  They have tried to spread the word of the decision to ‘market-test’ and are well aware of the grave concerns held in regard to the work of companies such as LSSI.  This is well documented in a series of posts here.  These concerns have been aired at meetings also. 
“We have fantastic library staff who know most people by name and they may not stay. That is a big concern because their presence makes the library what it is, just as much as the books and the building do.”

Anyone in Croydon will be will be aware of the difficulties in libraries. The internal reshuffle has meant a greatly reduced workforce in libraries, often with a constant stream of library staff from all across the borough working in different libraries.  The inevitable result of this is that libraries have staff, many of whom do not know the library, the community it serves, let alone most of its users by name!  
This begs the question could it be that some Croydon libraries are not being subjected to the tangible loss of service and problems experienced elsewhere due to this greatly reduced workforce in libraries?

“We want to protect them (the staff) but, ultimately, we are fighting to keep the library open. If we were in one of the nearby London boroughs, the library would have been closed and everything would have gone.”

This overlooks that other London boroughs have saved their library service without closure, including the neighbouring London borough of Merton, and other boroughs such as Hackney, Hillingdon and Tower Hamlets.

Part of the concern of library campaigners and residents has been the vital need to maintain a level of qualified and highly experienced staff.  There has also been a genuine outpouring of concern for the staff themselves. The level of stress staff have been subjected to has been immense and cracks have already started to show in this respect. Library users watch staff struggle to cope with the reduced staffing levels already in place, which has resulted in longer queues, difficulty coping with the workload shared between so few, incorrectly processed loans and the such like. It is distressing to watch committed library staff suffer under such conditions with the threat of further job losses still looming.

Residents and councillors also spoke out at the Labour Shadow Cabinet meeting about concern over this as well as the need to maintain the pay and conditions of staff.

This statement does not represent the views of the residents or other campaign groups in this respect either.

“Croydon agreed this week to market-test the library system..... despite all the philosophical and political arguments, libraries are still closing.”

And goes on to add:

“It seems LSSI has something to offer. We have to be realistic and do what we can to keep libraries open.”

But the Council has already given assurances to keep ALL its libraries open.

At the Shadow Cabinet meeting, councillors, library campaigners and residents voiced concerns about outsourcing, privatisation and the involvement of companies such as LSSI, who have a poor track record, and Laings, who are already heavily involved with Croydon Council. Any involvement with these or other such companies was denied.

What exactly LSSI seems to have to offer is not clear.  If details are available they have certainly not been shared with any other campaign group or resident to anyone's knowledge.

In conclusion, the misinformation in the statements reported is clearly unhelpful. The statements are not reflective of the real situation, nor reflective of the stance of the various libraries campaign groups in Croydon.  Comments such as these just add further to the scaremongering tactics and misinformation that have been employed throughout this consultation process; a process that has been extremely divisive throughout. They need correcting and we hope we have done so here.

It is important now, more than ever, that all Library campaign groups and communities across the borough continue to work together for the best outcome for our libraries and for the remaining staff who man them. 

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