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Sunday, 2 December 2012

The worst kept secret - John Laing win contract

Alan Wylie was the first to report that he'd been informed that John Laing Integrated Services (JLIS) had been made preferred bidder for the Croydon Libraries contract.

 Full marks to Cllr Tim Pollard for
keeping a straight face when
explaining that companies did not
want all their secrets shared.
Then the local press named John Laing as the preferred bidder on the same day it went to the corporate services committee for approval but Inside Croydon went one step further, not only naming Laings but reporting that it was likely the decision could be sent for Judicial Review.

Inside Croydon reported on the meeting, where information was denied to residents and Labour councillors, including the names of the bidders up for consideration or any real detail of the terms of the contract on offer. The chamber and public gallery were treated to a cringe-worthy performance from Cllr Tim Pollard who managed to keep a straight face as he explained that the details of the bids were "commercially sensitive" and no one would work with Croydon if they " shared their secrets".

It was very clear that no one was asking for minute details but more the general terms of the contract, the main issues discussed to decide on the preferred bidder and what it might mean for staff and for residents. Most questions were blocked and went unanswered, although Labour councillors George Ayers and Toni Letts were able to establish that the future pay and conditions of staff were not part of any consideration and Croydon planned to only meet minimum pay and conditions for existing staff only.

Cllr Donald Speakman
Disregard for access to the library
service on offer to residents
The only question of any substance from the Conservatives was a question tabled by Cllr Donald Speakman who was at pains to establish that the unnamed chosen bidder could not open Croydon Libraries on a Sunday without consulting the council as he clearly opposed any such move - a move made by other proactive listening councils in response to user demand. Clearly library users' and residents' views were furthest from Cllr Speakman's mind.

It would be funny if not so serious that the Conservative councillors and the council solicitor repeated blocked questions about facts that were already in the public domain.  On numerous occasions direct facts from verifiable sources were tabled as part of a question posed, such as statements made in Wandsworth Council papers, but these were still ruled as 'commercially sensitive' and therefore inadmissible.  It was the stuff of farce. No wonder Croydon ban recording and filming of meetings!

The public were asked to vacate the gallery but remained sitting. No fuss, no noise - just a  firm resolve that they would not be evicted and would not be denied hearing the facts. One woman offered to explain why the group remained but was barred from uttering a word.  The meeting then withdrew to another room to continue the private part of the meeting in camera.

The secret dealings in Croydon have caused many to comment in disbelief. This is far from most people's understanding of a democratic process.  Decisions taken in secret with key information withheld - Not what most consider democratic. Do they forget that they were elected to serve?

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